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.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane has joined top prosecutors in San Francisco and New York in a nationwide initiative to thwart smartphone thefts by rendering the devices useless after a robbery.

The “Secure Our Smartphones” initiative was introduced in Pennsylvania by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman this week. It’s a collaboration among attorneys general and municipal leaders asking cell phone manufacturers to develop a “kill switch” for stolen phones.

Teresa Heinz Kerry says family members weren't fully aware of a controversial decision by the Heinz Endowments to partner with major energy companies on natural gas drilling standards, even though the organization approved two pilot grants for the project last year.

The Heinz Endowments, with assets of $1.4 billion, is the 49th largest foundation in the United States. Heinz Kerry is chair of the Endowments, and she told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that she was never involved with the Center for Sustainable Shale Development.

A state lawmaker is proposing legislation that would help taxpayers know more about what they’re paying their teachers.  

State Representative Fred Keller (R - Snyder) is introducing a bill that would require a two-week period of “openness” before school boards could approve any proposed collective bargaining agreements with teachers.

The board would be required to post the proposed contract details to its publicly accessible website, as well as in a local newspaper of general circulation at least two weeks before the agreement is put to a vote.

Preventing Homicides Through Early Intervention

Oct 24, 2013
Matt Niemi / Flickr

Each year, the city of Pittsburgh sees more than 100 homicides.

A new study by the University of Pittsburgh suggests that 30% of last year’s homicides could have been prevented by early intervention.

Richard Garland, M.S.W., visiting instructor in the Department of Behavioral and Community Health Sciences and Steven Albert, Ph.D., chairman of the department, co-authored the study and say most of the criminal activity was a result of peer violence, not gang-related violence.

East End Charity Set to Open $15.6 Million Facility

Oct 24, 2013

For 43 years the East End Cooperative Ministry has been providing services to less fortunate members of the community.  Currently, clients are shuttled among as many as 14 locations to get all the services they need, but as of November 4th everything will be under one roof.

That roof is over what was once a gas station and a pair of parking lots on Penn Circle in East Liberty, and it will be covering a platinum level LEED certified building.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

Former city police Chief Nathan Harper has pleaded guilty to federal charges that he conspired to steal police funds deposited into unauthorized credit union accounts and willfully failed to file income tax returns.

The guilty plea was entered Friday in a hearing before U.S. District Judge Cathy Bissoon and is the latest incident in a remarkable fall from grace for Harper who joined the city's police force in 1977 and rose through the ranks before being appointed chief in 2006 by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.

Harper, who is 60-years-old, will be sentenced Feb. 25.

Child Protection Legislation Passed by PA Senate

Oct 17, 2013

A legislative package aimed at deterring child abuse in Pennsylvania is a big step closer to becoming law.

Two weeks after approving six child protection bills, the state Senate has unanimously passed another five measures to strengthen current law. 

These bills would:

The 114-year-old Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s West End branch is turning a new page with a series of renovations.

Spokeswoman Suzanne Thinnes said the renovations will include the branch’s first air conditioning system and elevator.

“By having air conditioning throughout the entire library, it really will bring people in during all aspects of the year to come in and be able to enjoy library services,” Thinnes said.

Al Condeluci: A CLASS Act

Oct 15, 2013
Community Living and Support Services

For many people, college is their first taste of independent living.

For more than 40 years, Al Condeluci, CEO and executive director of CLASS, the organization once known as United Cerebral Palsy (UCP), has made it his mission, to see that people with disabilities enjoy the freedom of living on their own.

This year he's being honored by the UCP as a community hero for all of his work.

wyliepoon / flickr

Cities are comprised of neighborhoods varying in their socio-economic status, especially Pittsburgh. Each year a city magazine is sure to devote an issue to ranking neighborhoods. However, neighborhoods, like cities, can see their fortunes rise and fall. Case in point, the South Hills neighborhoods of Allentown and Beltzhoover.

Transitioning to a New Generation of Playgrounds

Oct 14, 2013
Alexandra Kanik / PublicSource

Narrow slides and flimsy swings are what most people think of when they hear the word playground. But based on a 2010 court ruling, those trademarks of the past are changing. The US Department of Justice made access to play areas a civil right under the Americans with Disabilities Act and new standards took effect last year.

