Local Activists Demand Police Reform From City, County Officials

Jun 15, 2020

Local activists demanded a series of police reforms on Monday morning, calling for changes that include cutting police budgets, increasing oversight, and removing police from schools.

"Because of the lack of urgency from our local officials, our regional officials and our national officials, we are here echoing the national call to defund the police, to support the community and to hold officers accountable," said Miracle Jones, an organizer with activist group 1Hood. 

In a presentation in front of the City County Building downtown, the group listed a dozen demands including: reduce spending on police and invest the money in black communities instead; demilitarize the police; remove all police from schools, make public all contract negotiations with police; release vulnerable individuals from jail; and create an independent, fully funded civilian review board.  

The killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police has prompted protests in Pittsbrugh and across the nation. But Jones noted that even amid calls for police reform, there have still been police shootings, including one in which a black man was shot and killed by an officer in Atlanta who had reportedly received de-escalation training

"Reform and training are not going to make our communities safer," Jones said. "Our communities are safe when they have better resources." 

1Hood's co-founder, Jasiri X, said the city supports, and already has policies that address, some of the campaign's demands. But he said there was a lack of transparency when it came time for the rules to be applied. He used the example of a recent protest in East Liberty that started out peaceful, but ended with police using tear gas and other crowd-control weapons on protesters. 

"What officer gave the call to use tear gas? By this point, shouldn't we have their names?" he asked. "If our taxpayers' money [is] going ... towards police forces, why don't we have a say when it comes to holding police officers accountable?"  

"It's one thing to say this is a policy, but it's another to say that the policies will actually be enforced," Jasiri said. 

Brandi Fisher, of the Alliance for Police Accountability said another core demand -- defunding the police -- is often misunderstood. 

"Our budget is the moral document of our city, sets out what our priorities are," she said. "When we're talking about defunding the police, we're saying instead of increasing the police budget in the city of Pittsburgh ... put that money into helping people graduating from high school get jobs. Instead of locking people up with mental health issues ... put that money into helping people with mental health issues." 

Fisher said the current budget of $114 million for public safety needs to be reduced. 

"We're saying we don't want our tax dollars to go to policing, we want it to go to helping people," Fisher said. "Instead of paying for a training facility that does not work, invest in people and you will see the results that you want to see." 

Allegheny County Councilor Liv Bennett also joined the group and said she and other county officials want to implement a police review board with jurisdiction through the county. 

"It's not as if all Democrats on county council are progressive," she said of resistance to the board. "We have representatives who do not understand the need for police review boards ... they represent districts that don't have police-citizen tensions there."

The groups dropped off their demands with representives from Mayor Bill Peduto's office and that of County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. In a statement, Peduto's office said the mayor "is thankful for this community input on reform measures, and calls for changes like these are the driving reason why he is creating the City's Office of Community Health and Safety."

Peduto said he favored creating the office last week, although doing so would first require finding money from the city budget or outside sources. There is not yet a timetable for establishing the office, though Monday's statement said that its tasks will include "developing community health and safety priorities and areas of focus based on community input and areas of need most frequently encountered by public safety personnel, and establishing a group of community health and safety advisors made up of public health leaders to advise, educate, support and inform on best practices."

"The Mayor’s Office will carefully review the presented recommendations to identify what measures the City can unilaterally address versus those that will require State action," the statement added. The activists said they want to see action taken on their demands within seven days.