Pennsylvania Democratic Senate nominee John Fetterman, who is under attack from Republican opponent Mehmet Oz over his progressive views on criminal justice reform, attracted criticism from recent a TV ad that chronicled a 2013 incident when he chased down an unarmed black jogger and detained him until police arrived.
Now, Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor is answering questions about a Washington Free Beacon article that reported how he touted connections in Braddock, Pennsylvania, to the Crips street gang when he was running for mayor of the borough in 2005.
According to the article, Fetterman used the slogan “Vote John Mayor of Braddocc,” which reflected how local Crips gang members spelled the name of the town.
Fetterman was elected mayor, and a 2006 story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote about how he claimed there were two Braddocks—one with the original spelling used by older residents who remember when the borough flourished, and the other “B-R-A-D-D-O-C-C,” which he said “acknowledges an allegiance that many of the younger residents there have with the Crips gang.”
The second domain name showcased Braddock’s zip code, which is tattoed on Fetterman’s forearm.
The websites are no longer active, but they described how “Braddocc” was “unofficially renamed” by the “young and disenfranchised for its Crip allegiance,” according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Braddock, the site explained, was a “flourishing city of 20,000 residents.
“Home to Andrew Carnegie’s first steel mill and free library. Wealth, amenities, expansive shopping district, dozens of churches, movie theaters, furniture stores, breweries, schools.”
“Braddocc,” the site reported at the time, was “a malignantly beautiful town of 2,500 residents. Unofficially renamed by dropping the ‘k’ for a ‘c’ by young and disenfranchised for its Crip allegiance. Still home to Carnegie’s first steel mill and free library. No movie theaters. No furniture stores. No breweries. No schools. … No hope?”
The New York Times photographed Fetterman in front of a sign at his Braddock loft that hangs on a kitchen wall. In 2020, Fetterman’s wife Gisele posted a photo on Twitter with the sign in the background.
Fetterman has denied he holds an affinity for the Crips.
Republicans, and Oz and his campaign team, have portrayed Fetterman as being soft on crime.
Fetterman is chairman of Pennsylvania’s Board of Pardons and has cast the only vote to free multiple prisoners convicted of first-degree murder.
Pardons and commutations have increased since Fetterman became lieutenant governor and took over as chairman.
In January, he appointed Celeste Trusty to serve as secretary of the board. Trusty, who is Fetterman’s former campaign director, is a prison reform activist who has called to “disarm the police” and referred to Mumia Abu-Jamal as a “friend” and “my buddy,” according to the Washington Free Beacon.
Abu-Jamal was sentenced to life for the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner.
In June 2021, Fetterman was the only Board of Pardons member who voted to commute the life sentence of Wayne Covington, who was convicted for shooting and killing 18-year-old George Rudnycky for money to buy heroin in 1970.
Dennis and Lee Horton are brothers who were serving life sentences for second-degree murder in a 1993 armed robbery.
The Hortons maintained their innocence, and last year, they left prison after their sentences were commuted by Pennsylvania Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf. The state’s Board of Pardons recommended that the Hortons be freed.
The Hortons now work for Fetterman’s campaign as field organizers. Oz has called for Fetterman to fire the brothers.
The Hortons were active in anti-violence programs and mentoring when they were in prison. They told The Washington Post they offered a ride to a friend and did not know he was leaving a crime scene.
“John believes there are people who deserve to spend the rest of their life behind bars in prison, but he also supports common sense bipartisan policies to free the wrongly convicted and provide second chances for deserving and nonviolent offenders,” Fetterman spokesperson Joe Calvello told NBC News. “John’s work on the Board of Pardons was widely praised, including by elected Republican officials. All Dr. Oz and his team are engaging in is gross fear-mongering.”
Though Fetterman is facing backlash over agreeing to just one pre-election debate and for refusing to release his medical records as he continues to recover from a stroke he suffered before the May primary, crime is emerging as a significant issue in the Senate race.
Republicans have outspent Democrats $24.5 million to $21.9 million on advertising in the Oz-Fetterman race, ad-tracking firm AdImpact reports.
Multiple spots from the Oz campaign, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and the GOP-friendly Senate Leadership Fund have emphasized Fetterman’s progressive stance on crime.
Funded by the Oz campaign, an “Inmates for Fetterman” website showcases mugshots of criminals whose commutations Fetterman has encouraged.
Earlier this month, a pro-Oz Republican super PAC released a television ad reminding viewers of a 2013 incident when Fetterman chased a man and detained him until police arrived. The police report indicated that the jogger was wearing running clothes and was unarmed. The sound of gunfire was fireworks. Two witnesses did say they thought they heard shots.
The jogger was black, though Fetterman told police he had no idea of the man’s race because of how he was dressed in the cold weather.
At the time, he was mayor of Braddock.
The 30-second TV spot, intended for black voters in the Philadelphia media market, was written and funded by the American Leadership Action PAC.
In the opening of the ad, news clips of the event accompany a voice-over that says, “As mayor of Braddock, John Fetterman chased down an innocent, unarmed black man. Fetterman falsely accused the man, triggering a confrontation with police.”
The ad then moves to an interview with the jogger, Cristopher Miyares, who details Fetterman pulling a gun and aiming it at his chest.
“I mean, there’s a mayor with a shotgun and six other cops surrounding me. What else could I do but this?” Miyares says in the ad, holding his hands up in surrender.
Near the end of the ad, a clip is aired of Fetterman saying, “I believe I did the right thing, but I may have broken the law.”
The ad closes with a voice describing Fetterman as “reckless, risky” and “wrong for Pennsylvania.”
Fetterman was not charged by police, and the event did little during the Democratic primary in May, which he won decisively.
Miyares is serving time in a Pennsylvania state prison for an unrelated crime. He says that Fetterman has “lied about everything that happened that day,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Miyares did write a message to the Inquirer saying that “I hope he gets to be a Senator. Even with everything I said, it is inhumane to believe one mistake should define a man’s life.”
Police Endorse Oz
On Sept. 27, the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police announced it has endorsed Oz.
John McNesby, President of the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #5, said at a press conference, “Dr. Oz’s history as a police surgeon and his demonstrated outreach to listen to police is a stark contrast to his opponent, who has a long history of anti-police rhetoric and advocacy for policies that make communities less safe.”
Oz delivered another jab at Fetterman’s record on crime when he stood at the podium.
“The brave men and women of the Philadelphia Police risk their lives day in and day out to protect and serve our communities. They deserve a U.S. Senator who will also work with communities to make our streets safer and better places to live and work,” Oz said. “But my opponent, John Fetterman, would rather be the advocate for convicted murderers and violent criminals over our police officers and crime victims.”
Recent polls show that the Oz-Fetterman race is tightening. Fetterman held a double-digit lead most of the summer. A mid-September survey from The Trafalgar Group indicated that Fetterman was ahead 48 percent to 46 percent. Last week, a Morning Call/Muhlenberg College poll had Fetterman with a 49 percent to 44 percent edge.