The Corner

Read This Speech

There’s been a lot of discussion this week about rioting and who bears responsibility for it. In my mind, far and away the best entry in this debate is Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter’s speech last Sunday. In fact, it’s the most extraordinary thing I’ve heard from any politician in a long time. I wrote a column about it today. But don’t take my word for it. Read the whole thing, pasted below:

Now I must say first: two things. One: Some of you may know that 30 Americans died overseas, an elite unit of our military. Whether you agree with our foreign policy or not, I certainly ask that you would pray for the men and women who risk their lives each and every day to make sure that we can enjoy the freedoms, as Americans, that some of us seem to take for granted. They’re serving their country. Other people make the decision about what they do and where they go, but they’re doing their job. And unfortunately, one of those 30 is the son of a Philadelphia police officer. So I would ask that you would keep all of them, but especially that Philadelphia family that’s been affected, in your hearts.

Now, I’m gonna say some things this morning that I know, from time to time, many of you think but may not say. It will not be PC, but I told Reverend Campbell that I will recognize that I’m in church and I’m in his pulpit, so I will certainly be respectful. On the other hand there are some words that we know that are also found in the Bible, and I may use a few of those. Pastor mentioned that we’ve had some incidents in Philadelphia, the most recent of which was the Friday before last, 20, 30 kids running around Center City, and it’s happened in other parts of Philadelphia as well. A 16-, a 17-, a 19-year-old, and yes, an 11-year-old. And while I may have been out of my office, I was not out of communication. And I sent a message to Police Commissioner Ramsey first thing that morning, as soon as I heard that report, read that report, that we have to do something, and we put our team together that day, to start working on some things, and so I want to share my thoughts.

#more#The first is, this nonsense must stop. It must stop. If you want to act like a butthead, your butt is going to get locked up. And if you want to act like an idiot, move, move out of this city. We don’t want you here anymore. First, I want to apologize. I want to apologize to all the good, hard-working, caring people here in this city, and especially our good young people, here in Philadelphia. But I have to tell you this morning, that I am forced by the stupid, ignorant, dumb actions of a few, that we will announce tomorrow actions that we will take that, unfortunately, will affect many here in our city.

Parents, get your act together. Get it together. Get it together right now. You need to get hold of your kids before we have to. Parents who neglect their children, who don’t know where they are, who don’t know what they’re doing, who don’t know who they’re hanging out with, you’re gonna find yourselves spending some quality time with your kids, in jail, together. Together.

Now this stupid behavior requires a strong response. But I can assure you that we are not just going to be responding. We’re going to be much more proactive in our activities, and we’re going to try our best to anticipate some of these senseless, teenage, insane acts that we’ve been seeing over the past few months.

Parents, mothers, and fathers. Now I happen to know that raising children is kind of tough. I’ve got two kids, one of whom is a teenager right now. If you need help, we have help for you. The department of human services, community behavioral health, and many other social-service agencies. Do not be afraid, do not be ashamed, to reach out and ask for help, counsel, guidance, or support. But you need to get the help now, before it’s too late for the help to help you. Get some help.

Fathers, fathers. Fathers have a particularly important role to play. Not more important than mothers, but just as important. You know you’re not a father just because you have a kid, or two, or three. That doesn’t make you a father. A father is a person who’s around, participating in a child’s life. He’s a teacher who helps to guide and shape and mold that young person, someone for that young person to talk to, to share with, their ups and their downs, their fears and their concerns. A father has to provide a structure to a young boy, on how to become a good man. A good man. A father also has to be a good role model, and help a young girl be a strong woman.

Now let me just say this, if you’re not doing those things, if you’re just hanging out out there, maybe you’re sending a check or bringing some cash by, that’s not being a father. You’re just a human ATM. You’re just an ATM. And if you’re not providing the guidance, and you’re not sending any money, you’re just a sperm donor. You’re just a sperm donor. You’re what the girls call out in the street: “That’s my baby-daddy. That’s my baby-daddy.” That’s not good enough. Don’t be that. Don’t be that. You can do better than that.

And you know something, that’s part of the problem in our community. Let me speak plain. That’s part of the problem in the black community. And many other communities. But a particular problem in the black communities, we have too many men making too many babies that they don’t want to take care of and then we end up dealing with your children. We’re not running a big babysitting service. We’re running a big government and a great city. Take care of your children. All of them. All of them.

