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Police Chief McLay Received Warmly at Hill District Community Meeting

Liz Reid
90.5 WESA

Considering that the topics of conversation ranged from police brutality to racial profiling to discrimination in hiring, there was a surprising amount of laughter at Monday night’s community meeting with acting Police Chief Cameron McLay in the Hill District.

McLay said he understands why people fear the police, and that even he gets nervous when he sees a squad car behind him on the road. The admission drew laughter from nearly all of the three dozen participants.

Putting a positive spin on negative issues has been a hallmark of McLay’s communication style since he joined the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police in September. But he said Monday night’s meeting made it clear that the community is more than willing to meet him halfway.

“As I’m looking to close the trust gap between the police bureau and communities of color … many representatives here in the room today were eagerly building a bridge on the other side working toward us. That’s what I found most exciting,” Mclay said. “People want to talk, they want to understand.”

He told the crowd that his number one priority is to address the unconscious biases that can lead to racial profiling.

“Once someone knows that that bias in place – and everybody has biases – once I know it’s there, I can stop, hit pause, and validate. Is this my bias talking to me or is there behavior that’s driving this?” McLay said. “Awareness makes a huge difference in neutralizing the effect of implicit bias.”

He also said he wants everyone at the bureau to consider him or herself a leader, and to hold their peers, supervisors, and subordinates accountable for unethical or inappropriate behavior.

Community activist and organizer Julia Johnson, with Pittsburgh for Justice said she especially liked hearing from North Side Commander Rashall Brackney talk about sending social workers out on 911 calls to help diffuse crisis situations. She said McLay’s support of that program gives her confidence that he’s committed to community-oriented policing.

“He didn’t give us talking points, as usually happens,” Johnson said. “He was able to give us concrete steps of what he’s doing … to implement accountability and true community policing.”

The meeting was held in the basement of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and God was invoked more than once. Rev. Steve Jackson gave the invocation at the start of the meeting, asking God to “bless this city.” At the close, Rev. Victor J. Grigsby, pastor at Central Baptist Church, prayed for blessings for McLay and the entire police force, as attendees bowed their heads and murmured in agreement.

Rosa Moore, who has lived in the Hill District for over fifty years, said she'll also be praying.

“Right now, I’m praying that (the police are) working with us and we don’t have anything to fear, and we can cooperate with them,” she said.

Liz Reid began working at WESA in 2013 as a general assignment reporter and weekend host. Since then, she’s worked as the Morning Edition producer, health & science reporter and as an editor.
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