There was a time, in the city of Philadelphia, when public officials lying was cause for outrage and widespread condemnation — as if we expected better, knew we all deserved better, and refused to accept that the people we trust with our well-being could get away with flagrantly abusing that trust.
Want to know what that looks like?
Check out this Daily News cover from August 14, 1973, the morning after a young reporter named Zachary Stalberg challenged then-Mayor Frank Rizzo to take a polygraph test after denying accusations of political corruption:
That story was all anyone talked about for weeks, everyday citizens and public officials alike: Rizzo lied. And we cared.
Compare that to the last week here in Philadelphia, once it became clear that police officers lied about what happened when Officer Mark Dial shot and killed 27-year-old Eddie Irizzary within five seconds of a traffic stop encounter in Kensington. The lie — that Irizarry lunged at officers with a knife — was callous and frankly, stupid, making clear the officers had no respect for Irizarry or the people they have sworn to serve and protect. The incident is a textbook case for why people continue to distrust our leaders to keep us safe, healthy and cared for in the sixth largest American city — and a textbook example of the Philly shrug in action.
On Wednesday — nine days after the shooting and one day after the family released video of the encounter — Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said she was going to fire Dial for refusing to cooperate with the internal investigation. Whether he will also be charged with a crime remains to be seen, though the District Attorney’s office is investigating.
In the meantime, where is the public anger over the knee-jerk reaction from a keeper of the peace to lie about what happened? Or over the police union standing by an officer who broke all the rules of engagement, with fatal consequences? Why isn’t Commissioner Outlaw visibly angry with the officers? Why isn’t Mayor Kenney? For that matter, where is Mayor Kenney — and presumptive Mayor-elect Cherelle Parker — on this? Where is the outrage?
Here’s what we know so far.
On the afternoon of Monday, August 15, as the Inquirer first wrote, police Cpl. Jasmine Reilly told reporters that officers in a van tried to pull Irizarry over after seeing him driving erratically, then followed him when he sped off and parked on the 100 block of East Willard Street in Kensington. Reilly said Irizarry then got out of the car with a knife, ignored “multiple commands” to drop the weapon and “lunged” at the officers. One of the officers then shot him several times, Reilly said.
Almost immediately, that account seemed suspect, as a bystander posted a video to Instagram that showed officers pulling Irizarry out of the car, with a clearly visible bullet hole in the windshield. Indeed, the next night, Outlaw retracted the story, after viewing body camera footage from the officers. Outlaw refused to say why Reilly initially gave the wrong story to the public, except to say that she got her information from an “internal source.” To her credit, Outlaw acknowledged that the lies — if not the incident itself — was a blot on her department’s efforts to gain community trust.
Outlaw is clearly pained by the events following Irizarry’s death, but it’s a stretch to say she has taken responsibility for what occurred. We have not heard her say publicly to her officers, and therefore to all of us: Cut this shit out.
“I understand the reticence, I understand folks not really being sure whether or not they should even trust what we are saying today because of what we said initially,” she said. “But I’m hoping that they see this is a genuine effort to do everything we can to share what we know when we have it.”
Dial, who was put on administrative leave, was not named for a couple days. He has not yet answered any questions publicly or to the police department about the incident.
On Tuesday night this week, Irizarry’s family released security video from a nearby building that showed what actually occurred. It’s alarming to watch. Officer Dial exits his police van with his gun drawn; he strides to the driver’s side of Irizarry’s car; his partner, from the other side of the car, shouts that “he’s got a fucking knife”; Dial fires his gun five times into Irizarry’s closed window — then, as he runs back to the van, into the front windshield.
On Wednesday morning, the Citizen’s Police Oversight Commission, a civilian body formed after 2020 and tasked with reviewing officer misconduct, recommended Dial be fired. One of the members, Rosaura Torres Thomas, may have rushed to judgment but was blunt in her assessment: “They murdered him,” she told the Inquirer’s Rodrigo Torrejón. “He was murdered.”
This whole thing sounds kind of familiar …
This is not the first time in Outlaw’s tenure here that she’s overseen a physical and public relations fiasco. In 2020, during demonstrations after the murder of George Floyd, Philadelphia SWAT officers used pepper spray and tear gas on a group of peaceful protesters on the Vine Street Expressway. In the immediate aftermath, Outlaw and Kenney both justified the police actions because, they said, a state trooper had been trapped in his car and was being attacked by protesters.
In fact, that was also a lie, as The New York Times made clear to the entire country a few weeks later with an account of the incident that included detailed video footage. As Outlaw put it a few hours after the Times article went live, “In the weeks that followed, I have learned those statements were … substantively inaccurate.” She fired one officer who was seen attacking protesters with pepper spray at close range, and his commanding officer voluntarily took a demotion.
That time, both Outlaw and Kenney apologized, with the mayor, according to news reports, taking full responsibility. Though, really, we all took responsibility: In March of this year, the City agreed to pay $9.25 million to around 350 protesters on 676 and West Philly for police brutality during the 2020 demonstrations. That — if not the evidence of unnecessary force and the public humiliation — should have been a wake-up call about how the department is being managed.
In 2020, Outlaw responded to the unnecessary force by banning the use of pepper spray during demonstrations. This week, her response to the initial misrepresentation was to announce that her department will limit any public statements in the immediate aftermath of a police shooting. That may save her a public relations nightmare, but it doesn’t solve the fundamental, ongoing problem of both knee-jerk violence and knee-jerk lies from her officers. Nor does it put anyone on notice that those fundamental problems are in any way being addressed.
