In the wake of the shootings by police of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille, and the murder of several police officers in Dallas, former Philadelphia Police Department Charles Ramsey said the nation is sitting on a “powder keg.”
But does Ramsey have any answers?
When Ramsey addresses the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday night, it will be as one of the most respected figures in national law enforcement who was tapped by President Barack Obama to co-chair the Task Force on 21st Century Policing in the wake of Ferguson and the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Ramsey left his post at the beginning of 2016, has been lauded for his moves toward a data-driven police department, transparency with the public – for example, ordering the department to identify officers involved in all shootings – and for pushing reforms like body cameras for officers, which are currently being piloted in the 22nd District.
Ramsey, who did not respond to requests for an interview, led the department during a time of plummeting crime statistics, with the number of homicides dropping to the lowest in 50 years – which he credited to his leadership of the department, including tactics like reinstituting foot patrols. He previously led police forces in Chicago and Washington, D.C.
In 2015, Ramsey said declining homicides and shootings the previous year showed his strategies worked.
“It indicates it’s working, but what adjustments now is the challenge, to push it down even further, because I don’t believe we’re as low as we go,” he said.
But at a Black Lives Matter protest attended by hundreds on Tuesday who marched from North Philly to the DNC, there were low expectations for what Ramsey can offer the DNC.
Deandra Jefferson, a member of the Philly Coalition for R.E.A.L. (Racial, Economic And Legal) Justice, which organized the march, said having Ramsey speak was “a terrible idea.”
“He was an awful commissioner,” she said. “He did not care about the people and tried to make it look like the system was working for us when it was not. That’s what the Democrats want, they want lapdogs who happen to be the same color as the people they are oppressing to say, ‘Hey guys, everything’s okay,’ when it’s really not.”
Other activists from the coalition said they want Ramsey to address the shooting of an unarmed black man that happened on his watch.
“I hope he addresses the Brandon Tate-Brown murder by the Philadelphia police,” said coalition member Rufus Farmer. “I know he won’t, but I think they need to take another look at that case.”
Tate-Brown was killed in December 2014. He struggled with police after a traffic stop and was fatally shot while running from police toward his car, which police said had an illegal gun inside. Police were not charged in the crime; D.A. Seth Williams said the death “was a tragedy, but not a crime” at the time after clearing the officers involved. Internal Affairs also cleared the officers.
Federal lawsuits filed against the department by Tate-Brown’s family are pending.
“That Brandon Tate-Brown atrocity, that’s a classic example of how Ramsey wasn’t good here,” Farmer said. “He didn’t push hard enough.”