Philly’s Interim Police Chief Accuses Folks of Being ‘Mean Spirited’ When a Photo of Her Wearing a Shirt Mocking Rodney King Beating Resurfaces

Philadelphia’s acting police commissioner says she’s “profoundly sorry”  after a 1990s photo showed her sporting a T-shirt that appeared to make light of the Rodney King beating.

Interim police chief Catherine Coulter apologized Tuesday, saying she wasn’t aware of the reference at the time.

“It is clear it was a bad decision on my part and I would not wear that shirt today,” she said at a City Council meeting.

Christine Coulter
Interim police commissioner Christine Coulter found herself in hot water after The Philadelphia Inquirer published an old photo of her last month, in which she wore a T-shirt mocking the Rodney King beating. (Photo: The Philadelphia Inquirer)

Coulter added: “I sincerely hope that a careless decision I made over 25 years ago does not overshadow the work that I’ve done. I am profoundly sorry for the pain the shirt and the picture have caused, not to me, but to the city and the communities that we serve.”

As reported by NBC News, the top cop had found herself in the hot seat last month after the Philadelphia Inquirer published a photo, given to them by an anonymous source, of Coulter in a shirt that read: “L.A.P.D. We Treat You Like A King.”

The slogan was in reference to King, an African-American man brutalized by multiple white Los Angeles Police officers at the conclusion of a car chase in 1991. Vendors across the city sold the offending shirts after King’s violent beating, which was videotaped from the balcony of a resident near the scene off the stop.

Coulter, who was an officer with the Philadelphia Police Department at the time, told council members Tuesday that she didn’t realize the inference of the T-shirt and shouldn’t have worn it in the first place.

“It may have meant something to people in L.A. … I can’t remember giving it a thought,” she told the Inquirer. “But I certainly can’t say I thought it meant Rodney King.”

Councilwoman Cindy Bass, who called for Coulter’s immediate resignation, found that hard to believe, however, considering the assault on King is one that was widely-publicized, as were the deadly riots that followed after the four cops who were charged were acquitted. 

Longtime Philly activist Bilal Qayyum felt similarly, telling the Philadelphia Tribune last week that the snapshot would hurt Coulter’s efforts to win over the city’s African-American residents.

“For her to have worn that shirt shows her mindset about her insensitivity to the black community,” said Qayyum “There is no way in the world the mayor should be accepting her as our police commissioner.”

Others in Black community, like Philly’s National Black Police Association president David Fischer, said they’re willing to give Coulter another shot. In a recent interview, Fischer said he was more concerned about the policies Coulter was putting in place — not a T-shirt she wore some 20 years ago. 

“I’m looking for her to do things differently,” he added. “Not to come in as the status quo. Come in and make a difference.”

Coulter was picked to head the department after former Commissioner Richard Ross Jr. abruptly resigned in July amid reports of discrimination and sexual harassment plaguing the department. The police agency also suffered a shakeup in June after 72 police officers were suspended over inappropriate and racially insensitive Facebook posts.

Speaking to the Inquirer last week, Coulter said she was “frustrated” that someone would want to take a photo of her and an old friend and “turn it into something ugly, or mean-spirited.”

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