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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Human Relation Comm'n Snubs Allentown's First Elected Black Official

Allentown's Human Relations Commission ostensibly exists to enforce the city's human relations ordinance and foster good will among among the diverse groups making up the Queen City. On Tuesday night, this group welcomed everyone, at least if you had $40 in your pocket, to their 32d annual awards dinner.

According to puff blog Allentown Good News, these are quite the soirees, a veritable "Who's Who of the Allentown community." Allentown big shot Joyce Marin is thoughtful enough to include a photo of last year's event, which captures her husband's nose magnificently. There may have been one or two black people among the Allentown elite, too, although I'm sure each was questioned carefully about how he was able to come up with $40.

One of the black people who decided to attend this dinner was Allentown City Council member Tony Phillips. He happens to be running for Mayor. He also happens to be Allentown's first ever elected black official.

Now you might think Tony will make a terrible Mayor. Some of you may even dislike him. But no matter how you feel, most of you will readily concede he knows a thing or two about discrimination. A product of the Projects, he experienced it as a child. Unfortunately, it continued during his entire tenure as an Allentown police officer.

Phillips' Personal Experience With Discrimination as Allentown Cop

For years, Tony put up with a superior officer who wore a swastika pin on his police uniform, made racist comments and decorated his desk with a Ku Klux Klan (KKK) photograph, along with a bust of Hitler and a Confederate flag. This boss cop gave fellow officers white supremacist literature, and directed his subordinates to focus on black criminals. Eventually promoted to Captain, his idea of a joke was to walk by Latino officers with a burning Puerto Rican flag. When in more serious moods, he suggested black officers with nice homes must be dealing drugs.

Now don't you worry. This police captain was finally brought to justice. His punishment for years of racial taunts?

Sensitivity training.

Tony thought that punishment was a tad on the light side, but when he dared express his objections, he himself became the focus of racial taunts. Car horns would be called "nigger knockers." A false complaint against Tony was manufactured so he would know "what it feels like" to be the target of an investigation. Officers refused to assist Phillips when he filed a false complaint prosecution, which did result in a conviction. Retaliation continued, with little things like blackened doll heads attached to the steering wheel of Tony's police cruiser.

Phillips eventually was forced to take Allentown to court, and slowly, things began to change. But as Phillips learned Tuesday night, his personal experience with discrimination means nothing to Allentown's Human Relations Commission.

Phillips Snubbed by Allentown Human Relations Comm'n

Given his personal experiences, this dinner obviously meant something to Tony. It might be viewed as a "Who's who" of Allentown's elite by poo-bahs like Joyce Marin, but to a black person who himself was victimized, it has emotional significance.

At what should have been an opportunity to welcome and support successful efforts celebrating equal opportunity and inclusion, Council member Phillips was snubbed. When he presented his $80 to Lehigh County Comm'r Gloria Hamm at the door, she just rolled her eyes, although she certainly took his money.

Once inside, Tony worked the room, walking around to shake some hands of some of the hundred or so people there, and then sat down.

That probably was a bad idea. You see, Allentown's Human Relations Commission is more like an arm of Pawlowski's re-election efforts than an organization interested in diversity. It's most recent appointee, Adrian Shanker, just happens to be King Edwin's field director. Gloria Hamm, the person who glared at Tony when he darkened the door, has publicly endorsed Hizzoner.

Hamm was also Master of Ceremonies at Tuesday night's little party. Of course, she was certain to introduce all the politicians in the crowd. She introduced Pat Browne, even though he wasn't there. She then introduced everyone who was running for reelection for City Council and everyone there who is currently on City Council - all except Tony.

Instead, she went on to introduce Mayor Edwin Pawlowski, who is a white as a polar bear and has none of the life experiences of a poor, black kid from the Projects. She handed the mike directly to Hizzoner so he could wax eloquently on a subject about which he knows nothing. You might expect that he'd have enough grace (he purports to be a minister, after all) to attempt to try to rectify the situation and at least mention Tony's presence. Instead, he did the opposite. He smirked at Tony. Then, exactly like a childish, immature brat, he ignored him.

Tony and his guest walked out. Later that evening, almost as an afterthought, someone mentioned that Tony had been there. That's very tolerant of them. Tony's campaign manager, his guest, tells me "For this particular agency whose job is predicated on diversity, inclusion, and respect for other people, their personal and partisan behavior was outrageous."

Pawlowski touts his Hall of Shame. Tuesday night, that distinction went to Allentown's Human Relations Commission and the Mayor got first prize!


Anonymous said...

You are being dramatic and condescending. Please refrain from using racial slurs.

Dispit eall your fanfare you are not black or even tan.

Anonymous said...

