September 15, 2018

7 Months, and No Answers in Brutal Police Shooting

Philly Police refuse to release video of shooting involving 15 shots to a man lying on the ground.

7 Months, and No Answers in Brutal Police Shooting

Khalil Lawal, a 31 year old man from the state of Virginia, bled out onto Broad Street in Philadelphia after being shot 15 times on January 29, 2018. He had been approached by an off-duty cop after accidentally injuring someone with the vehicle he was driving. The person was not seriously injured and was released from the hospital the same day. The off-duty cop, detective James Powell, reported that Khalil "charged" at him and began to engage in a physical struggle. Powell began shooting him repeatedly even as Lawal got onto his knees in pain. Stories like this are all too common in the United States, and are used to justify the murder of Black and Brown people by police departments around the country.

"I do have some concerns about the shooting, in particular whether all the shots were necessary." - Richard Ross (Philadelphia Police Commissioner)

Also far too common are the subtle lies and distortions of the events that transpired to make the police officer look innocent. Khalil's physical stature, 6 foot 2 inches tall and 240 pounds, is being used to describe him as a "living weapon" that justified him being shot 15 times. Media reports do not mention James Powell rushing Khalil as Khalil, who was out of his vehicle at that point, walked back to his car. This was after Khalil initially drove back to the location where he allegedly "intentionally" hit the pedestrian. There is also no mention that Khalil hit the pedestrian as they exited their own car just as Khalil made a left turn--making it nearly impossible for it to be premeditated. Furthermore, several additional shots were fired while Khalil was already lying on the ground in front of the police officer. Even Police Commissioner Ross expressed concern and was quoted in the press as saying, "I do have some concerns about the shooting, in particular whether all the shots were necessary."

Khalil's family described him as a lover of music who was beloved by his nieces and nephews. "He had an ability to hear beats and to create unique music," said Yomi, Khalil's older sister. "His nieces and nephews liked playing with him, because he was very fun."

The local news outlets that covered the killing tell a different and incomplete story. They neglect to mention Khalil's personality or pursuits, and instead only vaguely describe the killing of a man who tried to kill a pedestrian and resist a police officer making an arrest. This vagueness allows for the assumption that Khalil was not only a "crazed killer," but a suspected domestic terrorist. The dehumanization and demonization of victims of police brutality, especially Black men, is par for the course in white supremacist capitalism. The police and the state, bolstered by corporate media, do not hesitate to draw on overtly racist tropes to demonize victims of police killings in attempts to legitimize their own narratives of the killings.

Despite repeated requests, the DA's office is refusing to release any video footage of the killing.

What is telling in this case is the cooperation of the Federal Bureau of Investigations, Philadelphia Police Department, and Larry Krasner's District Attorney's office. These forces intimidated and traumatized the family of Khalil Lawal. FBI agents and Counter-Terrorism officers showed up at the house of Yomi, Khalil's sister. The officers wanted to conduct a search, claiming Khalil had been staying with her a few days before he was killed. Khalil had no previous encounters with the FBI or Law Enforcement related to terrorism. Yomi answered all questions the FBI agents asked and consented to a search of the basement bedroom where Khalil slept. The FBI searched the room and began collecting random items. "I'll be honest with you…" said Yomi, "It caused me a lot of distress, I still have blanks of the experience." Among the possessions taken from the home were two old PlayStation consoles, one of them being Khalil's niece's because she could not differentiate which was hers. When asked by the family why the FBI agents were there in the first place, they responded, "We are here to find a motive." Apparently no motive was ever found. It has been seven months since the investigation started.

Location of the Shooting: 1300 Bigler St

Larry Krasner campaigned on a series of progressive points, including combating police brutality. In February 2018 his office released a statement saying that it would give an "even-handed" approach to the investigation. But after seven months of investigation, Khalil's family has been left in the dark about the status of the case. Despite repeated requests, the DA's office is refusing to release any video footage of the killing. Why is it taking the DA's office so long to conduct an investigation on a case where a police officer shot an unarmed man 15 times while lying on the ground?

On top of the lack of information coming from the DA's office, Philadelphia Police have not followed their own internal protocols for officer involved shootings. These protocols dictate that officers must be interviewed within three days of an 'incident.' According to close sources, the Philadelphia Police Department's Internal Affairs did not interview Officer Powell for three to four months.

The handling of this case is a blatant miscarriage of justice.

The tragic case of Khalil Lawal presents a clear warning about the dangers of counting on a progressive politician without a strong independent movement on the streets to back them up. Regardless of DA Larry Krasner's intentions, the handling of this case is a blatant miscarriage of justice. It has demonized a dead man and further traumatized his family. Clearly the working class of Philadelphia cannot rely on the Democratic Party establishment to solve the problems of police brutality, mass incarceration, and the ending of stop-and-frisk. It's not enough to simply replace 'bad' politicians with 'good' ones. It's not enough to work hard to 'hold them accountable' and change them out every four years when they disappoint us. We need to begin building a real independent working class party that is not tied to the establishment, that takes no corporate money, and whose candidates accept only a working class wage. A party that is based on mass working class movements independent of both the Democrats and the Republicans that can challenge the status quo and fight for demands like ending stop and frisk and for a democratically elected, fully empowered, accountable civilian review board of the police. The DA's office is not going to deliver the changes that working class people need, we need a real movement to fight for them, and win.

We stand in solidarity with the family of Khalil Lawal and their demands:

  • Larry Krasner: Release the videos!
  • Fire and Charge Detective James Powell
  • Open the investigation that was conducted by Internal Affairs to the public
  • The District Attorney's office must release a statement on the status of the investigation.