No hijab on the job

The Philadelphia Police Department has a series of dozens of what are known as ‘Directives’ which govern nearly every facet of a police officer’s work. From their uniforms to their firearms, from the proper procedures for obtaining warrants to the proper procedures for recording daily work assignments.

Every single person who signs up to become a Philadelphia police officer is aware of these directions, qualifications, and restrictions.

The uniform serves a couple of specific purposes. Not only does it identify each wearer as a police officer, but it also engenders respect.

It’s formality let’s those who come in contact with an officer know that they are dealing with someone who represents their municipality in an official capacity.

The uniformity shows that all those wearing the particular uniform are parts working together as one entity in carrying out their respective individual duties.

The Philadelphia Police Department is a para-military unit, which means that they are a group of civilians organized in a military fashion. Much of the uniformity, weaponry, and tactics of being a police officer are drawn from the military services.

Today, the uniform of the Philadelphia Police officer is under assault by a handful of special interest and religious groups. A female officer from North Philly’s 35th District, publicly identified in the local media as officer Kim Webb, claims that she became a Muslim after being hired for the police job. Webb states that her faith requires her to wear a ‘hijab’ at all times in public, and so now wants to wear this garment along with the rest of her police uniform.

This article of clothing is completely religious in character, and has nothing to do with her police job, and is nowhere to be found on the list of proper uniform items in the PPD. Bottom line, P/O Webb is not allowed to wear the item while in uniform.

But that is not good enough for P/O Webb, just as other officers in the past have not been happy with the department’s policies on beards, piercings, tattoos, and other items. The fact of the matter is that these people all know what they are getting into when they sign up. If the don’t like the rules, they shouldn’t become a cop.

If something about their lives changes, such as a religious awakening of some sort, and it triggers a conflict with their departmental assignments or standards, then that person needs to either find a way to conform to the work requirements during on-duty hours, or they need to resign their position.

There is no constitutional ‘right’ for me to tattoo a crucifix on my head, or wear crucifix earrings or pins, or a Jewish officer to wear a yarmulke, or any officer to wear a beard in uniform, as there is none for this officer to wear a hijab.

As a Catholic, I have received ‘ashes’ on Ash Wednesday and left them on during work hours. Of course, they were gone the next day. I wasn’t looking to wear ashes every day, or wear a crucifix on the outside of my uniform around my neck.

Now Webb has filed a law suit, and has been joined in it by another Muslim female and a handful of ethnic and religious organizations. What we are seeing happen is the attempted opening of Pandora’s Box, and what the history of this liberal city and it’s cop-killer releasing judiciary has is a strong liberal record on these types of things.

Courts in the past have ruled that as long as an employee has a sincerely held religious belief, they should be accommodated as well as possible. This horrible ruling, allowing for any manner of possible abominations, has killed morale in a number of companies and municipalities.

It is long past time for the judiciary to backup the legitimate standards, structure, and morale of the Philadelphia police department and other employers before those things become a thing of the past. The courts should absolutely say no hijab on the-job.

And Philadelphia police supervisors and commanders should solidly enforce the uniform regulations as regards items such as religious or ethnic organization pins, hijabs, yarmulkes, hair lengths and styles, piercings, tattoos, beards, and more.

The Church and the death penalty

It might seem to some that a topic as fraught with controversy as the death penalty might not be the best topic for this ‘Sunday Sermon’ series that I have going as a regular feature here at the website.

However, these are not normal times, and these times have resulted not only in my own personal re-evaluation of the issue, but also have resulted in my own increased research into the topic.

These ‘times’ that I am speaking about involve the murder of four on-duty uniformed Philadelphia police officers within the past calendar year, including last week’s cold-blooded assassination of P/O Pat McDonald. This follows on the heels of another similar murder of P/O Gary Skerski just 2 1/2 years ago.

Gary was the only one of these recently murdered officers whom I knew personally. He was alternately gruff and gregarious, but if you knew him well enough to be taken into his inner confidences it was usually the humor that you were exposed to: Gary was quite simply a very funny guy.

He also was a man who cared a great deal about supporting his family, and although his career had taken him to a relatively safe position in community relations, he would go back onto the often hard streets, making overtime as a part of the ‘Safe Streets’ effort to lower the drug trade in Philadelphia. While working this detail one night, Gary was gunned down by an armed robber.

When Gary Skerski was murdered, I lost someone whom I had laughed with, ate meals with, even worked a few shifts on the same details and in the same vehicles with. For some reason though, throughout the entirety of my police career, even through most of these recent murders, I maintained my status as one of the few police officers who were not in support of the death penalty.

I believe that these are personal, individual decisions that each of us has to make, coming to peace with the decision in our own hearts and minds.
I fully understand why police officers in particular support the measure as a legitimate penalty. Without opening up to the details of my feelings, they were based on an opposition to retribution in the form of vengeance, as well as an inability to reconcile the killing of many guilty murderers with the death of even one innocent man.

