When acting Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay first arrived, he said he learned about the problems with police /community relations from the media. Last week, he, and Mayor Bill Peduto, heard it directly from the community—most notably from Leon Ford’s brother, Malik.
“Tell me why I shouldn’t feel threatened (by the police),” he said to Peduto, sitting next to his wheelchair-bound brother. “We don’t want to hear your song anymore. Get it right!”
Ford, who was shot and paralyzed by police during a 2012 traffic stop, did not speak because despite being acquitted of assaulting the city officer who shot him five times, a gag order remains in place until lesser related charges are adjudicated or dismissed.
Peduto told him there was nothing he could say to make things right, but he could listen.“That’s why we’re here,” he said.
The “here” was Pittsburgh Westinghouse 6-12 in Homewood, where Peduto, McLay and several other administration officials, including Kevin Acklin and Valerie McDonald Roberts, took part in a “Mayor’s Night Out” town hall. Julia Johnson, who traveled to the meeting from the South Side, said she wants a stop to the “criminalization and racial profiling” of young Black men by the police, adding she fears her brother could be beaten or killed.
McLay tried to reassure her and the audience of about 200, repeating that he intends to hold officers accountable, and that they are “trying to protect you,” but he added that they cannot stem the community violence without residents’ cooperation.
“Yes the violence has to stop, but we can’t do it without the participation of witnesses,” he said.
Recalling the August fatal shooting of a Hill District woman two days before she was to meet with prosecutors on a drug case, still other residents said they can’t feel safe about cooperating with police, even anonymously.
Though he and Public Safety Director Stephen Bucar have pledged to revamp the dormant Pittsburgh Initiative to Reduce Crime to address community violence, McLay still has not said how he will do that.
City Council was scheduled to vote on Additional funding legislation for PIRC Oct. 28.
Though issues of community violence and police conduct dominated the discussion at Westinghouse, other questions about development, employment and affordable housing were directed the mayor’s way.
George Moses, veteran housing activist said he wanted assurances that development in the east end wouldn’t lead to more gentrification and a loss of affordable rental units.
“If that happens where am I supposed to go,” he asked. “I can’t go to Bakery Square II, I can’t afford it.”
In an effort to focus more distinctly on community violence and police relations, the Black Political Empowerment Project, Black and White Reunion, the Alliance for Police Accountability, the Western Pennsylvania Black Political Assembly the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh are sponsoring two upcoming meetings with McLay.
The first is scheduled for Nov. 10 at Bethel AME Church, 2720 Webster Ave., in the Hill District. The second meeting will be Nov. 17 at Pentecostal Temple, 6300 East Liberty Blvd. Doors open at 6 p.m. for both meetings.
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