Literature floating around Philadelphia is linking Stephen Zappala, left, to Black Lives Matter.

The campaign of a western Pennsylvania district attorney running to be the state’s top prosecutor is being linked with the Black Lives Matter movement today in Philadelphia — even though the candidate has already taken heat for placing racially-charged TV advertisements.

T-shirts and literature popped on Election Day today throughout Philadelphia linking Stephen Zappala, the Allegheny County district attorney, with the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s unclear who paid for the shirts and the literature; Zappala’s campaign didn’t return a request for comment, and the materials include no disclosure or note of who’s paid for them. He has heavy support in southeastern Pennsylvania, including from Philadelphia union boss John Dougherty and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98.

Here are what some of the T-shirts look like:

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And literature being passed around:


Zappala’s primary opponent in the Democratic race, Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro, has already recorded a radio ad condemning the literature and T-shirts.

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Here’s what the ad says:

This is a warning — a warning to the people of Philadelphia. Across Philadelphia, people are being paid to wear racially offensive T-shirts that try to link the Black Lives Matter movement to Steve Zappala. That’s right. Trying to link Zappala to the movement. Don’t be fooled. This is a hoax. Just yesterday, the nationally respected African American news publication The Root said Zappala has been lying to his voters in his TV ads for attorney general. The Root wrote that in Pittsburgh, Steve Zappala has one of the most appalling records of any district attorney in America on race and justice. Both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia’s African American newspapers have rejected Zappala. Don’t be fooled by the T-shirts or any literature they’re handing out. This is all a disgrace. Again, this is a warning brought to you by Josh Shapiro’s campaign.”

A group of local African American pastors and community leaders took issue with Zappala’s use of race in his campaign before. In March, the candidate placed an ad that showed images of Sandra Bland, a black woman who died in police custody in Texas, and Walter Scott, an unarmed black man killed by police in South Carolina.

“He uses footage of the ultimately death of an unarmed African American in Texas and in South Carolina,” Rev. Marshall Mitchell said during a press conference, “to make a case that he is a leader in pursuing justice during his time as a district attorney.”

YouTube video

In the controversial ad, a narrator says Zappala is “the only DA in our state to convict an on-duty police officer of criminal homicide,” a message he and his campaign are seemingly repeating today on Election Day. In partnership with PolitiFact, we rated that claim to be only Half True.

In 1995, John Charmo, a white former police officer with the Pittsburgh Housing Authority, shot an unarmed black man named Jerry Jackson 13 times with his service weapon in a tunnel following a high-speed chase. Charmo wasn’t charged under a former DA, but Zappala re-opened the case in 1999 after video evidence surfaced and the officer was later charged with homicide.

After a jury deadlocked in 2001, Charmo pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 11 1/2 to 23 months behind bars.

“This case happened more than a decade before Ferguson or any of the other high profile incidents that sparked the Black Lives Matter movement,” Zappala’s campaign manager Marty Marks said after the ad was released. Zappala’s campaign spent $250,000 to run the ad in the Philadelphia area.

A Harper poll released yesterday showed Shapiro leading Zappala by 16 points statewide.

Anna Orso was a reporter/curator at Billy Penn from 2014 to 2017.