I believe that killing other human beings is the single worst thing that any of us can do, be that by abortion, homicide, accident, capital punishment, what have you.

Sometimes it is justified, such as our actions as police officers in trying to save our own lives or the lives of others that are in immediate mortal danger. For these same considerations, I see the justification during times of war, when an enemy is trying to kill you and your forces, and will do so if you don’t get them first. And of course accidents, as long as they are truly that and not the result of our negligence, such as in a DUI, are unfortunate and should result in our sorrow, but certainly nothing that we should be or feel guilty about for long.

But to kill a person just because they killed someone else always seemed to me to be a simple ‘tit for tat’, a product simply of vengeance that lowered us as individuals and as a society to the original murderers level.

The second consideration, the innocent man, is also strong with me. If we eliminated all the problems with the death penalty as currently constituted, if we made it swift, sure, and certain, we still would put innocent people to death from time to time. The deterrence produced by numerous executions would not reconcile for me if we put even one truly innocent man to death, and the odds are that it would happen over time.

But then this series of police murders happened, and when Pat McDonald was killed it was too much for me. The last straw had finally broken this camel’s back.

In my research, it turns out that the Catholic Church is not in opposition to the civil authority of the State in carrying out capital punishment, as I always believed it was. This power derives much of its authority from scripture itself, though the advisability of executing that power depends on all the circumstances around a particular case.

I do not know what the magic answer might be, but we as a society need to come up with a way to make the punishment meet sure, certain, and swift criteria. If we can do that, then I have reached the point where I personally am willing to support the death penalty. Perhaps such swift executions of cop killers, spousal murderers, neighborhood drug-related killers, serial killers and others will indeed prove to be a deterrent, and maybe they will result in fewer police funerals.

The Church is not in opposition to the idea of capital punishment, with the Catechism stating that it is allowable in situations of extreme gravity. With that being the official position of my Church, which matters to me and which should matter to all Catholics, then neither am I against the death penalty based on the individual situation.

NOTE: This is the continuation of a regular ‘Sunday Sermon’ series, each topic of which can be read by clicking on to that below “Label”

JRollin’ into the playoffs

The 2007 National League Most Valuable Player had certainly not played up to that standard during the 2008 campaign. Jimmy Rollins, the Phillies multi-talented shortstop and that ’07 MVP struggled with the bat through the majority of the first five months of the season. His numbers were nowhere near those of that magical season which he fashioned just a year ago. In 2007, Rollins led the Phils to their first division championship in 14 years with his .296 batting average, 30 homeruns, 94 rbi, 139 runs, 41 steals. This came on the heels of a 2006 year in which he had 25 homers, 83 rbi, 127 runs and 36 steals, and seemed to signal a progression that placed the player known as ‘JRoll’ among the elite at his position. At age 29, he seemed a regular strength that the Phils would be able to count on for at least the next few years. Instead, he pretty much crashed and burned statistically and production-wise in 2008, in which he would finish with just 11 homers, 59 rbi, and 76 runs scored, numbers that are completely unacceptable as the leadoff man in one of the most offensively solid lineups in baseball, playing his home games in a hitters paradise, and coming off an MVP year. But one thing that Jimmy Rollins never, ever let happen was that he did not take those offensive struggles out to the field with him. When JRoll took up his position at shortstop for the Phillies, he was again that Gold Glove Award winner. His range into the hole and up the middle, his mastery at turning the doubleplay with keystone partner Chase Utley, that rocket arm, his athleticism in going back on balls into the outfield or over by the 3rd base line, all of this remained. Jimmy Rollins bat might not have been much this season, but his defense at shortstop was a key reason that the Phillies went into this weekend in control of their own destiny, trying to clinch a 2nd straight division title. On Saturday afternoon it would all come together with a highlight reel play that will stand forever in the minds of the fans who witnessed it, either in person or on television. The Phils had a 4-2 lead and handed the ball to closer Brad Lidge for the 9th inning. Lidge was a perfect 40 for 40 in Save opportunities, and the Phils’ NL East title seemed all but assured as he struck out the leadoff batter. But then things got hairy as a walk and a couple of dink hits allowed the Washington Nationals to creep within 4-3, with the bases loaded and just one out. An inning earlier the Nats had challenged again, cutting a 3-1 Phils lead down to 3-2, but Rollins had helped put out the fire with a sensational ranging play into No-Man’s Land in centerfield. But he saved his best for this 9th inning drama. The Nats talented young leader, 3rd baseman Ryan Zimmerman, stepped in with those bases loaded, the tying run just 90 feet away with just one out. That close to Lidge losing his season-long perfection. Zimmerman got a pitch he liked and drilled a ground ball back up the middle that appeared for a second that it would roll into centerfield for a 2-run hit and a Nationals lead. But suddenly there was the speedy JRoll, slide-diving to snare the seeing-eye grounder. In the same motion that he speared the ball, he fed it to Utley at 2nd. Chase took the perfect feed for one out, turned, and fired a laser to 1st baseman Ryan Howard that beat the hustling Zimmerman by a couple steps for the game-winning double play. The Phils exploded onto the field to mob one another as the Citizen’s Bank Park crowd, and fans watching everywhere, erupted for joy. The Phillies are National League East Division champions for the 2nd straight season, and will open the playoffs at home against the wildcard Milwaukee Brewers. And although he had a down season, they simply would not be there again without the efforts of Jimmy Rollins, both in that clinching game, and in the field all season. Thanks to the gifts of his glove, arm, range, and speed, the Phils are once again JRollin’ into the playoffs.

