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 specificallyremember him and his case, and never allow justice to elude us again.
Folks outside of the Philadelphia, PA area might be saying “What? Who?” right about now. But bear with me and you will understand. For those in the area, it’s likely that you know the name, and if so then you know the reason.
Let’s start off with the briefest of updates for those who don’t know the reason. Charles “Chuck” Cassidy was a Philadelphia police officer who gave his life in the line of duty on Halloween morning, basically ambushed by a robber whom he likely never saw coming.
It was the sunny morning of October 31st, 2007, and 54-year old Chuck Cassidy eased his marked Philadelphia police department SUV into a parking space directly in front of a Dunkin’ Donuts business in the West Oak Lane section of the city.
No one can speak for officer Cassidy as to what was running through his mind at that moment. From being in his situation on thousands of occasions over a seventeen-year career, I can probably paint you a fair picture.
First, it was a beautiful day outside and Chuck, a veteran of a quarter-century policing the streets of Philadelphia, was likely basking in it. Perhaps on the drive to the donut shop he had music playing in his patrol vehicle. He certainly had his police radio on, listening to the scattered broadcasts coming over on a typical bustling day in the busy 35th police district which he served for two decades.
Nearby that morning there was scheduled to be a memorial service for a long-ago fallen officer. A plaque would be placed near the location of that heroic officer’s ultimate sacrifice, and it is entirely plausible that Chuck had plans to attend that service along with dozens, if not hundreds, of fellow officers, friends, and family members of the officer. He would certainly have known of the service, and was factoring it into his morning plans in some way.
Also, it was Halloween, and Chuck Cassidy was a family man in the best sense of that word. He was married to his high school sweetheart, Judy, for over 26 years, and they had been raising three great kids: Katie, Colby, and John.
Along with this immediate family there were numerous nieces and nephews, and some would be getting ready for the annual “trick or treat” rituals. This kid-friendly holiday and his own family’s plans to handle that evening’s anticipated rush of candy-craving kids was surely on his mind.
At that early part of the morning, this was probably not just another day to Chuck Cassidy; it was probably one of the good days. Sunny and pleasant, a family-type fun holiday, a remembrance scheduled for a fallen brother officer. Chuck headed out on patrol with his mind likely at ease, but he was also most certainly at some level of extra awareness and attentiveness due to recent events both in his patrol area and in the city.
In his area, there had been a string of robberies, and these Dunkin’ Donuts establishments had been particularly targeted a few times. Chuck had established an ongoing friendly relationship with the management and employees of this particular venue, as all of us who have ever patrolled the streets have done with many of the business people in our assigned areas. Chuck made it a habit to particularly stop by and ensure that all was well at this location.
Over the past four weeks, the city had been rocked by the shooting of three other Philadelphia police officers in separate incidents, including two in just the past three days. And it was just over a year ago that the city had been rocked by the death of another popular family man officer, Gary Skerski, a friend and work colleague of mine from my own days patrolling the 6th district in the early 1990’s, who was shot by a robber exiting the scene of his crime.
Shootings have been out of control in our town for some time now, and local cops and other law enforcement officers have not escaped becoming victims of the epidemic of violence.
So as he exited his SUV, Chuck Cassidy was likely in good spirits, looking forward to the day, possibly even to enjoying that “first cup of coffee” that is one of the small things so important to so many of us.
As he exited, someone outside of the shop told him that something suspicious was going on inside, and with that information and all of the previous knowledge of robberies and shootings, Chuck likely opened that shop door with a heightened sense of awareness and apprehension.
There is no way that I can say this for a fact, but having viewed the news videos from outside the shop, and having seen the surveillance video from inside, there is likely another crucial factor that contributed to what happened next. As anyone who has ever stood outside on a bright, sunny day knows, it is very difficult to see into the windows of a small business. The glare from the sun simply overtakes the situation. My bet is that Chuck was walking in “blind”, perhaps believing that he might be walking in on an argument that the establishment was having with a customer.
We certainly know what happened next. 21-year old John Lewis, a young black male, a high school dropout, a repeat offender with a lengthy criminal past already, had been inside holding up the business at the point of a handgun.
It was not his first time, as he would later be named as the robber in the other recent Dunkin’ Donuts robberies. He had been an employee at one of the businesses in the past, knew their routines, and thus felt the store was an easy mark. What he didn’t count on was a police officer pulling up just at the moment that he was robbing the shop.
Lewis had just a couple of seconds to decide what he was going to do next. Since he could see out the windows much better than Chuck could see inside, Lewis knew that he was about to be confronted, and thus he had a serious advantage. Chuck only knew that there might be some type of problem inside, nothing more.
