All over the country — even right here in Philadelphia — there are signs of change.There are people trying to agitate for justice in our culture, often by holding police accountable for their actions.Another is that Mc Nesby — riding the prevailing winds of the culture wars — has amassed considerable clout.Since 2007, when his presidency began, he has tamped down police reforms in Philadelphia, won the right for cops to contribute to the union’s PAC, and constructed a fiefdom, advancing candidates and defending even the most indefensible cops.In essence, the FOP boss serves as a thinly camouflaged city official, supported by a narrow constituency that holds its meetings in private while wielding outsize influence over our most crucial public safety department.So this is a story not so much about a man, Mc Nesby, as about his office — the presidency of the FOP — and its relationship to the police department.
“When you go work each day,” he spat into the microphone, “you shouldn’t have to worry that a pack of rabid animals will suddenly show up at your home. ” To anyone praying for even a semblance of reason or calm, the line was tone-deaf and deeply offensive, dehumanizing the protesters, who were mostly black, as “animals” and stoking further racial division. Because Mc Nesby is an elected labor boss, his words were presumably chosen to satisfy his base: the police.Ten years later, Mc Nesby finally became a union trustee, and in 2007 he ran and won a race for president, beginning a tenure that’s been cloaked in success: steady pay increases, healthy benefits packages, a victorious court fight allowing the union to become a bigger political force, and a couple of decisions that enabled Philly cops to thumb their noses at Philly — winning the right for police with five years on the force to live outside the city limits, and moving the union’s HQ from Spring Garden Street to a sprawling 3.5-acre compound in Northeast Philadelphia, complete with a bar-restaurant open from 7 a.m. His political constituency looks small: Mc Nesby has said he’s got 14,000 union members, of whom 7,000 are retirees, with just a third of members voting in a typical election.But as Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College, notes, “That doesn’t include friends and family,” who extend the union’s influence beyond dues-paying members.In the year and a half since, Mc Nesby’s outburst has emerged as a watershed moment — illuminating the rift between police and the people they’re sworn to protect as well as highlighting the ways the police union appears bent on widening that gap.“I’ve wondered about this a lot,” says former Philadelphia police officer Christa Hayburn. and yet no one ever focuses on them.” One reason is that labor unions are unaccountable to the public, their machinations a black box.
The meeting hall was packed when John Mc Nesby took the podium that day in August 2017.