Acting Philadelphia Police Commissioner Apologizes for Wearing Controversial LAPD T-Shirt

Philadelphia’s interim Police Commissioner Christine Coulter issued an apology after a photo surfaced of her wearing a T-shirt in the 1990s that mocked Rodney King’s beating by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).

The photo, which the Philadelphia Inquirer found, shows Coulter wearing a shirt that reads, “LAPD — We Treat You Like a King.” The words on the shirt reference the horrific beating of King, a Black man police brutally battered during a traffic stop in 1991. A resident in a nearby apartment caught the incident on camera and the beating was later broadcast on television, The New York Times previously reported.

The four white officers involved with the assault were brought to trial, but three were acquitted by an all-white jury in 1992, which also declared a mistrial for the fourth officer. The officers' acquittal helped prompt the 1992 riots in South Los Angeles. The summer after the riots, all four of the officers were indicted on federal civil rights charges, according to The New York Times.

Coulter issued an apology on September 10 over the offensive t-shirt, stating she should have never worn it.

“I sincerely hope that a careless decision that I made over 25 years ago doesn't overshadow the work that I've done. I am profoundly sorry for the pain that the shirt and the picture has caused, not to me, but to the city and the communities that we serve," she said, according to news station ABC7.

Some lawmakers in Philadelphia have already called for Coulter to step down from her position as acting police commissioner. Philadelphia Councilwoman Cindy Bass told ABC7 she had sent a letter to Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney about Coulter’s resignation on September 10.

"It is my opinion it is inconceivable that she was unaware [of] the T-shirt reference of a widely publicized brutal beating of a citizen by officers of the Los Angeles Police Department," Bass wrote in a letter that she later read aloud from at a public hearing, according to the news station.

She was referring to Coulter’s claim that she had “never” made the connection between the shirt and Rodney King.

The news comes just a few weeks after Kenney appointed Coulter acting commissioner after former Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross resigned following sexual harassment allegations in the department. In a previous statement, Kenney praised Coulter for her 30 years of working in law enforcement.

“Deputy Coulter is an experienced police commander with nearly 30 years of law enforcement service,” Kenney previously said. “She has diverse experience in patrol operations, narcotics intelligence, and investigations. I have full faith in her ability to lead the Department during this time of transition.”

Kenney accepted Ross’s resignation on August 20 following the allegations of discrimination and sexual harassment by female officers in the department. Ross, who is Black, was appointed commissioner in January 2016 and had worked in the Philadelphia Police Department since 1989.

“New allegations of sexual harassment as well as gender and racial discrimination among the rank and file have recently been brought to my attention. While those allegations do not accuse Commissioner Ross of harassment, I do ultimately believe his resignation is in the best interest of the Department,” Kenney said in a previous statement.

Corporal Audra McCowan and patrol officer Jennifer Allen filed a lawsuit alleging that Ross was told about sexual harassment and discrimination within the department but ignored their complaints, doing nothing to stop the behavior. The lawsuit obtained by USA Today described one instance where McCowan texted and called Ross in February to report that a male officer sexually harassed her. Instead of acting on it, Ross texted back, “So why don’t you just order his dumb a— to go sit down and get out of your face ‘Officer.’”

McCowan texted back in response: “Think about how you would feel if it was your daughter. Would it matter if it was someone that works for her or not? If she told the person to repeatedly stop, that doesn’t matter?”

Ross responded by saying he would “school” McCowan on sexual harassment “and indicated that he continues to be upset with her and was getting in the way of redressing her complaints in retribution for her breaking off their two-year affair, which lasted from 2009 to 2011,” the lawsuit reads.

Allen alleged in the lawsuit that her superior also sexually harassed on multiple occasions in 2012. Her superior made jokes about the time her breast milk was stolen while she was working at the Delaware Intelligence Center.

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.