Identity & Justice

The identity and justice desk explores how the makeup of the Pittsburgh community is changing, and digs into issues of diversity and equity.

The "No More Names: National Drive to Reduce Gun Violence"  bus tour stopped in Pittsburgh Friday.

The event was meant to highlight the need for laws that mandate background checks for gun purchasers. The effort comes in the wake of legislation that failed to pass in Congress.

In the aftermath of the shooting rampage at Sandyhook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. in December, U.S. Senators Pat Toomey (R) and Bob Casey (D) pushed for a bipartisan proposal that would have extended background checks to cover private gun sales.

Penn State Master Gardeners of Allegheny County want you to stop and smell the roses (or garlic and basil).

They will be hosting their annual “Garden in the Parks Field Day” Saturday at the gardens in North and South Parks.

“We get to show the garden to guests as well as talk to them about native pollinators and proper composting, and we also have garlic tasting, tomato tasting and basil pesto tasting, and really just get to educate the public,” said Philip Bauerle, Interim Master Gardener Coordinator in Pittsburgh.

Homestead got another store Thursday, but it’s not number 74 at The Waterfront.

Bottom Dollar Food opened a new store on East 7th St. on the other side of the tracks. Borough officials are calling it an effort to revitalize the community.

When the U.S. Steel’s Homestead Works closed in 1986, the borough was in financial distress. The approximately 256 acres of abandoned steel mills sat unused until 1999 when developers first broke ground on The Waterfront, an outdoor shopping center housing more than 70 stores and restaurants.

A man who took a hostage at a downtown Pittsburgh skyscraper and posted to Facebook during the six-hour ordeal has been sentenced to between six and 15 years in state prison.

Twenty-three-year-old Klein Michael Thaxton, of McKeesport, was sentenced Wednesday on kidnapping, ransom, aggravated assault and other charges.

Police say Thaxton was off his medication for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression when he held a 59-year-old businessman hostage in September. He later surrendered peacefully.

UPDATE:  August 15 5:00 am

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)  has a new leader.  Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, Bishop of the Northeast Ohio Synod was elected as Presiding Bishop of the ELCA at the church's national conference in Pittsburgh.   Bishop Eaton was elected on the fifth ballot with 600  votes compared to 287 for Bishop Mark Hanson who has led the ELCA for the last 12 years.

How many people use the Pittsburgh region’s longest trail?

Volunteers will be counting the number of walkers and bikers along the Great Allegheny Passage Aug. 17.

The synchronized tallying, which is done at multiple locations several times a year, is a physical count of the number of people using the trail; are they walking or bike riding; and if they are going north or south.

When manual counts are taken, volunteers take down users’ zip codes to track the number of people visiting.

Haldan Kirsch / 90.5 WESA

The Pittsburgh Banjo Club has been playing together for 25 years, but it still manages to get audiences clapping, singing and dancing along to some of the biggest hits of the 1920s and '30s, as well as a few Pittsburgh favorites.

Every Wednesday night the group puts on a show for a diverse audience at the Elks Lodge in Pittsburgh's North Side. The music starts at 8 p.m.

PA’s Regulation of Amusement Parks Falls Short in Inspections, Enforcement

Aug 14, 2013
Alexandra Kanik / PublicSource

Pennsylvania has more amusement park rides than any other state, with 9,300 registered rides. And its parks are unmatched in safety, Gov. Tom Corbett said in a June press release, because of the state’s rigorous ride-inspection program.

But a PublicSource investigation shows that the state agency that oversees amusement parks doesn’t track the safety inspection reports that parks are required by law to file each month they are open.

The Future of Law Enforcement and Sentencing

Aug 13, 2013
Victor Caselle/Flickr

Opponents of the New York City Police Department’s controversial “stop-and-frisk” policy have long accused the program of having a racial bias. On Monday, their accusations were validated, as U.S. Judge District Shira Scheindlin ruled that the city’s implementation of such searches violated both the 4th and 14th Amendments of the US Constitution.

According to University of Pittsburgh law professor David Harris, this ruling does not mean that there will be an end to the city’s stop-and-frisk policy. Instead, the policy must be altered so that it can fall in line with pre-existing standards for civilian searches.

Pennsylvania State Police are looking for a donation of a different sort this summer — one that gallops and neighs.

State police spokesman Adam Reed said the mounted patrol receives its horses differently than how the K-9 unit obtains its dogs.

“Whenever we have a new dog, we receive them out of training," he said, "but with horses, we rely on donations just as a cost effective means."