You know, you’re sitting around with your jaws tight, oh she got two, three other guys around; well, if you were doing what you were supposed to be doing she wouldn’t be with those two or three guys in the first place because you would be there, taking care of all of your children. Now, you are around for the sex. Now be around for the parenting. Be around for the parenting. Because let me tell you something — the immaculate conception of our Lord Jesus Christ took place a long time ago, and it didn’t happen here in Philadelphia. So, every one of these kids has two parents who were around and participating at the time. You need to be around now. There ain’t no immaculate conception happening up in here.

Parents, you need to step up, before we have to step to you. Now tomorrow, at twelve noon on Dilworth Plaza, we’ll be making a series of announcements. Got a ton of folks involved in this effort. It’s not a one-time thing, it’s not a summertime thing. I heard a child say “Amen.” Some of them smarter than some of these adults running around here. Tomorrow we’re going to announce a series of steps and actions that will be taken. Some will be positive, and some you won’t like. Unfortunately, that’s the way it goes. But some of the more positive things we’re looking at is programs and services and activities at our rec centers, other supports we may be able to provide, we’re going to get our social-service agencies involved, but also the D.A. will be more involved, and the courts will be more involved. We took a whole lot of stuff, a couple years back, and by the way, every one of those libraries is open. Tell your children: Get a book. Read a book. Learn something. Schools open September 6, on Tuesday, the day after Labor Day. Spend the next month reading. I’d like to try that for a change.

And whatever you do, just stay out of trouble. Think for yourself. Don’t do stupid stuff. Now, some of you know, I grew up nine blocks from here, 5519 Larchwood Avenue. I’m gonna be West Philly, no matter where I live, no matter what I do, for the rest of my life. But before I ever heard of the Philadelphia Code or the Pennsylvania Code or any other code, I was very familiar with the Basil and Catalina Code. That was the code of my parents. Now, I have to tell you. When I heard this particular report, and we’ve had other instances, but it is inconceivable to me, inconceivable to me, that in my teenage years, that I would be out somewhere, let alone downtown, at nine o’clock at night. Impossible for me to fathom. Because my mother said: “Boy, I know you have a watch. But if the watch stops working, if you forget to wind it, if the battery breaks, there’s only one thing you need to do. Look up. When that light goes on, have your butt on the steps. I don’t care whether it’s Eastern Standard Time, Daylight Savings Time, Pacific Time, Mid-Atlantic Time, North Pole time. When that light goes on, have your butt on the steps. Don’t let me have to look for you.” Now, that’s what she said. It was really easy. Real simple. And you know, I know a lot has happened in the 40 years since I was an early teen. I know that some things have changed. But now there are a few things that don’t — or shouldn’t — change. Respect other people. Keep your hands to yourself. Don’t touch what doesn’t belong to you, or what you didn’t earn. Keep your butt in the house, or on the steps, until you’re told otherwise. And mind your manners. Now, my parents made it very clear that these were their rules, and that as long as I lived in their house, that was it. See, because I didn’t own anything in that house, and I had a job, and I bought stuff with my own money, but when I crossed that threshold, it was theirs. That room — we’re letting you sleep in that room. This air conditioning — we let you have some of that air conditioning. That heat that I paid for, we let you have some of that heat. Those clothes on your back, I bought those clothes. I brought you in here, I’ll take you out of here. So let’s be very clear about the rules. Now, when you get old enough, and you move out, then you can do what you want to do. But as long as you’re living in this house, you do what I tell you to do. And that’s the way it was.

Well, that’s the way it needs to be.

Now, parents, please talk to your children. Talk to them today after service, talk to them tonight, talk to them tomorrow, because things are going to change. This is some serious stuff. This is not a joke, this is not a game, we’re not funning. Curfew is going to be enforced. Other things are going to happen. And they need to understand that there are serious consequences to aggressive, violent, idiotic, stupid behavior — not only for the teen, but also for the parents and the guardians. Everybody is going to be held accountable in this one. We’re taking these steps for the safety of all of our citizens, and our teenagers. And out teenagers. We want to make sure that they don’t either do something that’s going to get them in trouble, or be somewhere where they may get hurt. This is about all of us. It’s about everybody. And so let me say it again. The bottom line: This nonsense must stop. Right now. Right now.

And lastly, to our teenagers, you know, young people always talk about “Well, I gotta get respect.” You get respect when you give respect. That’s how you get respect. And I believe in my heart and in my soul that 99 percent of the young people here in this city of Philadelphia are good and have good intentions in their heart. So I don’t want anyone to think that we’ve got thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands and untold numbers of bad young people running round, because we don’t. We have some really great young people in this city. They go to school. They try to get good grades, they try to graduate and go on with their lives. They participate in sports, art, music, poetry, cultural services. They’re out tutoring. Some of them have jobs and are working. Some are taking care of their siblings, parents, and even grandparents. Unfortunately, there’s a few — could be a hundred, could be a couple hundred, could be a thousand (that’s still less than 1 percent) — but there’s some really bad ones. And, unfortunately, they engage in violent behavior. They’re lawless, they act with ignorance, they don’t care about anybody else, and their behavior is outrageous.