As Philadelphia Police Officer Chuck Cassidy pulled open the handle of the door and stepped into the doorway, Lewis had made his decision. He was not going to be arrested on this day, he was going to try to get away, and there was only one way that was likely to happen.
At 10:30 am on Halloween morning 2007, John Lewis pointed his gun and shot Chuck Cassidy at point-blank range in the head as the officer took the final steps of his life into the doorway of that small Dunkin’ Donuts shop on Broad Street in Philadelphia.
He never saw it coming, at least not until it was entirely too late. Chuck was kept alive by artificial means until he died the following morning. The killer made his getaway, and eventually fled to Florida with the help of a family member. But outstanding police work by Chuck’s fellow officers led to his capture.
At this point, I would like to apologize to the family and his fellow officers in the 35th district for any liberties that I may have taken here in describing Chuck’s thoughts and actions. They are in no way meant to speak for what absolutely happened; they are just the ruminations of a fellow officer who has been in similar situations on similar days, albeit without a tragic ending to this point.
Also my apologies to the department, particularly the hard-working investigators on the case, for any slight errors in describing the incident. The details have been gleaned from press reports and conversations with fellow officers. I have nothing but the utmost respect for Chuck, as is obvious with the announcement of what I hope is the honor being bestowed herein.
An outsider might argue that I am being partial to law enforcement officers, Philly cops in particular, in naming Chuck as this year’s honoree. After all, cops are killed all across the country, every year. And last year saw the murder under very similar circumstances of Gary Skerski, whom I personally knew and worked with. Was there some reason he was not named, and Chuck suddenly was this year? And there will be some who say, in all due respect to the fallen officer, weren’t there Americans this year whose contributions were more vital in the bigger picture?
I always feel the need to defend the choices that I make for this honor each year. There have been three previous recipients, all of a higher national awareness level than Chuck.
In 2004, Pat Tillman was named for sacrificing his life in the War on Terror, particularly since he gave up stardom in the NFL to defend his country. In 2005 it was pundit Bill O’Reilly, who put the heat on both the political right and left in his “No Spin Zone” every night during a time of political partisanship, and who had become an outspoken champion of children’s causes. In 2006 it was the preacher to the country, Billy Graham, a man whose is certainly a modern-day apostle.
In choosing Chuck Cassidy, it is for both his own personal sacrifice, because after all he gave of himself fully by giving his life. He paid the ultimate price in the service to his community, and after all what is more important to the nation?
It is also representative for the sacrifices in the past of Gary Skerski, Danny Faulkner, and the thousands of other law enforcement officers across the country who have likewise given their lives in service to their communities. The men and women of law enforcement put on a uniform, strap on a gun, and step out each day on some level to serve their fellow Americans.
The sacrifice of Chuck Cassidy raised him above some of the other very worthy nominees this year. I want to thank those who submitted the names of First Lady Laura Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, economist Thomas Sowell, author Dinesh D’Souza, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, TV personality Oprah Winfrey, Microsoft CEO Bill Gates, former Senator Rick Santorum, local war hero Dell Dailey, and Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.
There was another consideration this year as well. It was most certainly the year of the “Pop Tart”, and I wrote an article about this back in June of this year. The embarrassing public and private exploits of Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Nicole Richie, and Tara Reid, among others, took over the headlines many nights. This was all highlighted by the death of Anna Nicole Smith.
The awful negative example that these young women were giving to our youth led me on a search of young Hollywood women who might be a shining, positive example, in the hopes that highlighting one of them with the honor would serve as a counter. But the sacrifice given by Chuck overwhelmed even that idea.
Earlier in the year, back in March, Chuck and his partner had confronted a pair of armed gunmen who had just committed another robbery. The two officers confronted the men with strength, professionalism, and maturity, and were able to convince the men to lay down their weapons, taking them into custody without further incident.
That job ended far more pleasantly, and gave Chuck the opportunity to bask in being a hero to his community and fellow officers. But it was not a role he cherished. Almost to a man, it was well known that Chuck avoided the spotlight.
At his funeral services, Chuck’s brother-in-law, Tony Conti, gave a tremendously eloquent and moving eulogy that painted a wonderful, uplifting picture of Chuck’s life.
In it, Mr. Conti described all of the attention that was surrounding the aftermath of the murder: “Chuck is an unassuming man, right Mrs. Cassidy? This is a guy who avoided the spotlight. This is a man who hated to be the center of attention. Do you have any idea what he’s saying right now?”
I hope that in naming Chuck Cassidy as the website’s 2007 American of the Year, he would accept if he could on behalf of the sacrifice that all of America’s police officers and their families make every day. The battle that our troops overseas face every day is similarly fought here at home on our own streets everyday by its police officers, firefighters, and other law enforcement officers and public service professionals.