Chicago politics is live and well in Allentown. I hope Phillips files a discrimanation complaint with the Pa. Human Relalations Commission on his treatment, against Mayor and the City of Allentowns commission.

Anonymous said...

this reads like tony felt entitled to recognition last night. I certainly hope that wasn't the case. it sounds like poor behavior by many of the people involved, but if Tony walked in expected to be treated like a king, he's clearly dillussional.

Anonymous said...

Your review of this dinner is very sad to read. As someone who use to attend these dinners a decade ago, they were nothing like this then. The room would be filled with African-American residents who were warmly welcomed.

Anonymous said...

These mayoral appointees should be ashamed of themselves, acting like this towards anyone.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"if Tony walked in expected to be treated like a king, he's clearly dillussional"

Tony was entitled to the same respect accorded to the other elected officials who were there, no more and no less. And i'd argue that this event, because of his individual experience as a discrimination victim, was more meaningful to him than most of the others there.

Anonymous said...

Shanker's own words involves "the responsibility to protect and encourage diversity within the Allentown community...while simultaneously enforcing the housing-related aspects of the City's civil rights law...". Wow, isn't Shanker new member of the Human Relations Committee? After the incident the other evening, I guess Shanker's Allentown community doesn't include "Blacks".

Anonymous said...

It's clear that this group wants their niggers to toe the D party line. What a despicable, phony bunch. Tony exhibited more class. But that's not difficult, apparently.

Anonymous said...

In view of this Allentown HRC conduct Tuesday night, Phillips could challenge their authenticity. Maybe their violated their charter?

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I thought Democrats were the champions of minorities.

Democrats bang that drum incessantly all day long and minorities dutifully march off and vote the straight Democrat ticket all day long.

So what happened?

(true colors from Democrats's - all they care about is the power and votes, not your civil rights or feelings after all?)

How shameful.

Anonymous said...

It's a shame the Villas are fixated on trying to disrupt this blog. I have had experiences with this kind of fixation as the result of mental illness and my guess is that they will never, ever let it go. It's a shame, their fixation comes across as an inappropriate way of dealing with their issues. Wouldn't therapy be a more constructive course of action. Readers of this blog will just have to get used to this distraction.

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:14; Your're wrong, Ed Pawlowski is very sensitive to issues of color - Green that is!

Anonymous said...

making tony out to be a victim undercuts his campaign. I'm sure Tony doesn't appreciate looking smaller and smaller with each defense you offer of him or each time you claim he is a victim.

tony is a strong man. he should be projected as such. he doesn't need our sympathy and that's what you are asking us to do.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I'm not making Tony out to be a victim. I'm reporting what happened to him at the hands of Allentown's Human Relations Comm'n.

Tony is a strong man, as evidenced by the way he stood up against racial intolerance and as further evdenced by the way he walked out on a bunch of phonies.

And yes, he does deserve our sympathy. We all benefit from that.

noel jones said...

as someone white who moved to Easton from New York (but not originally from New York), i am increasingly intrigued by the dichotomy here of what seems to be a large and very permissive liberal population that has always been tolerant of differences--that tolerance trickling down from before the prohibition days, and Easton's infamous speak-easies, juxtapositioned against an almost equal amount of folks who are afflicted with an extreme bigotry that is shocking for any northerner. i swear i think i'm in the old south some times here. and yet i was impressed that when i was going through old school yearbooks from the 40s and 50s at the Easton library, the classes were all integrated. i am also impressed with the number of inter-racial couples here, which is another testament to the permissiveness of the community here.

that is not to say that racism isn't alive and well in New York--it is--as it is everywhere in this country, and a lot of people don't know that more slaves were sold in New York than any other state in the union.

that said, due to the fact that New York has evolved in its diversity over many decades due to the constant influx of new citizens from all over the world, diversity is such an inherent part of every day life, that people--even racists--are much more tolerant and reserved in their public expression of racism. it is internalized racism (i.e., i want my kids to have friends of all cultures, i just don't want them to date. or i want people of all races working in my office, just not in management) and this is not just of the influence of immigrants of color in New York, but the continuous stream of European immigrants as well, who tend to be much more celebratory of ethnic and cultural differences, and are often surprised that we're still wrestling with these issues as a nation.

just to read that Phillips is the "first-ever black official" is shocking. are we serious? in 2009, in an area this diverse, he's the first-EVER? and the behavior of his police department is jaw-dropping. that Phillips had the guts and integrity to fight for justice in such an intimidating situation, and the grace to walk out of this dinner when so blatantly snubbed (also jaw-dropping--seriously--i have never heard of this kind of publicly demonstrated behavior in NYC) is enough to make me wish he were running for office in Easton, just so i could vote for him.

we could use more diversity, guts and integrity in our politicians in the valley.

thanks, bernie for covering this.