Well, we’re not going to tolerate that. We won’t tolerate it, and we’re not going to excuse it, because there is no excuse for it. Sense and nonsense cannot exist in the same place, in the same city, in the same world, and is not going to happen here in Philadelphia. You can’t have both at the same time. Can’t have both. And so, this behavior could have actually resulted in even more injuries, or worse. They could have killed somebody. Oh, then they’d really be in a world of trouble. Then all the sudden, they’d be crying: I want my mom, I need my dad, I need somebody. No, it’s too late then. No, no, we’re past that. It’s too late. It’s too late. You’ve damaged yourself, you’ve damaged another person, you’ve damaged your peers, and quite honestly you’ve damaged your own race. You damaged your own race. So, to our young people. If you want black folks, if you want white folks, Latinos, Asians, or anybody else to respect you, and not be afraid when they see you walking down the street, then leave the innocent people who are walking down the street, minding their own damn business, leave them alone. Stop it. Cut it out. We’ve had enough of this nonsense going on. We’ve had enough. Some of them should be ashamed of their behavior. And some of them have made shame on our race. I’m speaking plainly. I’m telling you what’s on my heart. It’s a disgrace, what’s going on. Not one of these victims, not one, did anything to any one of those young people. They weren’t bothering them, they didn’t say anything to them, they were minding their business, some were out enjoying themselves, some were just coming from work, they didn’t do one thing. And then all of the sudden, for the cowards that some of them are, in the crowd, thought they were anonymous, jumped up and started beating on people, assaulting them, in the streets of this city.

Well you know, now, if that was one of their friends, if that was their brother, if that was their sister, their moms, their grandmoms, somebody, they’d say, “Oh, that ain’t right, that’s wrong.” Well, it’s wrong when you do it too. It’s wrong when you do it too. And so if you want to be aggressive, we’re going to be aggressive. And let me just share this with you: We got the biggest, baddest gang in town — a committed group of citizens and a committed government and we’re working together and we’re not going to have this nonsense anymore. And lastly let me say, some of those young folks are lucky. They’re lucky that one of those citizens didn’t jump up and start whipping their butt, which, clearly, they did not have enough of when they were young themselves. They’re lucky they didn’t get themselves beat up with this nonsense. So, let me close. We want a safe city. We will not tolerate ignorant, stupid, out-of-control behavior. It hurts our citizens, damages property, and besmirches our reputation as a great city. And so to all of our young people, but a particular message to our young African-American boys and girls, let me say this:

If you want all of us — black, white, or any other color — if you want us to respect you, if you want us to look at you in a different way, if you want us not to be afraid to walk down the same side of the street with you, if you want folks not to jump out of the elevator when you get on, if you want folks to stop following you around in stores when you’re out shopping, if you want somebody to offer you a job or an internship somewhere, if you don’t want folks to be looking in or trying to go in a different direction when they see two or twenty of you coming down the street, then stop acting like idiots and fools, out in the streets of the city of Philadelphia. Just cut it out. And another thing. Take those doggone hoodies down, especially in the summer. Pull your pants up and buy a belt, because no one wants to see your underwear or the crack of your butt. Nobody. Buy a belt. Buy a belt. Nobody wants to see your underwear. Comb your hair. And get some grooming skills. Comb your hair. Running round here with your hair all over the place. Learn some manners. Keep your butt in school, graduate from high school, go on to college so you can go and make something of yourself and be a good citizen, here in this city. And why don’t you work on extending your English vocabulary. Extend your English vocabulary beyond the few curse words that you know, some other grunts and grumbles and other things that none of us can understand what you’re saying. And if you go to look for a job, don’t go blame it on the white folks, or anybody else. If you walk in somebody’s office with your hair uncombed and a pick in the back and your shoes untied and your pants half down, tattoos up and down your arm, on your face, on your neck, and you wonder why somebody won’t hire you. They don’t hire you because you look like you’re crazy. That’s why they’re not hiring you.

So, you do those things, and act like you got some sense, and you’d be surprised what opportunities will open up to you. That’s what was on my mind. That’s all I’ve got to say.


The Latest