May God bless the family as they move forward. May He bless all of the police officers around the nation, and particularly here in the City of Brotherly Love, in staying safe while remaining dedicated to their communities each day.
And may God especially bless Philadelphia police officer and 2007 American of the Year Chuck Cassidy with a well-deserved eternity of peace.
NOTE:By clicking the below ‘Label’ you can link to view all of they American of the Year honorees.
Here in Philadelphia, PA, the murder capital of the United States of America, it was just announced that 54-year old police veteran Charles Cassidy died from wounds inflicted on Halloween morning.
Officer Cassidy walked in on a robbery in progress at a Dunkin Donuts in his patrol area, and the robber shot him in the head before the officer had a chance to react.
He leaves behind a wife, three children, and scores of family, friends, acquaintances, and co-workers who will be affected by his murder for a long time to come.
He also leaves behind a city that is in crisis, indeed a nation that is in crisis, with little or no hope for any meaningful change to what has become the violent status quo.
Why? Because few will say publicly what needs to be said: black males, in particular reciditivists, are killing us.
Actually, the saying of it is only the very necessary first step. If folks do begin to say it, and actually recognize it for the fact that it is, then further steps need to be taken to address the problem. But let’s deal first with the facts, and the expected outraged replies.
First, crime in Philadelphia is indeed out of control, and now our own police, pilloried in recent media reports as shooting too often ourselves, are the targets. Officer Cassidy is the fourth uniformed Philadelphia police officer to be shot while performing their duties in the past six weeks, third in the past four days alone.
All were shot by black males.
In mid-September, Officer Rich Decoatesworth was shot in the face by a young black male wielding a sawed-off shotgun after pulling over the vehicle this male was driving in West Philly. Early on Sunday morning, Officer Sandra Van Hinkle was shot in the ankle while responding to gunshots being fired outside a hip-hop club, again in West Philly.
On Tuesday night in the Center City area, while the Democratic Presidential candidates debated just blocks away at Drexel University, Officer Mario Santiago was shot in the shoulder by a black male who then dramatically leaped into the Schuylkill River in an escape attempt.
Why the dangerous attempt at escape, which ended in the shooter drowning? He was on parole, having been released from prison after serving an 11-year sentence for murdering a 6-year old girl.
Daniel Faulkner, Daniel Boyle, Lauretha Vaird. And a half dozen more since I joined the PPD as a rookie back in the spring of 1990. And now we add another, Chuck Cassidy, to the lengthening list of Philadelphia police officers murdered by black men.
In his August 2007 article “Liberal Views, Black Victims”, noted African-American writer Walt Williams, who grew up in North Philly, presented some compelling commentary and statistics. Williams reported that “Last year, among the nation’s 10 largest cities, Philadelphia had the highest murder rate with 406 victims. This year could easily top last year’s with 240 murders so far”.
Williams went on to state “Other cities such as Baltimore, Detroit and Washington, D.C., with large black populations, experience the nation’s highest rates of murder and violent crime. This high murder rate is, and has been, predominantly a black problem.”
According to Bureau of Justice statistics, between 1976 and 2005, blacks accounted for 13% of the American population, yet committed over 52% of the nations homicides.
There is a risk involved in pointing out these truths. The risk being that the race-baiter crowd, the enablers such as Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and even our own outgoing Philadelphia mayor John Street, will say that calling any attention at all to race of perpetrators is akin to racism, polarization, and hatred. They will say that the problem is guns, not black men, and that to imply differently makes one a hater.
Our own mayor Street wants tougher state gun laws. This is a smoke-screen to deflect attention from the true problem of the “who” onto one type of “what” is used in crime commission.
As described by Lorne Gunter in Canada’s National Post: “Gun bans in Australia and the United Kingdom have failed to lower crime rates in those countries and there is no reason to believe a ban here would work any better. Upwards of 90% of gun crimes are committed with illegal guns, by criminals who will not observe a gun ban any more than they have mandatory registration.”
Anyone who would say that race is not an issue in the exploding crime and murder situation in Philadelphia and in other major cities around our nation is quite simply lying. I say that they are lying because I simply cannot imagine that they are ignorant to the truth. They know it, but it doesn’t serve their own selfish political interests to face it, so they pander to their own constituent’s lowest common denominators.
The NCF report found that blacks are seven times more likely to commit murder than people of other races, eight times more likely to commit robbery, three times more likely than non-blacks to use a gun in the commission of a violent crime.