Public Source Reporter Halle Stockton reports that the playgrounds that are required to make these changes are new or majorly reformed playgrounds that began modifications after March 15.

But many playgrounds have already altered their equipment to fit the needs of all children. Some of these changes include a smooth ground surface that's usually rubberized to prevent injuries. You'll also find play structures with ramps along with wide pathways so that children on wheelchairs or a cane can maneuver throughout. The swings also have “rollercoaster seats” to provide back support for children with low muscle tone.

Nearly one in 10 high school students reported being physically injured by their significant other in 2012.

That’s according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and it’s something Pittsburgh’s Prime Stage Theatre wants to end.

The educational theater group is bringing its touring Teen Dating Awareness Program to CCAC’s Boyce Campus Tuesday as part of the YWCA’s Week Without Violence.

Started nearly 20 years ago, the week-long effort looks to educate the community on the dangers of violence through a series of education programs.

Playgrounds Unwelcoming to Disabled Children

Oct 11, 2013
Alexandra Kanik / PublicSource

Missy Buss, a 9-year-old who can’t walk or talk, endures a 45-minute drive to the closest swing that will accommodate a wheelchair -- a treat that relaxes her shoulders and coaxes a smile.

Her mom, Wendy Grossman, thinks there would be more friends around the house if a playground near their Tarentum home allowed Missy to play alongside others.

Cheryl Dennis of Squirrel Hill talks about “the coolest” playground in the Pittsburgh area, but it’s a place she can’t take her son, Spencer, to play with his sisters because he has balance and coordination problems.

About one in three Allegheny County Jail inmates who don't receive job training while incarcerated wind up back in the lockup within 12 months. But that rate is cut in half if they participate in the Jail Collaborative's education program.

Now 100 inmates, men and women, will receive technical training toward careers in the energy industry in hopes of further reducing that rate of recidivism.

They call it the silent or invisible killer: It’s odorless and colorless, and it takes more than 150 American lives each year.

Faulty heating systems are a leading cause of non-fire related carbon monoxide poisoning in the United States. Before you turn on your furnace this winter, take some time to make sure you can heat your home safely.

Pennsylvania Fire Commissioner Ed Mann says carbon monoxide poisoning doesn’t always happen all at once.

Bishop David Zubik and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh are suing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services after being forced to cover the cost of birth control methods that contradict the beliefs of the church.

Rep. Tom Caltagirone Facebook Page

Representative Thomas Caltagirone, D-Berks, has sponsored a bill requiring mental health training for police and district judges. Under the current system, he claims that many people who should be treated in a mental health clinic are instead placed in jail because there is not enough room.

One solution he recommends is to use closed prisons for these potential patients and make them into mental health facilities.

The Low Income Legal Dilemma

Oct 7, 2013
University of Pittsburgh Law School

It may come as a shock to those who think that there are too many lawyers, but many Americans cannot get their legal needs met. That's because many can not afford legal representation and don’t qualify for legal services.

In fact, according to University of Pittsburgh Law Professor David Harris, 80% of Americans who have legal needs can not find help.

“Even if you just look at the people who come into legal services offices, for every one person served, one person is turned away."

While the issue of cost of legal representation is well known, Barbara Griffin, coordinator for the Pro Bono Center of the Allegheny County Bar Foundation, points out that due to funding cuts in community legal service centers, and the present economy, there are more people in need of aid than lawyers to serve them.

A family member is struck with cancer, a single mother loses her job, a couple splits in a divorce, scenarios like these occur everyday and can create economic pitfalls for women already fighting to stay afloat in tough economic times.

Now the Allegheny Chapter of United Way is sponsoring several organizations in the region to give a helping hand to women caught in economic crises.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

The newly-formed Garfield chapter of Action United led state and local government representatives on a walking tour Thursday of the neighborhood that, like others in Pittsburgh, is struggling with the effects of blight.

“Safety, roads, sidewalks, things for the kids to do,” said Marquise Williams, chapter president, “I feel like if kids had more to do a lot of the crime and a lot of the stuff would decline because there’s more activities for the kids to do.”

Winter can be an especially difficult time for low-income families, when the cost of heating a home can skyrocket.

For the last 30 years, Dollar Energy Fund has been providing grants to people who are struggling to pay their utility bills during the coldest months.

