Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney initiated a call to action in September to the city’s residents to have them take part in selecting the next chief of police for the city.
Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins plans to hold the mayor to his word. Rapper Meek Mill, a Philly native, followed suit. The celebrities used their influence to encourage more than 100 city residents to join a town hall meeting at Community College of Philadelphia on Monday. Their objective: to give Philadelphians the opportunity to “have their voices heard” by city officials, Jenkins said.
“This is something that we can’t afford to get wrong,” he said. “Getting it right means making sure that the people who are being policed have the chance to be heard. It’s about having [a] substantive dialogue. That’s what you have when people are given the opportunity to speak from their own voices and not just those who are always in front of a microphone.”
As one of the co-founders of the Players Coalition, a social justice nonprofit organization made up of professional athletes, Jenkins has taken on a community activist role that is focused on, among other things, “accountability” and “transparency” while selecting a new police chief for the city.
He attributed the distrust of police to the seemingly countless number of police misconduct incidents tied to racism, sexism, homophobia and religious biases by officers on the force against civilians and within the department.
The Plain View Project, which the athlete referenced as one of his motivations for community policing of the Philadelphia Police Department, has more than 3,000 results for police officer indiscretions. It is a database that collects public Facebook posts and comments by former and current law enforcement agents from various jurisdictions around the country.
Meek Mill has his own reasons for wanting police reform and accountability. The 32-year-old rapper has been in and out of the criminal justice system since he was 19. Though Mill may seem like a dubious pundit on the topic of the next leader of Philadelphia’s police force, he has become extremely vocal about changing the criminal justice system. His own experiences helped forge his desire to promote and implement reform.
He co-founded the Reform Alliance at the beginning of 2019. According to the website, its focus is to create an “alliance of influential leaders in business, government, entertainment, sports, and culture to use our shared resources, energy, and platforms for massive impact.” The alliance’s first goal is to dismantle “the revolving door of probation and parade.”
“The next commissioner is going to have a lot of responsibility to make sure that things that have happened to people like me don’t continue to happen in Philadelphia,” Mill said.
Mill’s bio on the Reform Alliance website details his harrowing interaction with the criminal justice system in the city. According to the site, the police officer in his case had been investigated for corruption by federal agents and found guilty for engaging in criminal conduct.
Mill and Jenkins believe that it’s key for the mayor to find the right candidate for the city.
Though Kenney was unable to attend the town hall on Monday, Jenkins said he wholeheartedly believes the mayor is sincere about community involvement regarding the selection of the next police chief.
Diversity candidates should be a primary focus when it comes to police leadership. The Rally for Justice Coalition held a press conference in August imploring Kenney to continue to work with minority leaders in Philadelphia to ensure that the city’s residents’ issues and concerns be properly addressed. The coalition also appealed to the mayor to choose a chief who will work toward progression, not regression, for minority residents.
“Diversity definitely helps when you look at the racial disparities that exist right now,” Jenkins said when asked if he agreed with the Rally for Justice Coalition. “But again, that doesn’t solve the problem because it’s a little more deep-rooted than that.”
For now, interim Police Commissioner Christine Coulter is at the helm of the department. She is the first woman in Philadelphia’s history to hold the top position. Coulter was appointed to the position after former Commissioner Richard Ross resigned after being accused of ignoring sexual and racial harassment of two female officers on the force.
Though appointing a woman to the position is a step in the right direction, Coulter came under fire shortly after her appointment when a damning photo of her was published. The photo, which was taken in the 1990s, showed her wearing a T-shirt that reportedly mocked Rodney King’s vicious beatdown by the Los Angeles Police Department.
In September, city officials disclosed that they anticipate naming a permanent police chief by the end of the year. They even made a proactive attempt to find the best person for the job by procuring the services of the Police Executive Research Forum, an organization that specializes in executive police searches.