PITTSBURGH (AP) – Pittsburgh’s new police chief is being praised by the mayor but criticized by a police union president for being photographed on New Year’s Eve holding a sign that says: “I resolve to challenge racism @ work.”
The sign also has a Twitter hash tag that says “# end white silence.” Chief Cameron McLay was photographed holding up the sign that someone had brought to the city’s annual First Night celebration.
Mayor Bill Peduto said he saw the picture on social media and liked it so much he re-posted it on his own Facebook page.
“I thought, ‘What a great way to begin the new year,'” said the first-year mayor, who hired McLay in September.
Peduto said he believes the chief was simply recognizing that racism exists and acknowledging there’s work to be done restoring trust between the city’s police and the black community.
But Fraternal Order of Police president Howard McQuillan said the sign paints city police as racists and violates a policy governing police participation in social media. McQuillan took issue with the mayor’s previous comments criticizing the police and saying departmental reforms were needed, and fired off an email to the mayor, which the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Sunday.
“By Mayor Peduto labeling us ‘corrupt and mediocre’ and now our current Chief insinuating that we are now racist, merely by the color of our skin and the nature of our profession, I say enough is enough!” the email said.
In an email to the union, McLay apologized if he offended officers but defended his posing with the sign, saying it was a “statistical fact” that policing efforts have “a disparate impact on communities of color.”
“The predominant pattern of our city’s increased violence involves black victims as well as actors,” wrote the police chief, who is white. “If we are to address this violence, we must work together with our communities of color.”
The brouhaha over the photo comes as the city continues to grapple with incidents that have angered blacks in the city.
McLay last month put Officer David Derbish on desk duty while the U.S. Justice Department reviews the officer’s shooting of a black motorist, 21-year-old Leon Ford, who was left paralyzed after a 2012 traffic stop.
Ford, who is suing the city in federal court, was acquitted in September of aggravated assault for allegedly endangering officers by driving away from the stop. Ford contends in his lawsuit that officers apparently thought he was a wanted gang member but refused to believe they had the wrong person even after he gave them various pieces of identification. Ford contends he didn’t try to flee, but that his car was knocked into gear as officers tried to yank him from the vehicle.
The Allegheny County district attorney has yet to decide whether Ford will be retried on lesser remaining charges, prompting protests and causing Ford’s name to be mentioned in recent marches and other demonstrations relating to the shooting of an unarmed black man by police in Ferguson, Missouri.
McQuillan told the chief in his email that the poor morale among officers needs to be addressed and is made worse by “pandering to the community at the expense of the police community.”
In his email, McLay pledged to meet with commanders of the city’s police patrol zones “to talk these tough issues through.”