The one that got away

It was just after 1:00 AM in the freezing cold early morning hours of Friday, January 30th, 1970. To put in perspective how long ago it was, just three weeks earlier the Beatles had performed together in the studio for the final time, and it was just 3 weeks since a new soap opera ‘All My Children’ had made its debut on television.

The remnant of a previous snowfall still coated the ground as rookie Philadelphia police officer Fred Cione pushed his red patrol car around the corner and into the 1700 block of west Oxford Street in the city’s 23rd district.

My wife, the former Debbie Marshall Howe, grew up just two doors from Fred’s family on Huntingdon Street in the city’s Kensington section. As a 14-year old budding adolescent at that time, she already recognized that Freddie, a single Vietnam vet, was ‘really handsome’ and ‘built’.

As this handsome 25-year old rookie cop drove onto Oxford Street that night he came upon three men and found something suspicious about them, or their behavior, or just the fact of them being on the streets in that location on that kind of night.

What we do know for sure is that Freddie got out and approached the three, and that one of them opened fire on him with three gunshots, one of which went into this chest and another into his gut. The men ran off, and Freddie was left to die like a dog in a North Philly gutter. That was almost three full decades ago.

Just last week, in my role as an instructor with the Philadelphia Police Department’s Advanced Training Unit, I was teaching a CPR class. One of the cops in attendance wore the name tag ‘Cione’, and I asked if he was a relative of Fred. The young man responded that he was Fred Cione’s nephew.

I am quite sure that he has heard the story a number of times already in his life. His own father, Fred’s brother Nick, became a Philly cop following his brother’s death. Two of Nick’s own sons subsequently have become Philly cops as well.

The murder of Fred Cione on that cold January night came back to me in the past couple of days as we here in Philly suffered the murder of yet another of our young officers, Pat McDonald. Pat is the fifth Philly cop to be murdered in the last 2 1/2 years.

But there is one big difference between the murders of Fred Cione and that of Pat McDonald and other Philadelphia officers murdered in the line of duty such as Chuck Cassidy, Gary Skerski, Steve Liczbinski, Izzy Nazario, Danny Faulkner, Lauretha Vaird, Steve Dmytryk, Danny Boyle, and Leddie Brown.

The big difference is that the murder of Fred Cione remains the only murder of a Philadelphia police officer that has never been solved.

Police Commissioner Frank Rizzo and his top investigators were never able to find anything to solve the case: no real suspects, no murder weapon, no motive.

The police Homicide Unit has never let the case die, assigning top detectives to take a new look at it every so often, but no one has ever come up with any substantive leads. The only reliable witness, a female, was brought in to look at thousands of photos over the years, but was never able to identify anyone.

The case remains the ultimate frustration for all of us as Philadelphia police officers. When one of us goes down on the job at the hands of a bad guy, the very least that we expect is that our brothers and sisters will hunt our killer down to the ends of the earth, and bring that killer to justice, one way or another.

The three evil specters whom it was the unfortunate fate of Freddie Cione to run into on that cold, dark, wintry January night so long ago remain demons that we have never been able to exorcise.

Think about and remember Freddie Cione as you drive past his mural. It is painted on the Aramingo Avenue side of his neighborhood recreation center, just south of Lehigh Avenue. He shares the mural with Joey Friel, another neighborhood native killed in the line-of-duty.

We not only must never forget Fred Cione, but we must specifically remember him and his case, and never allow justice to elude us again.

Point a gun at a cop, we will kill you


Today’s online editions, and I understand the print edition as well, of the Philadelphia Daily Liberal Rag, er, Daily News quotes a ‘nearby resident’ in the area where police officer Pat McDonald was gunned down as saying “Cops are always using unnecessary force instead of trying to defuse the situation. That is someone’s son that is lying dead there. We aren’t ever told anything. All we know is that another young black man is dead and another cop is dead, too. They want us to give the cops respect, but the cops don’t respect us.”

