They say smoking kills, but this wasn’t what they were talking about. Not even in a city that bears the name meaning brotherly love, as interpreted by the moral descendants Frank Rizzo rather than William Penn. Philadelphia has long been a tough place to be black.
THE DAY WAS almost done, the street emptying out from a community barbecue. Inside Deborah’s Hair Salon in Nicetown, stylist Margo Broaddus put the finishing touches on her last customer, as her husband helped drag chairs inside from the day’s fun.
She needed cigarettes. So she gave Sean Broaddus $7 to run to the corner store. But seconds after her hubby disappeared inside the Dalvis Grocery, she said, cops emerged seemingly from nowhere and swarmed the store so quickly on Broaddus’ heels, it was as if the salon’s picture window had morphed into a TV screen showing a crime movie.
Not just cops. The Narcotics Strike Force.
Inside, she said, an officer had Sean Broaddus in a choke hold.
“The other officers were just hitting him and hitting him. The cop in the white shirt shouted: ‘Put that motherf—er to sleep!’ and my husband, he just looked at me, and he just closed his eyes – and then he just collapsed and peed himself,” Margo Broaddus said yesterday, sobbing.
They tried to revive Sean Broaddus, but of course it was too late. It was too late when his body let go of control over its functions. Sleep is just a euphemism. This sleep was forever. And a guy who went to buy his wife a pack of smokes was dead.
There was outrage, and, of course, an investigation, which seemed rather pointless given police spokesman Lt. John Stanford’s explanation of what happened in advance of the investigation.
Drug activity brought police to the block that day, Stanford said. Narcotics Strike Force officers observed Sean Broaddus making several marijuana sales, he said.
“During the arrest, [Broaddus] resisted efforts to handcuff him and became unresponsive. Officers checked for vitals and found none. So medics took him to the hospital,” said Stanford, adding that he had no details on whether a choke hold or other measures were used to subdue him.
What’s left to investigate? The cops say Broaddus was a pot seller, so he was a pot seller. The cops say Broaddus resisted, so he resisted. The cops say Broaddus “became unresponsive,” so he was dead. It’s not like the cops did it to him. It just…happened. There’s nothing like a thorough investigation where all the “facts” are predetermined because that’s the cops’ story and they’re sticking with it.
Stanford declined to name the officers involved.
“If it’s investigated and determined that police officers did something inappropriate, it will be handled,” he added.
The names are withheld to protect the innocent. Why subject these public servants to the potential outrage and ridicule of the public, when all they did was their job? And if it turns out that an investigation shows something went awry, “it will be handled.” Handled. What more could you want? That’s what they do in Philly. They “handle” things.
Broaddus, on the other hand, is not only named, but dragged through the mud because, well, it’s important that the public appreciate that his was not a life worth much anyway.
Stanford noted that Broaddus was a repeat offender in Philadelphia. Court records show that he was arrested five times between 1989 and 2005 and had used at least eight aliases. He served time for theft, robbery, assault and drug offenses, records show.
So even if Broaddus didn’t just “become unresponsive,” his bad behavior that ended about nine years earlier certainly didn’t make him the sort of guy to lose sleep over. And here he was again, selling pot. The cops said so, and that makes it so.
Police paperwork didn’t indicate that officers found any weapons or drugs on Broaddus that night, Stanford said.
And police found just $12.90 in his pockets – including the $7 his wife had given him for cigarettes, a worn dollar bill inscribed with a Bible verse he carried for inspiration and a few silver dollars he kept for luck, Margo Broaddus said. “Does that sound like a drug dealer to you?” she demanded.
That doesn’t prove he wasn’t selling pot of course. Or armed, of course. Or a bad dude, of course. He could have thrown his weapons, his drugs, his huge wads of cash, away as the police swarmed on him so he wouldn’t be caught with the proof. And it could have disappeared from view because of magic. Or space aliens. Yeah, space aliens took it. That’s why there was no evidence whatsoever to back up their story of pot dealing.
But there was proof. Cold hard proof that Sean Broaddus was a criminal who deserved whatever the Narcotics Strike Force did to him, to be put to sleep. The proof was that he was dead, and he wouldn’t be dead if he didn’t deserve it. That would never happen in Philly.
Sean Broaddus was 46 years old when his wife, Margo, looked into his eyes as the life ebbed from his body. Or as the police passively explain, he became unresponsive. Philly is a very tough town for a black man to live. And he didn’t even smoke.