Jody Robertson, director of communications for Dollar Energy Fund, said the nonprofit has helped keep the heat on in over 362,000 homes in nine states, doling out more than $103 million to needy families.

5 Things To Know About The Great Race This Weekend

Sep 26, 2013

The 36th annual Richard S. Caliguiri City of Pittsburgh Great Race will have runners and walkers streaming from Frick Park into downtown on Sunday. If you’re going to be in the neighborhood or racing, here are some things you should know coming into the weekend.

1) Registration is Full

This year there will be 15,500 runners and walkers participating in the race, reaching the cap organizers have set and making it the largest field for The Great Race. Also taking to the starting line will be 24 “perfect runners,” people who have ran all of the 35 past races.

Nothlit / Flickr

After living in his Squirrel Hill home for 18 years, Dr. Jeff Freedman was surprised to receive a letter from the Bureau of Building Inspection asking him to acquire a Certificate of Occupancy.

When he visited the specified location said to provide the certificate, he was told the document was unattainable. Thanks to a 1958 ordinance in Squirrel Hill, many residents are finding parking tickets on vehicles parked in their own driveways.

Wilkinsburg, like other Pittsburgh neighborhoods, has had its share of troubles including crime, blight, loss of population and struggling schools.

And also like other neighborhoods, Wilkinsburg is trying to turn all of that around and revitalize. The fruits of some of those efforts will be on display for the inaugural Wilkinsburg House and Garden Tour.

Discussing Municipal Bans on Fracking

Sep 24, 2013
Natasha Khan / PublicSource

In 2010, Pittsburgh was the first municipality in the nation to institute a ban on hydraulic fracturing. Many others have followed suit, including the boroughs of Baldwin, West Homestead and Wilkinsburg, as well as State College, PA.

Now citizens in Youngstown, Ohio are looking at the structure of Pittsburgh’s fracking ban in shaping a their own ordinances. PublicSource reporter Natasha Khan recently wrote about the ongoing debates in Youngstown as it pertains to jobs and environmental concerns.

Opponents of the Youngstown ban say it’s unconstitutional for a municipality to regulate beyond state and federal law. Similar objections have also been raised in Pennsylvania.

Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

On a muggy Wednesday morning, before the sun has burned off the morning’s clouds, Lionel Greenawalt drives across his 100-acre Westmoreland County farm to a field of sweet corn.

While Greenawalt and his children pick an average of 400 dozen ears of corn each morning, at the moment, they have more corn than they can sell.

“It was kind of rainy this summer season, and we weren’t able to get into the field to plant every five to seven days,” he said. “So what happens is we have a lot of corn that comes in all together.”

That’s where gleaning comes in.

The free beer from PortaBeer should be enough to draw a crowd out to the premiere installment of Smorgasburgh, but it’s the food that will take center stage.

Urbanist editor Michael McAllister and local startup investor Kit Mueller are launching Pittsburgh’s first pop-up all food (and beer) flea market on Saturday.

Residents from Pittsburgh will gather in Market Square downtown Saturday, joining counterparts in 200 other U.S. cities and 64 countries in marking the United Nation's Day of Peace .  

The grassroots international organization Global March for Peace and Unity is coordinating the campaign to spread the word the word on world peace.

“If we could possibly have one day without violence, perhaps that would give hope for two days or three days or hopefully, at some point, have a world without violence,”  said Pittsburgh North People for Peace Chairperson Mary Sheehan.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

Imagine your mom, or your grandmother, maybe even your great-grandmother, with a secret past. Perhaps you know that she’s lived through some major historical events like World War II.

Now imagine finding out she not only lived through it – but was an integral part of secret military operations during the war.

That is part of Pittsburgh native Julia Parsons’ story. She was part of an all-women’s German code-breaking team.

Underage Drinking in Oakland Target of $70K in Grants

Sep 16, 2013

A total of $70,000 will be flowing into the residential portions of Oakland over the next two years to help combat underage and so-called nuisance drinking.

“We’re going to measure success over two years, and on going, by a reduction in the number of highly disruptive, illegal, under-age, student binge drinking parties,” said Geof Becker, co-chair of the Oakland community code enforcement effort, Oakwatch.

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