No Confidence & Unsatisfactory: The Progress Report of Commissioner Danielle Outlaw

In December of 2014, President Barack Obama assembled the 21st Century Task Force on Gun Violence: a team of elite police commissioners from across the country tasked with addressing gun violence in Black communities. This team, lasting five months and consisting of 11 cops, was assembled in response to the Ferguson Uprisings that followed the police murder of Mike Brown. To me, and to many Black people around the country, responding to racial police terror with a police task force was an asinine and insulting move by the President, completely ignorant to the needs and experience of the Black community. 

A committee of community members and organizers could have been called to Washington. They could have addressed racial police terror specifically, rather than the intentionally broad issue of gun violence in Black communities. But we know that listening to the masses of people is not the priority of the Democratic Party. Instead, Washington assembled a reactionary task force, filled with state-sanctioned warriors of capital, who could figure out how to keep the thumb of the empire over the poor and working classes. 

The task force included then-Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey as well as Danielle Outlaw, who would take the position in February of 2020. The fact that Outlaw is a Black woman from Oakland caused a lot of conversation in our neighborhoods and community organizations — many thought that she would relate to the people of our city. But those who reviewed her track record of violent repression as Chief of Police in Portland, Oregon knew that she would not stand with the people. 

We cannot rely on the revised definition and platitudes of identity politics to make decisions about who holds power or assess who will act in our interest. Policing in this country was founded on the wrangling and murder of Black people. Today’s cops continue to do this while protecting state power and the interests of capital. Since Outlaw has been here, this has continued to be our experience. The recent murder of Walter Wallace Jr. happened under Outlaw’s watch. From the bombing of Osage Avenue, to the murder of our sister Nizah Morris while she was in police custody, may she rest in peace, the Philadelphia Police Department has always been one of the most treacherous in the country.

Outlaw showed us exactly who she was and who she is on June 1st, 2020. On this day, the people gathered to protest the police murder of George Floyd, and Outlaw decided to respond by deploying tear gas and shooting rubber bullets at thousands of demonstrators, including my fellow PSL members, on I-676 in Center City. Those of us in the street were up against a lot that day and throughout the summer’s uprisings: police beat protestors unprovoked, children were taken from their parents’ cars by PPD, and Outlaw did nothing whatsoever.

We have no confidence in Outlaw as police commissioner, just like we had no confidence in Sylvester Johnson, Charles Ramsey, Richard Ross, Frank Rizzo, or any of the other stooges who have terrorized our people under the title of Philadelphia Police Commissioner. Outlaw has no stake in the Black community, no matter the city. When intracommunal violence occurs in the city, she shows up for her photo ops, does the speech, and leaves — she has no real plans to address the violent contradictions of capitalism in a city such as Philadelphia. She is nothing more than a police careerist with ample experience and sophisticated media training. This was why she was called to the 21st Century Task Force by Obama, which was an uncanny but foreshadowing event in American government and police affairs. Since then we have seen that Commissioner Outlaw, like Kamala Harris, is an opportunistic cop who only serves herself and not the communities she supposedly “represents” and “identifies” with. The fact that that’s all she has to offer is worse than unsatisfactory, it’s completely unconscionable.