"I beg you not to jump to conclusions," Police Commissioner John F. Timoney said Tuesday to about 200 people gathered for a community meeting at Christ Our Redeemer Freewill Baptist Church.
The audience harshly criticized the July 12 beating of Thomas Jones after a chase and shooting in which he and an officer were both shot and wounded. The arrest was captured on videotape by a TV news helicopter.
"I don't blame people for being upset," Timoney said. "But the situation was not initiated by the police officers. They were going after a dangerous man."
Tuesday night's meeting was held in the Francisville section of Philadelphia, where the chase and arrest occurred.
A few blocks from where officers kicked and hit Jones, the Rev. Vernal Simms, pastor of Morris Brown AME Church, said it was time to "mobilize" and scheduled a rally Sunday evening at his church.
"We came out asking the community to be calm," said Simms, president of Black Clergy of Philadelphia. "But how long, how long can we tell black folk to be quiet and take it easy?"
At the community meeting, leader Henry Reddy called for the officers shown in the videotape to be fired or suspended. Timoney said any such action would have to await the results of several investigations.
"Police officers are allowed to use force," Timoney said. "The issue is...did they use unnecessary force, did they cross the line? You cannot tell on the basis of that tape because you don't know what's going on underneath."
Reddy and others drew loud applause when they said there was no evidence that the suspect had a gun. Timoney acknowledged that no gun had been found and eyewitnesses accounts disagreed.
"Some people said he had a gun. Some people said he had no gun. Some people said he took a police gun," Timoney said. "We're sorting all that out."
Residents complained bitterly about bullets that flew into homes, and what they described as a lack of concern and response on the part of officials.
"Not one officer or city official knocked on anyone's door to ask if anyone was hurt," said Robin Davis.
Timoney vowed to look into changes in chase procedures after reports that the suspect was pursued into a street used as a playground by a day-care center. The commissioner also said he would make public recordings of police calls during the 21-minute incident.
"We tried to answer as many questions as possible. We tried to be as open and frank as possible," Timoney said after the meeting. "These are good people here. I think once it's explained to them, they'll understand."
Don Fisher, 38, found few of his questions answered, and said he expected a follow-up meeting.
"They need to come back to the community and make a comitment to explain to us, 'This is what we did wrong, this is what happened, and this is what we're going to do to fix it.' If they don't do that, this didn't mean anything," he said.
Jones, 30, is in the hospital listed in good condition and is charged with the attempted murder of a police officer, assault and resisting arrest. Police say he also faces charges in three purse-snatchings and is a suspect in other crimes.
By RON TODT © 2000, The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed