Questions on police procedure at meeting

By Robert Moran INQUIRER STAFF WRITER

It was billed as a town-hall meeting to discuss “policing, politics, and perceptions.”

The assembly Wednesday night at Catalyst for Change Church in West Philadelphia instead devolved into a panel of speakers being heckled and denounced by a small group of angry members of an audience that numbered more than 100 people.

The meeting was an attempt to have a meaningful dialogue following numerous protest marches and “die-ins” that followed the grand-jury decisions not to indict police officers involved in the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y.

But it wasn’t long before police representatives on the panel were shouted down and told to shut up when they tried to explain

their positions.

The one person given near-unanimous deference was Tanya Brown-Dickerson, the mother of Brandon Tate-Brown, a 26-year-old man who was fatally shot in December during an alleged struggle with officers in Mayfair.

She described the pain of learning from news reports — rather than directly from police — that an officer had shot her son during a traffic stop in the 6600 block of Frankford Avenue.

She wasn’t sure it was her son, so she tried to call him. “Please pick up the phone,” she recalled pleading. “Please, baby, pick up the phone.”

Deputy Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel, one of the panelists, offered an apology.

“We have a responsibility to let the person know, the loved ones know, what has occurred,” Bethel said.

He was interrupted by chants from some in the audience of “Who killed Brandon Tate-Brown?”

The Philadelphia Police Department’s policy is to not identify to reporters officers who shoot civilians, but Bethel said there have been talks in the department about changing that.

An officer’s name becomes public if the family sues, he said, so the question is how much sooner the department should identify the officer.

“We do believe a name should be delivered, but at what point?” he said.

Brown-Dickerson called on the department to also release surveillance video that reportedly shows the officer shooting her son.

Bethel said that the video would eventually be released, but that it remained part of investigations being conducted by the department and the District Attorney’s Office.

Police say that Tate-Brown had a stolen gun in the car and that he was trying to reach for it when he was shot by an officer in self-defense.

The Rev. Mark Kelly Tyler, senior pastor at Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church, said citizens need to get more involved to effect change in police culture.

“The authority does not come from heaven,” he said of police powers. “The authority comes from we, the people.” bmoran@phillynews.com

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