If I were the intrepid reporter interviewing this particular enabler my next question would be: “Who is us?” Who is it that the cops don’t respect, first of all, and secondly, why should cops, or anyone for that matter, respect you?

The fact is that from the families that raise them, or should I say frequently don’t bother to raise them, to the neighbors who turn a blind eye, to the politicians who paint them as victims and perform the ultimate act of enabling, there is an entire community of people both in this city and around the nation whose off-spring are turning into animals.

Not “someone’s son”, but someone’s spawn. A ‘son’ is defined by Webster’s as “a human male offspring, especially of human beings.”

The word to define Daniel Giddings, as well as Danyea Phillips who shot two undercover Philly Cops back in 2007, John Lewis who killed P/O Chuck Cassidy, Eric Floyd who was one of the killers of Sgt. Steve Liczbinski, Solomon Montgomery who killed P/O Gary Skerski, and many more including the young one who stole a car and smashed into P/O Isabel Nazario, killing her instantly, is simply ‘animal’.

These animals have an obvious common denominator, one that was covered in my November 1st, 2007 piece titled Black Males Are Killing Us“, but they are not the only big problem in and of themselves. The interviewee of the Daily News article today, the one who attempted to pass off some of the blame on Philly Cops is a huge part of the problem as well.

Also perhaps playing an even bigger role is the family, who showed up in the aftermath, many in muslim garb, as one person wailed “He was a muslim! They killed him!“.

My response to that individual would be “So what?

Who cares if the murdering animal named Daniel Giddings was a Muslim, or a worshiper of the sun god Rah? What does that matter in any way?

The guy is a lifetime cancer in the community. He has repeatedly committed numerous felonies, including while in prison. He was a menace to society who clearly practiced the anarchy that those around him preached.

The ‘us’ likes to cry that the problem is with ‘the Man’, even though the real problem lies with the community itself.

Well here is my answer to anyone else who chooses to draw a weapon on Philadelphia police officers. Just as responding P/O Rich Bowes deservedly did to Giddings in an outstanding example of police work, so shall we do to the rest of you: we will kill you.

You might get lucky and either get the drop or ambush one of us, but you cannot escape us all. You aren’t big enough to take us all. We have folks bigger and badder than the baddest you have to offer.

Your gang isn’t big or strong enough. Ours has over 6,000 members in just the local chapter alone. We wear and bleed blue. And we all legally carry guns and other weapons on us, as well as being all linked by high-tech radio systems.

You can’t run far enough if you do happen to initially slither away. There has only been one murder of a Philly Cop in our history who went without capture, and that one was well over three decades ago.

We practice with our weapons regulary, the state mandates it. Our department guides us and trains us in how and when to use our guns as well.

One thing that is certain: if you point a gun at a Philadelphia police officer, you are pointing it at the entire city. And now, after a number of us have had to pay the ultimate price for the work that your family and neighbors and community were unwilling to do in your formative years, we will no longer hesitate.

Many cops who are killed are ambushed by cowards like those listed here. But there have also been cops in the past who have hesitated to pull their guns and shoot.

Some feared the simple act itself. Some feared the ramifications of desk duty, and ACLU or media or community protests and negative reporting. Some feared unfair treatment at the hands of overzealous and two-faced politicians who want to talk the ‘tough cookie’ talk, but never back up those of us who have walked the tough walk on a daily and nightly basis.

But today there is no one who is in fear of using their weapon.

We will use them within guidelines, but make no mistake about it, we will use them.

You see, we want to return home to our family tonight. We want to go home and watch the Phillies pennant race, or the Eagles game. We want to make that class to obtain our college degree. We want to see our kids dance recital or ball game.

Unlike these animals and most of their enablers, we care about our communities, our families, and our lives. We will not allow you to take them from us, or us from them, any longer.

If you point a gun at a Philly Cop, plain and simple, we will kill you.

If any politician or other ‘leader’ thinks that is harsh, then maybe you need to take our guns away from us. Because otherwise, we not only will use them to defend ourselves and the public-at-large, but we are required to use them for those purposes.

We do not need to wait until a bullet is screaming on it’s way towards our body before we pull the trigger. We do not need to ‘wait until they get one off’ first. We do not need to put our lives in mortal danger when someone pulls a gun and begins to point it at us.

What we need to do is what we now will do, which is what we are trained to do with our guns: we will kill you.

We are not trained to ‘wing’ anyone. We are trained to aim for center mass as best as possible. That is often a kill shot.

That message needs not be sanitized. Instead, it needs to get out there in the community and reach the ears of the drug dealers, terrorists, lifetime felons, and other neighborhood cancers who would do us harm.

Point a gun at a cop, and we will kill you. Plain and simple.