Funding should be reallocated to areas like education, recreation, transportation
by Rob Taylor Jr.
Courier Staff Writer
Stevie Wonder wasn’t in the house, but the faith leaders that comprise The Concerned Clergy of Western Pennsylvania recently “Signed, Sealed and Delivered” to Mayor Bill Peduto’s Downtown office a list of demands for local police reform and accountability.
The local pastors from various denominations bypassed the local post office and marched right into the mayor’s office on June 29, moments before a press conference outlining the list of demands was presented to local media at Freedom Corner in the Hill District.
Copies of the demands also made it to Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Pittsburgh Police Chief Scott Schubert.
“With the heinous murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery still fresh in our minds, we gather to say enough is enough,” said Rev. Dr. Richard Wingfield of Unity Baptist Church in Braddock, at the news conference. “Since then at least two or three other lives of African Americans have been taken at the hands of police violence. We gather to voice our anger, our hurt, our frustration and offer our continued dedication to the call for social justice and a stop to police brutality, locally and abroad.
“We recognize that others have already submitted their list of demands and we applaud their efforts and honor their efforts. However, we come as clergy to do our part, to let city and county elected officials know that clergy across Western Pennsylvania are just as concerned and involved as well,” Rev. Wingfield added.
The letter delivered to Mayor Peduto had six major areas of concern: Public Safety, Education,
Transportation, Housing, Mental Health, and Recreation.
REV. EARLENE COLEMAN
From the police department’s $114 million budget for 2021, the clergy members believe some of that money should be reallocated to address the aforementioned areas of concern. The clergy members stressed they weren’t advocating “defunding” of the police, but a “reallocation” of some of the funding.
In the area of Public Safety, members want a task force to be created which explores “alternative ways to respond to harm” in the Black community. There could be a clergy person who goes along with the first-responders; or maybe a social worker or mental health counselor.
In the area of Education, public safety officials could be teamed with school-aged students. “Through relationship-building and education, rapport can be built between officers and students through strength-based programming that teaches students the laws of public safety, while taking on the responsibility and accountability roles in their communities,” the letter, obtained by the New Pittsburgh Courier, read.
In the area of Transportation, clergy members want greater investments in public transportation in underserved communities. When someone doesn’t have the necessary transportation to get to their jobs, it “creates additional social hardships,” the letter read. “Funding for neighborhood services provided by community groups, such as a van to carry seniors to and from the grocery store, transporting youth to and from summer jobs, and providing needed transportation for single-parent households would be an extended application of public safety.”
REV. VICTOR GRIGSBY
The clergy wants more funds into the city’s affordable housing fund, a better quality of health care for Blacks that “other communities receive,” and in the Recreation arena, the clergy wants the city to have 24-hour recreation centers. These centers would have sports programs staffed by coaches and athletes, and social workers, the letter read, should be provided to assist in the development of recreational programs.
The clergy also noted that in addition to the city always counting how many gunshots are fired in the city, the city should invest in a “Shots Made” program, featuring open basketball courts in the city. This keeps kids off the streets, and, as an example, on the basketball courts.
Reverend Wingfield said that “public safety” is not always about police enforcement. When there’s substandard housing, education and recreation, “they all breed into public safety issues,” he said. That’s why some of the funding should be redirected, he said.
“We’re looking at this thing holistically,” Rev. Wingfield added at the June 29 news conference. “It’s got to be a holistic approach to public safety. If all we’re going to do is police, that’s only a small portion of the problem.”
REV. GLENN GRAYSON SR. addresses the media at the June 29 press conference at Freedom Corner. (Photo by Courier photographer J.L. Martello)
The letter addressed to the mayor was signed by Rev. Wingfield, Bishop Dorsey McConnell, Rev. Victor J. Grigsby, Rev. Earlene Coleman, Rev. Marie Kelly, Rev. Leon Harrison and Rev. Glenn Grayson Sr.
“We want to see Pittsburgh live up to its billing as the most livable city in the nation,” Rev. Wingfield said. “But it cannot live up to its name if the voices of African Americans are ignored.”
REV. DR. RICHARD WINGFIELD
“As discussions about policework in America move forward, we welcome feedback and guidance,” Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich said to WPXI-TV (Channel 11) in response to the letter. “We support many of the suggested reforms, including health experts helping officers who deal with non-traditional issues that are now part of everyday modern policing, such as drug addiction, mental health issues and homelessness. We want to make sure that those who need help get it, and in the most constructive and healing way possible.”
REV. GLENN GRAYSON SR.
Bishop McConnell, the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, said at the news conference that “we stand with our friends, our sisters and brothers, and in doing so we want to be clear that we do not set the agenda. We listen to the agenda that is being set by the leaders of communities of color, and come alongside and support them in any way that we can. ‘Lend our privilege’ to see if we can’t help their goals and their vision for peace and justice in their communities become more of a reality. Until there is peace and justice in these communities, there is not peace and justice for us all.”
BISHOP DORSEY MCCONNELL
FEATURED IMAGE – CLERGY MEMBERS leave Mayor Bill Peduto’s office at the City-County Building, Downtown, June 29, after giving him a list of demands for local police reform. (Photo by J.L. Martello)