Five Marathons in Five Days For MS Research

Aug 12, 2013
Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

Beginning August 18, Dawn Kumlien of the North Hills will run five marathons in five days from Youngstown, Ohio to Clearfield, Pennsylvania as a part of the MS Run the US relay. After Dawn’s mother was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1980, her sister ran relays to raise money for research. Now Dawn is taking advantage of her own opportunity to raise money for MS. She says she expects to raise at least $10,000 by the end of the run.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

If a "yarn bomb" can be compared to a foot race, this one was a marathon.

Over the weekend scores of volunteers beset the Andy Warhol Bridge in Pittsburgh, affixing hundreds of pre-made, brightly colored yarn panels to the steel span.

But it was all months in the making, with hundreds of knitting and crocheting artists from across the region getting involved in the grassroots Knit the Bridge project.

Among those hanging panels on the bridge over the weekend was Pam Volz of Mt. Lebanon.

Pittsburgh for Trayvon Group Delivers Demands to URA

Aug 8, 2013
Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

The group Pittsburgh for Trayvon has a list of demands it is giving city officials.

On Thursday the group surprised the Urban Redevelopment Authority at its monthly meeting.

Four members of Pittsburgh for Trayvon read a “love letter” to Pittsburgh to the board and gave them a list of their demands.

Talking on a cellphone and driving a car have never been deemed a good combination, but researchers have found that it might not be as bad as everyone thinks.

A study conducted by researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and the London School of Economics and Political Science shows that talking on a cellphone while driving does not significantly increase the risk of crashing.

Security at Public Meetings in Focus Following Township Shooting

Aug 8, 2013

The head of the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors says the shooting this week at a township’s public meeting in Monroe County will refocus officials on safety and security.
    
Dave Sanko said additional funding to boost municipal safety measures would be nice, but it’s unlikely to come from the state, and it shouldn’t necessarily be the first thing on every township official’s mind.

Do Pittsburgh Upward Mobility Rankings Ring True?

Aug 7, 2013
Mark Knobil / Flickr

On the heels of a popular study tracking social mobility in American cities, Pittsburgh's top tier ranking has been widely discussed.  Stephen Herzenberg, economist and executive director of the Keystone Research Center, and University of Pittsburgh regional economist Chris Briem explain how Pittsburgh’s economic past has influenced our social standing today.

BikeFest: Celebrating the Culture of Cycling

Aug 7, 2013
Noah Brode / 90.5 WESA

Bike Pittsburgh’s annual Bike Fest is back with over 100 events, celebrating the bike community and the city.  Bike Pittsburgh Executive Director Scott Brinker says with the addition of more bright green lanes, miles of bike trails and a promising new bike share program for 2014, Pittsburghers are embracing the bicycle culture.

With more people riding bikes in Pittsburgh, it seems only natural that the 9th annual BikeFest is longer than ever.

BikeFest, which begins Friday, is a fundraiser celebrating all things bicycling to create a more pedestrian and bicycle-friendly city.

Scott Bricker, executive director of Bike Pittsburgh, said a strong bicycle community will make the city more attractive to visitors.

More than 3,000 people are gathering in Pittsburgh for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America biennial church-wide assembly.

Each time the group meets, it releases a statement on a specific social issue.

“(This year) we will be considering a proposed social statement called ‘The Church and Criminal Justice: Hearing the Cries,’ said Kurt Kusserow, bishop of the local synod. "This is a social statement that tries to understand both the experience of victims in our criminal justice system and the justice system itself.”

John Kandray and Bill Gray of Pittsburgh have been together for 11 years and were one of several same-sex couples to obtain a marriage license from Montgomery County.

On Monday night the two were wed in a ceremony officiated by Braddock Mayor John Fetterman. But a state law is in place that defines marriage as between one man and one woman.

“I’m urging Gov. Tom Corbett to tear down this law and replace it with marriage equality for all Pennsylvanians,” Fetterman said. “The law just has no place in 2013.”

Columbine, Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook — these schools have become the targets of shootings, provoking conversation about mental health and gun safety.

Now an “active shooter” training event will be held at the Homer Center School District in Indiana County Wednesday for all educators.

Psychologist Ralph May, one of the speakers, said there will be nine presentations walking the educators through an “active shooter” event.

About 1,500 black law enforcement officials are gathered in Pittsburgh this week for the 37th annual conference of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.

The group formed in 1976 after black officers gathered for a three-day symposium focusing on crime rates in urban communities with larger black populations. Some of the issues present 34 years ago are still issues today.

