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Whether police practices such as stop-and-frisk create safer communities and how Black people can become court watchers and jury members were topics on the table at a panel discussion on criminal justice at the Center in the Park in Germantown’s Vernon Park last Saturday.

The panel discussion, “Demanding Justice: The Plan for Criminal Justice Reform,” was presented by Solomon Jones, a contributing columnist at The Inquirer and a WURD Radio host, who also announced the release of the paperback version of his 2021 book, Ten Lives, Ten Demands: Life-and-Death Stories, and a Black Activist’s Blueprint for Racial Justice.

Jones is also community affairs director for Radio One Philadelphia, and the host of Your Voice, a weekly show on Classix 107.9 FM, which was a cosponsor of the event.

Jones said he wrote the book in the aftermath of the outrage people felt after George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer who pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck until he died. He said young people were justifiably angry. But when community leaders asked them what actions they wanted to take, they didn’t have a plan.

“Justice requires a plan,” he told the audience.

Keir Bradford-Grey, the former chief defender of the city’s Defender Association, said that people have accepted stop-and-frisk as a tactic that police should use because “people are saying this is a model that is being done to protect us.”

“First of all, stop-and-frisk has never gone anywhere,” she said. ” It’s always been a tool available to police, and it’s never had the impact that it was was sold as having.”

Police use stop-and-frisk to detain and pat down someone to search for weapons, either on the street, or in a car stop, if police believe they may have just committed a crime, or are about to commit a crime.

As chief defender, she said, her office established an office of police accountability and researched how stop-and-frisk was being used.

“What we found [was] that when [police] stopped 309,000 people, 70% of the people they stopped were Black. And of those 70%, they found something [illegal] like 0.17% of the time. So that means 99.83% of the time, they were stopping otherwise law-abiding citizens.”

“In fact, [stop-and-frisk] has done more to alienate communities from helping to solve crime than bringing us closer to public safety,” said Bradford-Grey, who is now a partner with the Center City firm Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads LLP.

Police Department says it does not use stop-and-frisk

Cpl. Jasmine Reilly, a Philadelphia police public affairs spokesperson, issued the following statement in response to Bradford-Grey’s statements:

“The Philadelphia Police Department does not engage in ‘Stop and Frisk’ policing. Our officers conduct stops, otherwise known as investigative detentions, based upon reasonable suspicion that an individual is involved in illegal conduct or behavior. To frisk an individual, our officers must articulate why, in addition to the reasonable suspicion for the underlying, the officer believes an individual possess a weapon and is an immediate threat. This is not a ‘stop and frisk program’ but rather the legal standards for conducting investigative detentions across the country, as set forth under the U.S. Supreme Court case of Terry v. Ohio.

“We understand that over policing in high crime areas can have an adverse impact on the community members living in these areas. Since 2011 the PPD has been working in collaboration with the plaintiffs in the Bailey settlement matter to not only ensure that our stops are consistent with the the law, but also how we can modify policing practices that still address crime while having a minimal negative impact on the community we serve. As a learning organization, the Philadelphia Police Department continuously analyzes and reviews policies and procedures to ensure that current practices remain in compliance with best practices.

“For example, working with the partners in the Bailey settlement, the PPD has piloted several programs aimed at reducing the racial disparity in low level quality of life violations. Programs like these highlight that the PPD is continuously evaluating what changes can be made as a department that improves police transparency and accountability without compromising the safety of Philadelphians and visitors of this city.”

Terry v. Ohio, which Reilly referred to in her statement, was a 1968 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that holds that it is constitutional for police to stop and frisk a person they reasonably suspect to be armed and involved in a crime.

Participating in the justice system

Bradford-Grey also urged the people in the crowd to become more involved in the criminal justice system “from the inside,” by volunteering for the Defender Association’s ”participatory defense hubs.”

She said there are 10 different justice hubs around the city where volunteers are trained to help families navigate the criminal justice system and to attend court trials as “court watchers.”

The former chief defender also spoke out about critics who would point to the violent crime that is happening in city neighborhoods.

“There’s always that bullhorn, ‘Well, what about violent crime,’” she said. “Let’s not let the narrative make us feel like we can’t have both. We can have constitutional policing, we can have real public safety and deal with our community’s flaws at the same time.”

Panelist Michael Coard, a criminal defense lawyer, suggested that Black people should stop avoiding serving on juries and should get involved.

He said the way to increase your chances of serving on the jury is by voting. However, when one audience member said she stopped getting notices to appear for jury duty as she got older, Coard gave out the number for the Philadelphia Jury Selection Commission for people to call to say they want to serve on a jury. That number is 215-683-7170.

The third panelist, Rashaun Williams, cochair of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America, or N’COBRA, said that the city already has a reparations law on the books that requires businesses and institutions to disclose any ties they have to the enslavement of Black people.

Williams said the law has been on the books since 2005 but was not being enforced.

He said the ordinance was passed after a depository lending study found banks gave fewer home loans to Black Americans and fewer business loans to people of color in general, despite Black people and people of color making up most of the city’s population.

After the program, Mamie Young, an audience member who said she is a lifetime member of N’COBRA, said Black people who were brought to America against their will deserve reparations, hundreds of years later.

“We have suffered indignities. We have suffered discrimination. We have been redlined; we have been denied health care and our children are not in decent schools. And we are getting gentrified out of neighborhoods where we have lived for many years.”

This content was originally published here.