Law, Order, and Philadelphia

Calling himself a candidate for law and order, Donald Trump has encouraged the notion that America is heading back to the tumult of the late 1960s. For an example of why that's not so, consider Philadelphia, host city for the Democratic National Convention.

Philadelphia has a tradition of hardball police tactics, dating back to Frank Rizzo's reign as police commissioner and then mayor in the 1960s and '70s. But we see a different story now, where demonstrations surrounding the Democratic National Convention have proceeded in 97-degree heat without arrests. Philadelphia newspaper columnist Will Bunch credits the progressive approach of Mayor Jim Kenney, a Democrat who has made a point of welcoming immigrants to the City of Brotherly Love:

Even with thousands of protesters coursing through Philadelphia’s streets this week, it’s still possible that no one will be arrested.

“We don’t need to put people in the criminal justice pipeline,” Kenney told me on Tuesday ...  I don’t want to arrest anybody -- that’s our goal.”

It's a sharp contrast with the approach that, say, New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg took for policing the 2004 RNC -- wholesale illegal arrests were used to detain protesters for the duration of the convention, later costing the city millions of dollars in legal payouts. And it certainly veers away from the head-busting Philly tradition that Rizzo embodied.

Bunch continues:

There’s been something big happening in Philadelphia during this hellishly hot week -- a plot twist that’s been buried under the invasion of Bernie’s die-hard supporters, the Democrats’ coronation of Hillary Clinton, and the non-stop griping from pampered Beltway journalists that bad convention logistics has left them too little air conditioned or too long waiting for their Uber ride.

The DNC has marked Philadelphia’s coming out as city that’s outgrown its culturally conservative roots and its long hangover from its bitter conflicts of the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, to become a bastion of  progressivism.

It's not Rizzo's Philly anymore, nor is it Richard J. Daley's Chicago in 1968.

Kenney looked further back for historical parallels in his speech at the DNC. He spoke of how Know-Nothing mobs rioted against Irish Catholics in Philadelphia in 1844, burning down their churches. "The Know-Nothings have returned, and last week in Cleveland they vowed to take their country back this November," he said.

Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses. 

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