By Mike Newall
The president of Philadelphia's police union on Wednesday decried the protests sweeping cities across the country after grand juries in Missouri and New York state cleared white officers who killed unarmed black suspects.
"We have to guard against a growing trend in this country to replace due process and the legal system with media-fueled mob rule and sensationalism," said John McNesby, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police lodge.
McNesby spoke after a ceremony at the union hall in Northeast Philadelphia honoring city police officers for valor and bravery. While he directly addressed a small group of reporters, many who had attended the event remained in the packed union hall to hear him as well.
"While it appears to enrage professional hate-mongers," he continued, "the fact is, police officers are covered by the same constitutional protections that they are risking their lives to protect (for) everyone else."
At the ceremony, 83 officers were awarded commendations for valor, bravery and heroism, including some who exchanged gunfire with suspects or killed armed suspects.
McNesby, who spoke from a lectern moved off the stage after the ceremony, denounced the outpourings of anger and protest sparked last month by grand juries' decisions not to bring charges against police in the cases of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in Staten Island.
"As a society," McNesby said, "we have to soon decide between the rule of law and due process, or a group of inspired lynch mobs."
Though not by name, he defended the two patrol officers who shot and killed Brandon Tate-Brown, a 26-year-old African-American parolee who police say struggled with the officers and reached for a gun during a Philadelphia traffic stop early Monday.
"When our officers are confronted by a convicted, violent felon who should not be out of prison _ who is in possession of a stolen, loaded firearm _ what else do you want us to do?" he asked. "We're not going to call a timeout. We're not going to call a news hotline."
He spoke in disgust about protesters who want to "stir up trouble." "Ask yourself a question," he said. "Where were the protesters at any of the almost daily shootings and killings in Philadelphia?"
Just a few days ago, he said, a 13-year-old was shot in Philadelphia. "No protesters at the location," he said.
"We are sick and tired of people who want to protest for the sake of protesting," he said. "And when it comes time somebody is victimized in their own community _ when someone is shot or robbed or killed _ they don't step up and cooperate with police."
Matthew Smith, a local official with the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network _ which has been organizing protests nationally _ attended a vigil outside Tate-Brown's home Monday, saying his group was seeking "justice _ whatever it is."
Smith and other protest leaders could not be reached Wednesday for comment.
Protests in Philadelphia have been peaceful, including City Hall marches and "die-ins" at high schools and outside an Eagles game, where 200 protesters lay down in the street. Police have been praised for their handling of the demonstrations.
"This isn't Ferguson," McNesby said. "This is Philadelphia. We are all very well-trained. Let's show police some support."
Police shootings have sharply declined in Philadelphia over the last five years, statistics show.
So far this year, there have been 25 police shooting incidents, as opposed to 50 in 2010. Four people have been killed by police in 2014, as opposed to 11 this time last year.
At the union hall, McNesby finished his remarks by reading aloud the names of the eight police officers killed since 2007.
Then he asked his supporters another question:
"Did anyone see Al Sharpton or any of his convicted thugs at any of them funerals?"
(c)2014 The Philadelphia Inquirer