Life can be tough for black men in the City of Brotherly Love – even if they’re fictional.
The Philadelphia police officer who shot himself but claimed the shooter was a black man made up the entire story because he felt it was a believable tale for his fellow cops – and for some residents in the city.
Sgt. Robert Ralston has confessed to lying and fabricating a story that was based on one assumption: That no one would immediately question a story that involved a black man with a gun.
And he was right. The Fraternal Order of Police quickly bought into the lie and posted a $10,000 reward for information leading to the alleged African-American suspect.
Ralston’s false allegations were deliberate. He didn’t pin the shooting on a white man, or an Asian, or a Latino. He specifically blamed a black man for the shooting, knowing that his lies would spark an intense city-wide manhunt for a fictitious African-American gunman.
Racism fueled Ralston’s charges, and a department of law enforcement officers took his word as gospel and fanned out across Philadelphia looking for a black criminal.
“He wanted the story to be consistent with the environment he was in,” a largely African-American neighborhood, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey told reporters this week. “I am troubled by this whole situation. He violated the trust the people have given him.” He called the Ralston’s actions “a terrible and embarrassing chapter in our history.”
So what can Ramsey do to convince Philly’s black residents that Ralston’s racial attitudes are not shared by others in the department? Maybe nothing.
To the department’s credit, investigators were quick to find several inconsistencies in Ralston’s story and arrested him. But in a volatile inner-city environment, where black residents are already skeptical of police officers, law enforcers like Ralston only advance the notion that white cops are bigots.
“It’s troubling in a lot of ways,” Ramsey said. “It inflames racial tensions in our community, and that’s certainly something we don’t need.”
I’m not really a proponent of diversity training workshops for cops; some grown men come to the force with questionable life experiences, biases, and skewed world views, and a few weeks of collective therapy about how to treat citizens of color isn’t going to change many entrenched opinions.
But if there is a place that could use some cultural knowledge dropped on it, it’s probably the Philadelphia Police Department.
A 21-year veteran, Ralston told police he was on patrol in the city’s Overbrook section early on April 5 when he stopped two black men for questioning. He told investigators that one of the men put a gun to his head, but that he knocked the weapon away and suffered a graze wound to the shoulder when it fired.
Police searched the neighborhood for hours looking for the men, but officers never arrested anyone that matched Ralston’s description of the assailant.
Ralston’s story is indeed twisted, but unfortunately, we’ve heard this yarn before. Ralston may have hatched the bizarre idea from another high-profile Philadelphia liar – Bonnie Sweeten.
Last year, Sweeten, a white suburban Philadelphia mother of three, falsely claimed that she and her nine-year-old daughter had been carjacked and kidnapped by two black men. Sweeten lied. She made up the entire story – but it was an easy story for many residents of Philadelphia to believe because it played on the fears that black men were abducting blonde residents.
Ring a bell?