Aqua Man Miller Dives into Ocean's Seven Challenge

Aug 5, 2013
Marcus Charleston / 90.5 WESA

After swimming across the North Channel between Northern Ireland and Scotland, Delmont native Darren Miller will become the first American man to complete the Ocean’s Seven.  This challenge requires swimmers to cross the seven most difficult ocean channels in the world.  He swims almost exclusively for his charity, the Forever Fund, which has already raised over $60,000 for families struggling to pay bills for their children living in cardiothoracic wards of hospitals.

Kayakers and canoeists with disabilities soon will have better access to Pittsburgh’s rivers.

The Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation will be installing an “EZ Launch” system at the Point along with ADA-compliant restrooms and an accessible route to Pittsburgh’s downtown.

The launching area includes rollers that smoothly move boats in and out of the water, along with a transfer bench for wheelchair users. The dock will provide disabled boaters with a safe place to move from wheelchair, to bench, to boat and vice versa.

Deanna Garcia/90.5 WESA

Homosexuality has historically been a highly controversial subject throughout the Roman Catholic Church. But recent comments from Pope Francis may change the way the Church approaches the topic.

Earlier this week, Pope Francis said to reporters, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord, and has good will, who am I to judge?”  A statement, deemed by some as “revolutionary.”

Many say that statement highlights the compassionate nature of the new Pope and paves the path for possible internal changes in the Church. The Most Reverend David Zubik, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh is enthusiastic about the new Pope’s leadership technique and finds that those in the region are equally excited.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has awarded the McKeesport Housing Authority $250,000 to address emergency, safety and security needs at its public housing properties.

“The grant was specifically earmarked for security upgrades,” said Housing Authority Director Steve Bucklew. “Physical costs like cameras, digital videos recorders, fences, lighting and that kind of stuff, that’s what we applied for.”

Pittsburgh’s annual Labor Day parade is considered the second largest in the U.S., behind New York City.

Thousands of union members and officials will converge on downtown Monday morning to celebrate the history of the labor movement, American workers and to call attention to specific issues.

“We’ll be discussing a number of issues, one of them is transportation funding, another one is the right to organize as it relates to UPMC, and most of the issues that labor feels are important,” said Jim Kunz, business manager of Operating Engineers Local 66.

Leaving Detroit, and Those Who Remain

Aug 1, 2013
Don Harder/Flickr

When Ben Schmitt, a free lance writer and former journalist at the Detroit Free Press, left the city, he felt as though the cliche of the American dream “had evolved to fight or flight.” After packing up and heading back to Pittsburgh, he has a few parting words for those who stayed behind:

“I wish them nothing but the best of luck.”

For those who did remain, however, the city’s recent decision to file for bankruptcy is neither a surprise nor a game changer. As Craig Fahle, host of The Craigh Fahle show on Detroit’s NPR member station WDET, puts it, “we’re handling it the same way we’ve always handled the situation here.”

Flickr/Roller Coaster Philosophy

Ten days ago, a woman riding the “Texas Giant” at the Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington, Texas., fell to her death from the 14-story roller coaster, and the investigation of the death is ongoing.

Texas Department of Insurance requires yearly inspections of amusement rides by the park’s independent insurance company. In Pennsylvania and Ohio, the states’ departments of agriculture regulate ride inspection. Ohio requires yearly, mid-season and spot inspections. Six states, Alabama, Nevada, Mississippi, South Dakota, Wyoming and Utah, don't have any inspection requirements.

Why Does the Pittsburgh Police Residency Requirement Matter?

Jul 29, 2013
South / Pittsburgh for Trayvon

A group of Pittsburghers gathered in the Hill District two weeks ago to protest the acquittal of George Zimmerman and to show their disdain for the American legal system. Commander Rashall Brackney was one of the officers who patrolled the demonstration.  The protestors spoke with Brackney throughout the evening, and it became evident that she had personal connections with many of the men and women sitting in the street.  She negotiated with the group on many issues and the protest continued peacefully. 

City Paper Editor Chris Potter wrote in his op-ed “Hitting Home,” that “her ties clearly helped defuse tensions on Centre Avenue that night.”

Brackney is a resident of the city of Pittsburgh and Potter points to this fact as an important element of the peaceful demonstration that night.  She had connections in the community in which she lived and therefore was able to deal with a potentially tumultuous situation in a calm manner.  But the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) in the city of Pittsburgh says that lifting the standing residency requirement for officers would make recruitment and retention easier, but many taxpayers feel differently.

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