Ruling punches us in the face

Ex-police officer cleared of assault charge despite video evidence In Philadelphia it is better to be Jonathan Josey than it is to be Aida Guzmán. The 39-year…


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Ex-police officer cleared of assault charge despite video evidence


In Philadelphia it is better to be Jonathan Josey than it is to be Aida Guzmán. The 39-year-old ex-police lieutenant was caught on video hauling off and hitting Guzmán in the face with enough force to knock her to the ground as she walked by him during the festivities in the aftermath of the Puerto Rican Day parade in September of last year. 

Despite the video showing exactly what happened, and the force used by the ex police officer (a video which went viral, but has since been removed from YouTube) Josey was found not guilty Feb. 26 by Judge Patrick Dugan. 

During his trial Josey tearfully claimed that he did not intend to hurt Guzmán but simply wanted to knock a bottle out of her hand. Except it's clear from the video that Josey hit far too high to be aiming for a hand, and in the days after the incident Guzmán sported bruises and swelling from injuries to her face and mouth. 

But, hey, perhaps Philadelphia police officers can't tell the difference between hands and faces — especially when they're staring down the threat of a much smaller, much slighter, middle-aged Puerto Rican woman walking away from them. 

Dugan's ruling is a travesty. 

Let us swap out judge for jury as we repeat L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley's words from April 29, 1992 in the aftermath of the acquittal of the police officers whose beating of Rodney King was caught on videotape: "Today, [the judge] told the world that what we all saw with our own eyes was not a crime."

The analogy might be uncomfortable but we have to face squarely that disrespect, if not outright bias, regarding Philadelphia's Puerto Rican and Latino community played a part both in Josey's actions and Dugan's ruling. During his trial, Josey talked about being soaked in beer and the generally disruptive atmosphere of the 5th & Lehigh neighborhood where the incident took place; Dugan made clear he didn't think the video  represented the full context of the situation and implied that Josey was in the center of celebration teetering out of control.

More out of control than the city was during and immediately after the celebration of the Phillies first World Series win? We don't believe it for a second. We think the fact that the celebration was taking place in West Kensington — el corazón del Barrio — had everything to do with how the policeman reacted and how the judge ruled. And that makes it an offense and a ruling perilously close in spirit to the King verdict.

Guzmán's lawyer said after the verdict that the Latino community was portrayed as "scary, lawless people" and Guzmán herself says she believes the police department is racist. The fact of the violence with which Josey lashes out in the video lends credence to both these claims .

It's no news that Philadelphia police officers have been brutal when policing the Puerto Rican community. Fifty years ago, Philadelphia's Concilio was founded in part to protest just that. After Dugan's ruling, the organization's executive director, Joanna Otero-Cruz, posted this to its Facebook page: "Is the court saying because the assault involved a police officer there should be no punishment?" 

Members of the Latino community have also called out Dugan, saying he acted as Josey's lawyer instead of as a judge, and have started to make noise about making sure to get enough Latinos registered to vote him off the bench. 

We'll be glad if, in fact, this ruling galvanizes our community. Too often we experience discrimination but don't call it out. Too often we seem resigned to a status quo that treats us as second-class citizens. Too often we accede to the impunity granted to those who do violence to us in our own communities, and stand uncomplaining amid cheers like the ones that met Dugan's ruling. 

We need to encourage members of the Hispanic Bar Association of Philadelphia to give strong consideration to service on the bench. Because rulings predicated on perceptions of how dangerous or unruly our Latino communities are cannot continue without challenge.

Josey has said he wants to be reinstated to the police force. The Fraternal Order of Police (who wanted to throw Josey a party after he was removed from the force) wants him reinstated. Commissioner Charles Ramsey told KYW news radio that he won't reinstate Josey unless he is forced to, and it behooves us to make sure to hold him to his word. 

In fact, let's go even further: Let's demand that Ramsey commit to recruiting more Latino police officers. 12.6 percent of Philadelphia County's population is Latino, so how about we aim for 12.6 percent of the total police force to be so as well? 

That way, when they pass by our side at a street party they will see us — really see us — instead of knocking a bottle out of our hands with a punch to the face.


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