Even the usually race-baiting, excuse-making, Prince of the Apologist’s himself, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, once infamously stated that he profiles those around him when he walks alone down the street at night, saying he sighs with relief when “the footsteps following me don’t belong to a young black male.”
Now, let’s pause a moment to answer the howls of protest already rising in the hearts and mouths, and from the keyboards of, all the apologists out there who are only tossing gasoline on the fire by refusing to address the truth.
Do whites commit crime? Sure they do. Do Hispanics and Asians? Of course. Have blacks ever been the victims of crime, prejudice, hatred, and even murder? Absolutely. Would it be irresponsible of whites, Hispanics, Asians, etc to retaliate against blacks, or to hold prejudicial feelings towards an entire race? Emphatically.
But that’s not what we’re talking about here. What we are talking about is the exploding current crime and murder rate in the city of Philadelphia and other major American cities, and my outraged racial apologists, that is quite simply a black male problem.
Does that mean that all black males are suspect, that every black male in Philadelphia is a likely criminal? Only a fool, idiot, or race-baiter would consider that is what is being suggested. The vast majority, nearly every single one of these black males, is a reciditivist.
In her 2007 review “Bail Humbug! Why Criminals Would Rather Be in Philadelphia”, Sarah B. Vandenbraak of the Hoover Institute points out another reason that crime is exploding in our city: the terms of a 1980’s-era consent decree entered into by then-Mayor Wilson Goode’s administration, which hoped to alleviate prison over-crowding.
This consent decree has crippled our local criminal-justice system. If you click into the link supplied on the Vandenbraak article, you will get an education that might astound you.
Vandenbraak writes “Suspects charged with so-called “non-violent” crimes, including stalking, car jacking, robbery with a baseball bat, burglary, drug dealing, vehicular homicide, manslaughter, terroristic threats, and gun charges, are not subject to pretrial detention.
In determining pretrial detention, Philadelphia judges can no longer consider a defendant’s prior record, his history of failing to appear in court, his mental-health history, his ties to the community, or his drug or alcohol dependency.
These factors become completely irrelevant. A major drug dealer carrying a loaded Uzi and a plane ticket out of the country cannot be detained before trial in Philadelphia.”
Responsible black leaders like Williams, Thomas Sowell, and others both locally and across the nation have been trying lately to get the message across: black people, and in particular black men, need to step up, claim responsibility for the actions of their community, and make a change.
10,000 black men rallying and marching through the streets of Philadelphia won’t make a difference. 10,000 black men staying home, raising the children they father, working hard, educating themselves, and passing along moral values to their children will make a difference, both within their own families and communities, and within the city and nation at-large.
As a middle-aged white male, and a cop at that, one who is currently outraged at the senseless assassination of yet another of his professional colleagues in the performance of his civic duties, is it my place to voice these concerns? Yes, I believe it is. Why? Because the vast majority of what I have expressed here is not my opinion, but it is factual evidence, statistics, and commentaries of others.
I believe that it would be irresponsible to express these opinions and present this position without making at least some small suggestions as to what can be done to change the status quo. I think that the biggest possible change will come when voices for black responsibility and morality begin to shout down advocates of black victimization and criminality.
Here is one person’s quick-start guide. When you hear your kid listening to a CD or MP3 or radio station with a hateful and/or profanity-laced message, be it rap, hip-hop, rock, dance, whatever, turn it off and force them to leave it off, and let them know that it is wrong and why it is wrong.
When you see them watching a video that exploits women, extols the virtues of the “gangsta” lifestyle, turn it off. You run your home, don’t allow gangsters of the music and other media industries to run it.
From the youngest ages, talk to your kids about drugs and their dangers. Talk to them about responsible behavior in the areas of inter-personal relationships, especially sex, and the consequences.
Lead them in a love for God and country, a respect for their fellow man, and into a positive calling. Hold your kids accountable when they go astray. Keep them in school, and stay close to their teachers, and their school’s programs and administrators.
Most of all, don’t raise them to think of themselves as victims, to allow themselves to become victims, to feel that they need anyone else but themselves and their family to succeed in life.
And I could go on forever about the importance of fathers in a child’s life and upbringing. You can’t help them if you aren’t there, fully committed. No matter your marital situation, you can be actively involved in your children’s lives. Oh, and you aren’t helping them in the least if you are there, but are high on drugs or drunk on booze.
The sad, hard, changeable truth is that black male reciditivists are killing us here in Philadelphia: cops, citizens of other racial and ethnic backgrounds, each other. Charles Cassidy is only the latest victim, and he won’t nearly be the last.
My hope and prayer is that people open up and admit, and deal with, the truth, and maybe some lasting peace can come to our community. But facing that sad, hard, changeable truth is the first step.