Driving While Black in America


April 9, 2009 by Gsmith

Rep. Jewel Williams, good sarrested for "driving while Black"

Rep. Jewel Williams, good Samaritan, arrested for nothing...

With the bad behavior of Dallas Policeman Ryan Moats being shown on a television screen near you, it might seem like police brutality and official misbehavior is taken seriously. Sadly, this is not yet the case. While a few examples of misconduct do get some airtime, the media too often sweeps such incidents under the carpet.

Meet Jewel Williams, an elected representative from the American State of Pennsylvania. Williams was arrested, for, well, nobody really knows what, including his “lawful arrestors”. He doesn’t exactly look like the criminal type in his photo, does he?

He wasn’t charged with anything. He just had his time wasted and his day ruined by a few people with a long history of bad behavior. I guess you take a risk when you behave like the biblical “good Samaritan”, and the stakes get pretty high when you’re the wrong color, depending upon who you meet in the proverbial showdown.

I’ll let the media tell the rest of the story…

“STATE REP. Jewell Williams lay prone on the back seat of a police cruiser. The metal handcuffs bit into his wrists; his fingers began to swell as a fiery pain spread through his body.

It was about 6 p.m. on March 28, a windy Saturday evening.

Moments earlier, Williams, an ex-cop, stopped his car because a police cruiser was blocking the street in his North Philadelphia neighborhood.

Officer Thomas Schaffling had stopped a 2009 steel-gray Volvo, which looked like a car involved in a drug buy a few blocks away, police said.

Williams said that he watched as Schaffling frisked the driver, an older man, then placed his money on the Volvo’s hood, where it began to blow away. When the man tried to grab his money, Schaffling handcuffed him.

Williams said that the Volvo’s driver seemed frail. When the legislator heard the word ‘hospital’ and the thinly built man seemed distressed, Williams exited his car and asked another officer, Timothy Devlin, who was nearby, if everything was OK.

He identified himself as a state legislator. Devlin said, “Get the f— back in your car before I give you a bunch of tickets,” according to Williams and two independent witnesses. Williams said that he asked to speak to a supervisor.

Next thing Williams knew, Devlin had him in handcuffs, crammed in the back of a squad car. Williams was forced to lie sideways because his size 12 1/2 shoes didn’t fit behind the cruiser’s front seat.

‘I was thinking, ‘What are they going to do with me?’ because I didn’t do anything wrong,’ said Williams, D-Phila. ‘”I came to the aid of a constituent who I didn’t even know, and then I get rousted up.’

The Volvo’s driver was John Cornish, a Nicetown resident and longtime truck driver for the city’s Streets Department. His car matched a description of a vehicle involved in a drug buy a few blocks from where officers stopped Cornish on York Street, between Smedley and Bancroft, near 16th. Schaffling searched Cornish and the Volvo and found no drugs, according to police.

Williams was not charged with any crime. Cornish, who has no criminal record, and his passenger also were released.

Last week, the police Internal Affairs Bureau launched an investigation into the March 28 incident, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said.

Schaffling and Devlin, who did not return calls seeking comment, are no strangers to Internal Affairs investigators. Or to Ramsey.

Ramsey had placed both officers on desk duty in August after similar allegations made headlines:

* On Aug. 9, Schaffling and Devlin clashed with guests at an outdoor baby shower in North Philadelphia.

The guests claimed that Schaffling and Devlin were at the center of a police attack that injured at least six people, including children who were maced, struck with batons and pushed to the ground, witnesses told the Daily News in an Aug. 13 article.

In January, the alleged victims filed a federal civil-rights lawsuit against the Police Department.

* On Aug. 24, Schaffling and Devlin pulled over two men, who said they were headed to church, in West Philadelphia. The driver told NBC 10 that Schaffling aimed his gun at him and shouted, “I’m going to blow your f—ing head off.” Devlin got nervous and also drew his weapon, the driver said.

The driver filed a citizen’s complaint, and the city’s Police Advisory Commission wrote a letter to Ramsey asking him to take Schaffling off the street.

Schaffling had also been linked to a May 5 police beating of three shooting suspects. That incident was captured by a Fox 29 news helicopter and broadcast around the world.
In the Fox video, Schaffling is seen pulling driver Brian Hall out of a car. He acknowledged afterward that he had ‘utilized foot strikes,’ or kicks, on Hall in an attempt to subdue him, police documents show.

Schaffling, 25, an officer since 2003, was cleared of wrongdoing. He wasn’t among the eight officers disciplined by Ramsey. Devlin, who joined the force in 2002, was not involved in the May 5 incident. Ramsey said last week that he returned Schaffling and Devlin to the street a few months ago, but ordered supervisors to closely monitor them and to split them up. The officers are part of Strike Force South, an elite crime-fighting unit run by Capt. James J. Kelly III.

‘We need [officers], as many as possible, out working,’ Ramsey said about his decision. ‘They were put on desk duty. They had been on desk duty for several months and there was no evidence that surfaced that would justify [keeping them off street patrol].’

Ramsey said that he “split them up . . . just to make sure that we don’t have a problem with either one of them and to give them a chance to work with other people.”

Schaffling and Devlin were not working together on the night that Williams, a member of the state House since 2001, was detained. Schaffling was partnered with Officer Donna Stewart, while Devlin was paired with a supervisor, Sgt. Kevin Bernard, police said.

Schaffling and Stewart stopped Cornish.

Cornish, a Vietnam veteran and self-described ‘old head’ who did not want his age in the newspaper, said that he and his childhood friend, Carl Cutler, 63, had just come from a VFW post in South Philadelphia where they picked up raffle tickets for an Easter event.
When Cornish saw the police lights behind him, he pulled over, thinking the cruiser needed to get by, he said.

Schaffling rushed up to the Volvo and yelled, ‘Get out of the car! Get out of the car!’ ‘The officer seemed ‘enraged,” Cornish said.

Schaffling rifled through Cornish’s pockets and placed about $900 on the hood of the Volvo. A heavy wind blew the cash off the hood. When Cornish tried to grab his money, Schaffling shoved him up against the Volvo and clamped the handcuffs tight on his bony wrists, according to Cornish and two witnesses. ‘That money was blowing all the way down the street,’ Cornish said. ‘I worked for that money. That’s no criminal money.’

Both Cornish and Cutler described Officer Stewart, who handcuffed Cutler, as polite and professional. In fact, Stewart ran after the money for Cornish, who said he had recently cashed a winning lottery ticket, his income-tax return, and city paycheck. He only got about $200 back; the rest blew away, Cornish said.

Cornish said that when he complained that the cuffs were too tight, Schaffling said something like, ‘Shut the f— up or I’ll f— you up and take you to the hospital.’

That’s when Williams, who was stopped about three-car lengths back, emerged from his state-leased Chrysler.

Williams said that he caught the word ‘hospital’ and heard Cornish tell Schaffling, ‘Son, why are you treating me like this?’

According to Cornish and Williams, Schaffling barked, ‘I’m not your f—ing son. You address me as ‘officer.’

‘He wasn’t acting like an officer; he was acting like a thug,’ Cornish said.'”

A tip of the hat to Brother Field Negro, honorary Mormon Worker of the day, for turning me on to this story, and to the reporters at philly dot com, who broke it.


One thought on “Driving While Black in America

  1. theradicalmormon says:

    I am horrified at the actions of this cop. Sadly, the Philly PD has a long reputation of racial discrimination and corruption. The famous case of Mumia Abu Jamal is still unresolved after some 28 years as Jamal sits on death row for a murder he probably didn’t commit.

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