… but also, something seems different.
See above, where both Outlaw and Kenney apologized, and the mayor even took full responsibility for the behavior of officers in his employ? That has not happened this time around.
Outlaw is clearly pained by the events following Irizarry’s death, but it’s a stretch to say she has taken responsibility for what occurred. We have not heard her say publicly to her officers, and therefore to all of us: Cut this shit out. Legally, it’s likely her hands are tied — Dial is being fired for refusal to obey orders from superior officers and failure to cooperate in the department’s investigation, not for the lies or the shooting itself — but it’s hard not to feel wistful for former Police Commissioner Charles Ramsay, standing at podiums and announcing over and over the firing of bad cops — never mind that they more often than not got their jobs back — with a wither that instilled the certainty that he, at least, would not put up with this shit.
Where is the public anger over the knee-jerk reaction from a keeper of the peace to lie about what happened? Why isn’t Commissioner Outlaw visibly angry with the officers? Why isn’t Mayor Kenney?
Nor has Kenney offered anything in the way of a public apology or a public display of anger at his officers’ behavior. At Thursday’s press conference announcing Dial’s firing, the Inquirer noted, Kenney “initially remained silent until reporters pressed him to comment.” When he did, his statement wasn’t exactly a rousing example of strong leadership: “This is certainly a tragedy and my heart breaks for the family and for the loss of Mr. Irizarry,” Kenney told reporters, adding “the investigation will bring out whatever it’s going to bring out, and we’ll move on from there.”
Thanks, Mr. Mayor. I feel better, don’t you?
Kenney left the podium after referencing “the next mayor” — who has also been frustratingly silent on this episode. During the 2023 primary, Parker vowed to hire more cops; she is sympathetic to the need for good policing at a time when shootings — though down 20 percent citywide — are still tragically high in Black and Brown neighborhoods. That gives her the standing to speak out; her victory in May, guaranteeing she will be the next mayor, gives her the responsibility to speak out.
Instead, she has been silent, no doubt hiding behind her oft-quoted contention that “we only have one mayor at a time.” But if that mayor, at this moment, is MIA, then wouldn’t it behoove her to let us know we will soon be in the strong hands of a definitive leader who will — I know I’m repeating myself — not put up with this shit?
And where is everyone else? City Councilmembers have been silent. News reporting has been dogged, and healthily skeptical, but also missing a sense of outrage that seems appropriate here. Where are all of the rest of us?
We deserve better.
Last year, a few weeks before she resigned to run for mayor, former City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart released an audit of the police department that showed such gobsmacking inefficiencies as to almost seem like a work of fiction. It revealed poor coordination among and between officers, lack of training, outdated methods of communication — including interoffice mail and teletypes — and a host of other practices that keep even good solutions from being executed well.
I wrote about the report at the time, noting that what it showed even more than specific problems was a general lack of good management. That’s what this seems like, all over again. Where is the accountability? Not at the top. Maybe it’s no wonder, then, that the rank-and-file officers feel no compunction to be accountable, either.
Things are different than three years ago, for sure. Police officers are at least sometimes being held to account for excessive force that far too often results in death. The Philadelphia Police Department, and Outlaw specifically, seem to be transparent in correcting the lie, and trying to be as open about the process and the incident as they can at this point. That has not always been the case. And D.A. Krasner is not likely to shy away from prosecuting Dial if it’s legally feasible. In that regard, Irizarry’s family can hopefully find some solace.
But that will not solve the larger issue. A few weeks ago, Citizen Co-founder Larry Platt wrote a Memo to Madam Mayor calling on Parker to get her public safety department in place now, while she has the strongest political leverage. This episode makes a strong argument for replacing Outlaw with a police commissioner who can start fresh with instilling confidence in the public — someone like former Philly detective-turned-Volusia County, Florida, Chief of Police Mike Chitwood, who has rejected the “warrior mentality” he grew up with and instilled a culture of deescalation in his police force; or Michael Harrison, until June the police commissioner in Baltimore, who also helped turn around the perennially corrupt New Orleans Police Department.
Parker could use her first year’s budget negotiations to fund not just more cops, but more of the innovations in policing that Outlaw herself has pushed for, and that have become more common around the country since 2020, including those that train and retrain officers in how to diffuse a situation, rather than resort to violence. Maybe she can even allocate funds to bring in Ramsay’s consulting group, 21CP Solutions, as a way to bring his expertise back to Philly, along with what he’s learned from working with departments across the country.
Presumptive City Controller-elect Christy Brady could continue to audit the Police Department’s budget, to force efficiencies that will make doing the job easier, safer and more effective, so that citizens, too, are safer.
And we, all of us, can keep paying attention, not only to how police are conducting their business, but how our leaders are taking responsibility and being accountable when things go wrong — and when things go right. That means weighing in on contract negotiations with the Fraternal Order of Police, showing up when police officials are called on to answer questions, telling City Councilmembers and the mayor that the demands of 2020 have resonance today. It means voting, and advocating, and remembering.
And it means doing maybe the hardest thing of all: Expecting better. We shrug off the lies, the corruption, the political shenanigans because we think that’s just the way it is — even that that’s all we deserve. It isn’t.
MORE ON POLICING IN PHILADELPHIA FROM THE CITIZENPolice Commissioner Danielle Outlaw addresses the press about administrative actions taken in the wake of the Philadelphia Police shooting of Eddie Irizarry Still from 6ABC.