Call For Calm In Philly

Local ministers appealed for calm Sunday in the wake of the beating of a black suspect by police, while even critics of past problems in the Philadelphia police department described the incident as an aberration.

"We're just asking you to be calm, asking our young people to be calm," said the Rev. Vernal Sims in a Sunday sermon at the Morris Brown AME Church in North Philadelphia. "This one incident, we will not allow it to paint a negative picture of Philadelphia."

Temple University professor James Fyfe said although the latest incident wasn't unprecedented in the police department's sometimes troubled history, he thinks conditions have improved.

"I think there have been a lot of good progressive steps forward," said Fyfe. But, he added, "What I saw in the video is an enormous step backward."

CBS News Correspondent Jim Axelrod reports the tape evokes disturbing memories for some here of a former police chief who carried a billy club in his tuxedo coat and the deadly police bombing of a house of radicals.

"In the late 60’s and early 70’s…there was an atmosphere in Philadelphia that the police were free to basically do anything they wanted to do," explained former mayor Ed Rendell, now an official of the Democratic National Committee.

The department earned a reputation as one of the nation's most brutal police under Frank Rizzo, who was police commissioner and later mayor. Rizzo was both loved for his law-and-order policies and hated for allegations of bigotry and brutality.

In 1985, a police standoff and 90-minute gun battle with the radical group MOVE led police to drop explosives on the group's rowhouse. When the house caught fire, authorities let it burn and the fire spread, destroying two city blocks and killing 11 people.

And in the mid 1990s, the police department was turned upside down by a two-year corruption scandal that ended with eight officers pleading guilty to framing drug suspects and lying about it. The city paid more than $3.5 million to settle lawsuits and nearly 300 cases were dismissed that may have been tainted by corrupt officers.

Fyfe, a former New York City police sergeant, contrasts Wednesday's incident - which followed a stolen car chase and a shootout - with previous situations that he said revealed high-level police errors.

"This was just an act where they lost control," Fyfe said.

Thomas Jones, 30, was shot during a police chase that ended after Jones was pulled from a stolen police cruiser and beaten by police as a news helicopter hovered overhead.

Jones was charged with attempted murder of a police officer, assault, resisting arrest and other offenses. He was also charged with three purse-snatchings that took place in the 24 hours leading up to the beating and is a suspect in other crimes, police said.

"Many people around the country and at this point around the world ee this videotape and say 'That’s Philadelphia,'" said Simms. "And we want people to understand that is not Philadelphia."

No one could agree with Simms more than Mayor John Street, who said that, "30 seconds for the most part of a 21-minute incident has caused questions to be raised about our readiness to host the Republican National Convention."

Sims, the president of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia & Vicinity, said he believes Mayor John F. Street and the city police are sincere in their promises to conduct a thorough investigation.

Sims added that he did not see the beating as a racial issue, as some have.

"You had as many black officers hitting, punching and kicking as white officers," Sims said Sunday. "It is a issue of excessive force."

Local NAACP President J. Whyatt Mondesire, a longtime critic of police use of force, expressed confidence in Police Commissioner John Timoney, who he said has made strides in reforming the troubled 7,000-member police unit since arriving in 1998 from New York City.

"It comes out of a history of violence and brutality in this department for over 30 years," Mondesire said of the videotaped attack.

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