Christine Flowers: Not OK: Politician harasses Planned Parenthood protesters
A few days ago, Pennsylvania state Rep. Brian Sims filmed video of himself engaging with a woman — or to use his own words, “an old white lady” — praying the rosary in front of the Planned Parenthood surgical center at 11th and Locust Streets. In the nearly nine-minute video, Sims yells with increasing aggression at the woman. “Shame on you. What you’re doing here is disgusting. It’s wrong,” he says to her while pacing alongside her as she calmly walks along the sidewalk. As the video continues, he admonishes her, “Don’t convince yourself that what you’re doing isn’t extremely racist. It’s grotesque.”
I was horrified by Sims’ video, because, as a Catholic and a defender of the unborn, I believe it is this woman’s right to pray anywhere she wants. But I was also concerned, because it runs counter to my past experience with Sims. Shortly after Sims won his election in 2012, I interviewed him for an article in the Daily News. I came away impressed with his interest in bipartisanship. At the time, I wrote that we disagreed on many issues but that, “Sims is one of the more principled and collaborative public servants I’ve encountered in my half-century on earth, most of it spent in this beloved cesspool known as Philadelphia.” I also noted: “As Sims once put it, he’s trying to find empathy for people who disagree with him.”
In that interview, Sims told me that “The idea of not even changing a mind, but being able to work with a mind that is unchanging or work with a mind that is opposed to yours, you need to understand it. It sounds very elementary, and it’s something that we talk a lot about around here, the idea that nothing should be revolutionary about the idea that you have to understand the people that you work with. But somehow that seems revolutionary of late in this sort of modern discussion of American politics.”
I’m trying to figure out how that statement fits with what I saw on Sims’ own video — and with the 3-week-old video I found on his Facebook page in which he offers $100 to “anyone who can identify” the people whom he calls “pseudo-Christian protesters.” It seems that the Brian Sims I interviewed in 2013 is not the same Brian Sims anymore. I am extremely troubled by the fact that a man who is paid by our tax dollars feels it is appropriate to publicly shame one of those taxpayers just because he disagrees with her.
At a time when our country is increasingly polarizing and fractured along party lines, I have to wonder: Is this the kind of behavior we want to see from our elected officials? Public figures wield an immense amount of power, and have voices that carry. Because of this, they also have an increased obligation to be cautious with the way they use that power. People have rightly criticized President Trump for harsh and often disrespectful language. Sims, as an elected official, is no different. I’ll be praying the rosary at that Planned Parenthood in the near future. I better get my hair done, in case Brian comes by with his camera.
Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer and columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.