Philly police don't deserve benefit of the doubt in killing of 12-year-old child

The Philadelphia Inquirer (TNS)
A close family friend places a candle at the memorial for 12-year-old Thomas Siderio Jr. by 18th and Barbara streets in South Philadelphia outside of Barry Playground on Thursday, March 3, 2022. (Heather Khalifa/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS)

Philadelphia police officers recently shot 12-year-old Thomas "TJ" Siderio in the back, cutting his young life far too short.

There is still much that we don't know about the events surrounding TJ's death.

According to police, TJ was with a 17-year-old friend when four officers in an unmarked vehicle approached them. The officers said they heard gunfire; a rear window shattered on their car. Two officers chased TJ — who police say was holding a 9 mm semiautomatic handgun — and fatally shot him in the back.

There are conflicting accounts about when the plainclothes officers identified themselves — and whether or not TJ had tossed the gun before they opened fire.

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What we do know is that when it was all said and done, a 12-year-old was dead — an atrocity. Philadelphia deserves answers.

The long, fraught history of police — both here and elsewhere — sometimes being less than truthful, particularly when officers shoot a civilian, means that any benefit of the doubt that might have been extended in this case is virtually nonexistent. So any statements or assertions by officials about what happened in South Philadelphia on the evening of TJ's death must be backed up with proof.

After all, it was not too long ago that the Philadelphia Police Department's top brass told the public that the use of tear gas against Black Lives Matter demonstrators on I-676 in the days following the murder of George Floyd was in response to a state trooper who was surrounded by aggressive protesters — but dashcam footage from the allegedly stranded state trooper's vehicle did not support that account.

This is, by no means, unique to Philadelphia.

One might recall that the first statement issued by the Minneapolis Police Department about the May 2020 murder of Floyd carried the header: "Man Dies After Medical Incident During Police Interaction." That's certainly one way to describe how Derek Chauvin kneeled on Floyd's neck for nine and a half minutes.

Last fall, law enforcement officials from SEPTA and the Upper Darby Police Department announced that while a passenger was raped on the Market-Frankford Line train, other passengers took cell phone videos instead of calling the police. That was an appalling commentary on our city. It was also not true.

The killing of TJ should make every Philadelphian outraged.

Outraged that a 12-year-old child is dead after being shot by police in the back.

Outraged that our city didn't manage to provide a better, safer alternative to a 12-year-old and his 17-year-old friend than hanging out in the streets.

Outraged that a gun violence crisis continues to go unchecked, leading to one devastating loss after another.

Outraged that our streets are flooded with guns while Harrisburg refuses to do anything about it.

The killing of Thomas "TJ" Siderio demands a full, transparent, and independent investigation. But no matter what that review finds, what's clear is that as a city, Philadelphia failed TJ, a child who should never have been on either end of a gun — and who should be alive today.

— From The Philadelphia Inquirer (TNS).