The lyrics to the theme song of the “Cops” TV program are “Bad boys, bad boys. Whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when they come for you?” The lyrics to this newspaper article are “Black man, Black man. Whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when they come for you?”
And they’re coming. In fact, they’re here. The “they” are the FBI, the IRS, and a grand jury investigating D.A. Seth Williams for accepting questionable and potentially illegal gifts valued at $160,050. That figure covers 2010-2015 and includes- but is not limited to- $45,000 in roof repairs, $20,800 in vacation payments, $15,000 in travel compensation, $11,500 in cash, $2,930 in sports tickets, $2,700 in sofa costs, and $1,500 in payments for two Atlantic City trips. And all this was for a law enforcement official who earns a salary of $175,572, which equals about $3,500 every single week.
Williams thought, as many Black prosecutors and Black cops think, that those federal (as well as state and local) law-enforcement entities considered him to be kinda/sorta one of them. But by the time he and the others realize that white privilege doesn’t include “the help,” it’s too late. But is it too late for the Black community to defend him? And if it’s not, should we?
I still consider him to be a personal friend. In fact, I’ve known him for about 20 years. And each time we encounter one another, we always treat each other with respect and civility. Even though I’m a rabble-rousing Black agitator, I publicly endorsed him in the 2009 election. And because of that, I lost a little street cred. Some of my revolutionary comrades accused me of selling out.
I explained that I was simply doing the right thing for Blacks. I explained that Williams had always been pro-Black, as proven when he was president of the Penn State Black Student Caucus and led a 102-mile march to the Capitol in Harrisburg to pressure his university to divest its funds from apartheid-supporting companies doing business in South Africa. I explained that he would continue that kind of activism as the first Black D.A. in Pennsylvania’s 67-county history. I explained that he was my friend who would personally accept my calls and help me anytime I tell him about any Black person’s rights being violated by police or in court.
But after he won the election, something strange happened. In the words of Malcolm X, I “had been had…, been took…, been hoodwinked…. Bamboozled. Led astray. Run amok.” Instead of having a friend as a D.A., I had a foe. For example, he turned his back on the Black community in 2010 when he rejected my Private Criminal Complaint that sought the prosecution of Sgt. Robert Ralston who shot himself and lied by claiming that a “young Black man wearing cornrow braids” did it.
He turned his back on the Black and Brown community in 2014 when he refused to prosecute the cops who robbed nearly two dozen bodegas of cash, food, and other items and who were caught on videotape cutting the wires to the stores’ surveillance cameras.
He turned his back when he overzealously decided to prosecute/persecute some of Philly’s best Black elected officials, even after the white state attorney general refused to do so because those officials had been racially targeted. By the way, I say some of the best because they include Louise Williams, Ron Waters, Michelle Brownlee, Harold James, and Vanessa Lowery Brown, all of whom have provided selfless public service to the Black community throughout their exemplary political careers. And not one of these political leaders was ever accused of bribery, theft, or misappropriation of funds. Their charges were minor “Conflict of Interest” or “Failing To Report” violations.
Williams also went after Thomasine Tynes, the city’s first Black Traffic Court president judge and a public servant who frequently held free traffic court procedure sessions in the Black community, for accepting a bracelet as a gift. I should point out that the total amount of value received by these six Black elected officials who’ve done far more good than bad, is $19,000, which equals an average of about $3,100 each. But the amount received by Williams is at least $160,050, which equals exactly $160,050 for himself alone! When he held a press conference in June of last year regarding these Black officials, he said, “They took the money not because they were targeted…, but because they wanted it.” So I guess he didn’t want that roof, those vacations, that travel, that cash, those tickets, that sofa, those trips, or any of the other stuff he got.
But it’s not just Williams’ prosecutorial unfairness to those six Blacks, it’s also to Anthony Wright who was found not guilty in a retrial a few days ago for a 1991 murder that Williams prosecuted despite already having DNA evidence proving somebody else committed the crime; James Dennis who had his death row conviction for a 1991 murder overturned in 2013 by a federal district court judge and by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals but remains in jail because Williams continues to file motions to execute him; Philly’s 280 inmates- the most in the country- who are serving life without parole for crimes committed when they were juveniles; Marcus Perez who as an adult was mistakenly told by a judge that he wouldn’t get life if he pled guilty but he did get life and Williams refuses to agree to a new trial; unarmed Brandon Tate-Brown who in 2014 was killed by cops who still have not been prosecuted; my retired city social worker client Nicol Newman who was prosecuted but found not guilty after police illegally entered her home, assaulted her, and falsely arrested her in March; and even high-profile lawyer A. Charles Peruto Jr. who since 2013 is still awaiting a public apology from Williams for a seven-month homicide investigation- while Peruto’s famous father was dying of cancer- that unfairly cast unfounded suspicions on the pristine Peruto for possibly having some involvement in the death of a woman at his apartment when he wasn’t even in town and despite detectives saying there was no homicide along with a grand jury having quickly cleared him of any wrongdoing whatsoever.
Furthermore, after Pennsylvania’s White governor did the right thing by issuing a moratorium on the racist death penalty (like the white Pennsylvania attorney general who did the right thing by deciding not to promote racism by prosecuting those targeted Black officials), Williams filed a motion to invalidate the moratorium. As prominent attorney Marc Bookman of the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation said, Williams pursues the death penalty “more than virtually every other major city” D.A.
When a Black man’s in trouble with America’s racist legal system, I wanna come to his defense. And so does the Black community. But shouldn’t we treat this particular Black man like he’s treated our Black elected officials and all other Black folks? “Black man, Black man. Whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when they come for you”- and when Black folks refuse to defend you?