By Christopher “Flood the Drummer®” Norris
2.22.17: Philadelphia – (Politics): Mr. Rich Negrin, the former Managing Director for the City of Philadelphia who’s currently a candidate in the race to become the next District Attorney, on Tuesday evening did something he’d hadn’t done since declaring his candidacy last December: offer public remarks on the controversial and fatal shooting of Mr. Brandon Tate-Brown, a 26 year-old black man who was shot by a police officer while unarmed and fleeing in the last month of 2015; the shooting galvanized the advocacy community in a meaningful way, so much so that the mother of the deceased, an unknown private citizen, became a symbol of resistance for many locals and eventually ended up on the presidential campaign trail with Mrs. Hillary Clinton.
Mr. Negrin, who once worked in the District Attorney’s Office, said the late December officer-involved shooting was one of the most controversial to ever happen here, and that the different accounts from witnesses surely makes it an issue for the City. Yet the tall, former football player-turned public servant stopped short of committing to re-opening the criminal investigation.
It would set “a dangerous precedent,” Mr. Negrin said, adding that he would have to give it a lot thought because re-opening the case of Mr. Tate-Brown could mean doing the same for thousands of other cases. Impressively, Mr. Negrin knew much about the case and disclosed to me that the most egregious fact of all was that two rookies were out patrolling in the early morning.
“Nobody talks about that.”
Citing a fact he learned from the Quattrone Center at the University of Pennsylvania, Mr. Negrin said the number one predictor for police shootings is the age and maturity of the officer when they join the force. An ideal situation might be to pair a rookie with a more experienced officer for patrols, he suggested.
An imposing figure, Mr. Negrin during my interview with him, which spanned roughly twenty-minutes, was self-assured. When I asked him what differentiated him from the other candidates who on Tuesday were also at the petition party, the answer given was: “It’s not even close.”
“No one here has managed 70,000 employees… nobody here has helped run the nation’s fifth largest city.”
Mr. Negrin, who declared himself a “role model for our young people,” said he’s gained a reputation for turning around organizations that are in crisis, and the DA’s office is in crisis, he asserted, and in need of a strong manager who can lift morale from “rock-bottom” and restore credibility.
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But Mr. Negrin also has a reputation of being pro-establishment and anti-protester, an authoritarian of sorts. That caricature is one that Mr. Negrin, the son of Cuban immigrants who escaped an authoritarian regime, finds incredibly offensive.
Two major incidents fuel this unflattering portrait of Mr. Negrin: the raiding of a West Philadelphia puppet warehouse during the 2000 Republican National Convention where many people were arrested, and the perceived hostility towards the Occupy Philly encampment of 2011. Regarding the raid in 2000, Mr. Negrin said he neither drafted the warrant – which referred to activists as, among other monikers, anarchists – nor did he authorize anyone to be detained or arrested.
As a rookie DA then, Mr. Negrin said his job was simply to sign the warrant, which proved probable cause. According to Mr. Negrin, undercover officers reported that activists were blocking roads near a hospital with PVC pipes and handcuffs. Some activists were stopped and those materials were found on their person, leading officers to think others in that network may have been planning a similar direct action. When asked if there’s any regret for signing the warrant, Mr. Negrin answered in the negative.
In the case of Occupy Philly, Mr. Negrin said he tried to relocate the encampment from City Hall to Thomas Paine Plaza, but the activists then had their sights set on a confrontation. They were arrested, said Mr. Negrin, not for their encampment, but because they continued to march into neighborhoods during rush hour and were putting their bodies, and others’, at risk.
“Democracy is complicated,” he said. “You have to strike the right balance between public safety and free speech.”
As told by the dates on the aforementioned controversies, Mr. Negrin isn’t a newcomer to the local bureaucracy. After his stint in the DA’s office, Mr. Negrin soon became the highest ranking Latino official in local government, a right hand to the Mayor. That time spent as Philadelphia’s Managing Director is what Mr. Negrin feels gives him a unique understanding of the city’s various communities and why crime is high in some of them rather than others.
“There’s no way you can spend one minute in some of our communities and not understand the plight and lack of opportunity that leads to crime,” he said.
Mr. Negrin touts his creation of Philly Rising, which is now the Office of Civic Engagement and Volunteer Service, as one of his chief accomplishments. Philly Rising allowed Mr. Negrin to be accessible to many members of the community, and it would inform many of the programs he would launch out of the DA’s Office, if elected.
As DA, Mr. Negrin said he would support the Governor’s moratorium on the death penalty (“the state shouldn’t be in the business of killing people”); hold police officers accountable; be tough on violent crime and smart on non-violent crime; decriminalize addiction, and purse gun control measures; Mr. Negrin at this time is not ready to commit to ending the cash bail system, citing the need to do more research on the subject matter.
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