Hundreds Hold A Downtown Sit-In To Demand PA Change Use Of Force Law 

Jun 20, 2020

On Saturday afternoon hundreds of people gathered in front of Pittsburgh’s City-County Building. They filled Grant Street between Fourth and Forbes avenues in a giant circle to oppose police brutality and call to amend Pennsylvania’s use of force law.

The sit-in was the third “Civil Saturday,” a weekly action organized by Black, Young & Educated, a group begun last year by five area teenagers. BYE’s demonstrations have consistently drawn hundreds of people of all races.

“I feel like we’re actually making change and people are now aware,” said Giuseppe, 18, who just uses their first name. “It brings me joy.”

The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis was a wake-up call for white people, said Jaiell Eleam, a 17-year-old member of BYE.

“They finally see how angry and fed-up Black people around the country have felt for so long,” she said. “They want to come out and show their allyship.”  

But Eleam said it’s important to have a clear, short-term goal.

“We don’t want people to feel like they’re protesting for no reason," Eleamsaid. “Our main goal is …  to amend Section 508 in Pennsylvania to hold police more accountable.”

Section 508 is part of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes that regulates use of force.

Speakers talked about the racial discrepancy in Pittsburgh youth arrests and the power of police unions. They called to end no-knock warrants and pushed for real policy change that ends the violence endured by Black and brown communities. Jasiri X of 1Hood Media said the public should be privy to union contract negotiations.

“Shouldn’t we have a say? Shouldn’t we know which officers have consistent complaints against them?” he said. “Why don’t we have that information?”

He said elected officials need to move beyond “empty words” and take action to “prevent the next Antwon Rose from happening.”

In response, the crowd began to chant, “Turn up, don’t turn down, justice for Antwon.”

Yesterday marked two years since Antwon Rose Jr. was killed by a white police officer in East Pittsburgh. The former police officer was acquitted on all counts.

Many people held signs that said “No justice, no peace,” and “Defund the police,” or urged reallocation of resources from police to other community services. Pittsburgh’s police budget has increased nearly 50 percent since 2013, and advocates say money is needed for counselors or addiction specialists.

The crowd in front of the City-County Building took to its feet. A trumpet, bass drum and snare drum played while organizers danced and led the circle in a call and response.

“Defund the police!” one half yelled and clapped.

“Refund the people’s peace!” the other half responded.

Another focus of Saturday’s demonstration was Black trans people who have been killed. Nicolas Anglin read a list of names, and the crowd observed a minute of silence for each one.

“It’s Pride month … we remember them,” Anglin said.

Speakers emphasized the importance of intersectionality, that “all Black lives cannot matter until Black LGBTQIA+ lives matter.”

Organizers urged people to keep working, and to protect one another.