Ballot question No. 1 reads as follows:
Shall The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to call on the Police Department to eliminate the practice of unconstitutional stop and frisk, consistent with judicial precedent, meaning an officer must have reasonable suspicion that a person is engaged in criminal activity in order to stop that person, and, therefore, an officer cannot stop someone unlawfully because of their race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religious affiliation or expression, or other protected characteristic?
Sounds good, doesn’t it? I mean, who could be against this?
Well, first of all, note that it calls on the PPD to eliminate the practice of “unconstitutional” stop and frisk.
If it’s already unconstitutional, why would we need to eliminate it? Isn’t it already illegal? Of course it is. This is totally unnecessary and simple pandering by City Council.
Let’s read further.
The ballot question layers on the stupid. The elimination of the unconstitutional stop and frisk is calculated to make certain that an officer cannot stop someone “unlawfully” because of their race, gender, sexuality, religious affiliation or expression. Again, police already cannot stop anyone unlawfully because well …it’s not lawful.
We’re not done yet. Read the language again. It “amends” the charter to “call on” the Police Department to do all this unnecessary stuff.
“Calling on” someone to do something is a lot different than making a law that requires that they do something. What’s this all about? Wouldn’t you expect that an amendment to the city charter would be a law rather than a guideline?
Well, the Home Rule Charter has a section, specifically Article VIII, Chapter 5, titled Referenda Approved by the Voters. Understand that Pennsylvania does not permit non-binding referenda to appear on the ballot so, if challenged, these non-binding referenda themselves would probably be found to be illegal.
Nevertheless, our City Council clutters up the charter with matters that have nothing to do with the structure of our government—which is the purpose of the charter—and do not have the force of law.
For example, not long ago there was a ballot question that said that Philadelphians wanted to institute a $15-per-hour minimum wage, cloaked as providing for a “decent, living wage.”
While the question itself did state that we “call upon the Pennsylvania General Assembly to raise the Pennsylvania minimum wage,” I’m guessing that most voters thought that by voting “yes” on that question that they were passing a law to raise the minimum wage.
Have you noticed that the minimum wage is not $15 per hour? Well, that’s because the entire concept of a non-binding referendum is deceptive. But it gave members of City Council a chance to go to people who care about that issue and say, “Look what I did for you!” Which was, as usual, nothing.
One of the dumber changes to the charter was the one in 2007 that said that the city urged the United States to redeploy our troops out of Iraq. Seriously? What does that have to do with city government and why is it in the city charter?
One of the dumber changes to the charter was the one in 2007 that said that the City urged the United States to redeploy our troops out of Iraq. Seriously? What does that have to do with city government and why is it in the city charter?
What is sad is that this ballot question will pass. Almost all of these questions get overwhelmingly “yes” votes, no matter how bad they are for the city’s future.
This one isn’t necessarily bad for the city’s future. It’s just stupid.
Don’t be afraid. Being against this ballot question does not mean that you are for anything that is unconstitutional or unlawful. Don’t vote for stupid. Vote “no” on Ballot Question No. 1, no matter how good it sounds.
Matt Wolfe is a Republican ward leader in West Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected].
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