What to Know
- During a hearing on racist Facebook posts from Philly officers, Acting Commissioner Christine Coulter addressed a shirt she wore in the 90s.
- The shirt had the words, "L.A.P.D. We Treat You Like a King," on it, interpreted by some as a reference to the 1991 beating of Rodney King.
- Coulter apologized for wearing the shirt. City Councilwoman Cindy Bass called for her resignation.
A Philadelphia City Council hearing on racist social media posts by police officers took a dramatic turn Tuesday when Acting Police Commissioner Christine M. Coulter apologized for a controversial t-shirt she wore in the 1990s, prompting a councilwoman to call for her resignation.
The hearing addressed a report, released by the Plain View Project in June, that showed the results of a two-year review of more than 3,000 racist Facebook posts and comments from both current and former officers in Philadelphia and seven other U.S. police departments.
The findings resulted in 72 Philadelphia police officers being placed on administrative leave, including the the suspension of 13 officers with the intent of being fired. At least seven officers resigned shortly after that announcement was made.
While giving the opening statement during Tuesday’s hearing, Coulter shifted the focus to herself, by addressing a T-shirt she wore 25 years ago. A photo, first reported on by Philly.com, shows Coulter wearing a shirt which reads, “L.A.P.D. We Treat You Like a King.” The words have been interpreted by some as a reference to the highly publicized, caught on camera beating of Rodney King by four Los Angeles police officers in 1991.
Coulter initially said the photo was taken during a gathering with other officers at the Jersey Shore when she worked in the 25th District, according to Philly.com. At Tuesday’s hearing, Coulter said that she didn’t believe at the time that the shirt was referencing the Rodney King incident. She still apologized for wearing it, however.
“It is clear that it was a bad decision on my part and I would not wear that shirt today,” she said. “Certainly, as I look at the past week and the hurt and damage it has caused people who I care about to communities that I always care about, I should have known.”
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After Coulter’s statement, Philadelphia Councilwoman Cindy Bass read from a letter written to Mayor Jim Kenney in which she called for Coulter’s resignation.
“I do not believe that the Acting Commissioner Christine M. Coulter can effectively manage the external relationships necessary to address police and community tensions which is absolutely required of any commissioner,” Bass said in the letter.
Bass asked for Coulter to step down immediately, which drew cheers from the crowd during the hearing.
A spokesperson from the mayor's office told NBC10 that while Kenney believes the shirt was in poor taste, he's glad Coulter is taking responsibility for wearing it. The spokesperson also said Kenney hopes Coulter is judged on her nearly 30 years of service rather than one poor decision.
“My heart has been broken over this,” Coulter said. “There’s folks in this room who I have served in their communities who know my heart and know that for 30 years I have served in black and brown communities with all that I ever have to give, never treating people unfairly or unjustly because of their race. Even people I've had to arrest, I treated like gentlemen or gentle ladies going through the process."
Coulter became Philadelphia's top cop last month after former Commissioner Richard Ross' sudden resignation. He stepped down one day after two female police officers filed an amended lawsuit alleging Ross didn’t properly deal with their accusations of sexual harassment and discrimination against other members of the department. Ross was also accused of having an affair with one of the women.
Coulter was listed as a defendant in the federal lawsuit.
Philadelphia's managing director said an all-out search is on for a permanent police commissioner with the goal of hiring one by the end of the year. The city also released a survey residents can fill out online expressing what they want from a new commissioner.