James Funt Discusses Police “Double Standard” on KYW Newsradio
Philadelphia – February 12, 2018: James A. Funt, a founding partner of Greenblatt, Pierce, Funt and Flores, LLC was interviewed this week on “Flashpoint,” a weekly show on KYW Newsradio where local and national influencers share their points of view on Philadelphia news stories of the week.
Topics on the show focus on community affairs, political news, civil rights and grassroots issues impacting the region. Guests on this week’s program included Funt, Philadelphia Police Deputy Commissioner Joseph Sullivan and Shani Akilah and Abdul-Aliy Muhammad, co-founders of the Black and Brown Workers Collective (BBWC). The group discussed the post-Super Bowl celebrations in the streets of Philadelphia.
While much of the revelry was lawful, some fans chose to commemorate the win with acts of vandalism to personal and commercial property. Images of the more excessive instances of damage made headlines across the nation. While a number of individuals have been arrested, representatives of Black Lives Matter have criticized the city’s response as mild, saying that large gatherings for civil protests by black people are more aggressively approached. “You can riot if you’re white and your team wins, but if you’re black and being killed, you can’t speak out,” said Black Lives Matter of Greater New York president Hawk Newsome in an interview with Newsweek.
During the program, Deputy Commissioner Sullivan discussed how the sheer number of fans celebrating was “overwhelming,” and that the majority celebrated “as they should,” while stressing that investigation and arrests would continue. “These are serious charges,” he said. “It’s a top priority to get to these people who committed acts of vandalism.”
Akilah queried whether a protest and the Super Bowl night could even be compared in terms of preconceived notions – that football fans are considered “rowdy,” while protestors are often called “hostile” and “violent.”
Funt clarified that, often, the difference is asking whether the action is true freedom of speech. Many methods of expression are considered as such, from online posts, to dance, clothing, signs, even kneeling during the National Anthem. However, when something starts out as free speech but ends up as a threat to one or more individuals, “that’s not speech,” he said. “That is a criminal act.” He stressed that, sporting celebration or a political protest, if someone crosses that line, “certain actions have to be taken – the question is going to be – is it going to be uniformly taken regardless of the skin color of the person…?”
Muhammad indicated skepticism. Citing BBWC involvement in a number of local events in the past year, he characterized police presence as appearing overly aggressive in terms of numbers or presence. “If you look at…a coalition of white-led organizations in Philly, you don’t see that kind of surveillance that you don’t see at a black-led direct action. There’s just not the same police presence, the police don’t organize in a same way [and] they don’t flank the crowd in the same way that they do when it’s black organizers.”
Deputy Commissioner Sullivan offered that the police approach any large gathering of celebration or protest, whether it be Black Lives Matter or the recent Women’s March, in the same way: trying to work with the group beforehand for its own protection, taking initiatives like issuing street closures if a march is planned. “We want to make it a safe environment for them to exercise their First Amendment rights.” Akilah cautioned that the very purpose of some protests make such communication impossible. “That is not the goal,” she stressed. “We are not there to work with the police [when] the police are implicated in this larger system of violence against black bodies.”
Funt capped off the program with encouragement of all to continue to discuss the issues. “[The issue of] whether or not there is a larger issue of a police state and that people have been mistreated has to be dealt with and has to be dealt with– in my mind – First Amendment issues – dialogue and speech,” he said. “You attack… that speech with more speech.”
“Shows like this are important to bring together very disparate conversations, and in that way I hope that we can really bring people together,” he continued. “There has been a greater move toward dialogue with the police and I am hopeful that Philadelphia is going to move forward in that.”
To listen to the full program, click here.
James A. Funt has spent his entire career helping those who have been discriminated against, both in his legal practice and volunteer work. He specializes in blue collar and white collar criminal defense, civil rights issues, and plaintiff employment discrimination matters.
Founded over 20 years ago as an aggressive criminal defense law practice,Greenblatt, Pierce, Funt and Flores, LLC is a full-service law firm offering individuals assistance in virtually all areas of criminal, employment, personal injury, civil rights, and family law. The firm has offices in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Visit www.gpfflaw.com for more information.