PHILADELPHIA – United States Attorney William M. McSwain convened a press conference today outside the Byrne United States Courthouse after the sentencing hearing for Jovaun Patterson, the man convicted of shooting a Philadelphia shop owner with a military-style assault rifle during an attempted robbery. During his remarks, U.S. Attorney McSwain addressed the escalating violent crime crisis in Philadelphia, the anti-law enforcement bias pushed by certain groups, and the devastating impact that both continue to have on minority communities in the City.
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Jovaun Patterson has been sentenced to over 14 years in federal prison for shooting and attempting to rob Philadelphia shop owner, Mike Poeng. Mr. Patterson has been held accountable for his violent criminal behavior and will now serve an appropriate sentence. This was only possible because the U.S. Attorney’s Office stepped in and charged Mr. Patterson after the local authorities had bent over backwards to give him a break, negotiating an overly lenient sentence that sent a message that violent crime has little consequences.
That sad state of affairs – where the mishandling of Mr. Patterson’s original case necessitated federal involvement – is symbolic of a larger catastrophe that is playing out before our eyes in Philadelphia. Homicides, shootings, and serious violent crime have all skyrocketed in 2020 – from already intolerable levels that existed in 2019 and 2018. Almost all the victims are racial minorities, the vast majority of whom are Black. This past weekend alone, at least 25 people were shot. So far this year, over 100 children have been shot, a 68% increase as compared to last year. Again, almost all of these child victims are racial minorities, the vast majority of whom are Black. And we all know about Zamar Jones, the 7 year-old boy who was murdered earlier this month while playing on his front porch in West Philadelphia.
This is . . . infuriating. There is nothing more important than the safety of children. But where is the sense of outrage, where is the anger, where is the sense of urgency among City leaders? This slaughter in our streets has largely been met with indifference, a sense of inevitability, even a shrug of the shoulders. Or as the District Attorney frequently puts it: “poverty equals bullets.”
“Poverty equals bullets.” That condescending statement is a slap in the face to every law-abiding, low-income resident in the City. There are scores of low-income people in the City who respect the law, never shoot anybody, love their neighbors, and work hard to improve their neighborhood. Poverty is never an excuse for violent crime, and certainly not for murder. There is no possible justification for walking up to somebody and shooting them. Furthermore, poverty isn’t going away overnight. As law enforcement leaders, we can’t put the violence problem at the doorstep of poverty and just leave it there. That is the equivalent of abandoning the people we are sworn to protect and serve.
Instead, we must do something. At the U.S. Attorney’s Office, we have and we are – unlike the District Attorney’s Office. With our anti-violence public messaging campaign that we launched last month, the law-abiding citizens of Philadelphia know where the U.S. Attorney’s Office stands – with them and with our law enforcement partners. The campaign also puts potential criminals on notice that if they commit a crime with a gun and we have federal jurisdiction, we will prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law. We will come after them with everything that we have. We are spreading that message of deterrence through billboards, bus shelter advertisements, posters, the Internet, social media, videos, radio, and TV. It’s a message that is sorely needed in the City, and one that I believe will make neighborhoods safer and save lives.
And this is not just messaging. It is backed up by federal resources and results. The U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecuted 53% more violent crime cases in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania this past fiscal year than we prosecuted the year before. In Philadelphia’s most dangerous neighborhoods – what are designated as Project Safe Neighborhood (or PSN) target districts – we charged 72% more violent crime and weapons cases than the year before. And, where necessary, we have provided federal oversight in cases like today’s Patterson sentencing. Still, we know that in order to meet today’s challenges, we must do even more.
But the federal authorities cannot do it alone. We need City leaders to speak with one voice in condemning violence – not making excuses for it and not treating violent defendants like they are somehow the victims in all of this. And most importantly, the rhetoric should be backed up by aggressive local prosecution that holds criminals accountable and therefore makes neighborhoods safer.
City leaders also should speak with one voice in rejecting the extreme anti-law enforcement bias that is currently being peddled by certain irresponsible fringe groups. This bias – especially if it is not forcefully condemned by City leaders – puts the police on their heels and puts violent criminals on their toes, ready to stride forward confidently. One year ago, I stood in this spot and decried the culture of disrespect for law enforcement in the City – a culture that celebrated chants like “F*** the police” and “No good cops in a racist system.” Today, the bile and vitriol coming from some elements of the mob makes those chants sound quaint by comparison.
The vast majority of Philadelphia police officers do their jobs faithfully and honorably – and by putting on the uniform and doing the dangerous work inherent in their mission, they show that they value the lives of others more than they value their own. They, like all responsible citizens, abhor police brutality and are in favor of accountability for police. We can and should work towards better relations between the police and the community without indulging infantile notions that the police as a whole make communities more dangerous. Obviously, they do just the opposite. So to those of you out there who say that we should “abolish the police,” or “defund the police,” or “abolish prisons,” or one of my favorites, that “communities should be left to police themselves,” I have a message for you: your ideas are absurd and deserve nothing but scorn. Moreover, those ideas would cause great harm to the most vulnerable members of our society. Victims of violent crime, like Mike Poeng, are the ones who suffer the consequences of these foolish notions. As is often the case, the policies demanded by the self-righteous mob would come at the expense of minority communities.
Everybody in our City deserves to live in a safe neighborhood – regardless of race or income level. It is time for City leaders to step forward and do everything that they can to make that a reality. We won’t get there by treating violent criminals like they are victims, or by undermining law enforcement, or by grasping for excuses – like conveniently blaming the pandemic. It’s true that the virus isn’t making things any easier, but violence is contagious, too. It can easily spread across a City or even beyond. We must confront it and stop it and put the good people of this City first. Thank you.