One Group Helping West End Residents Navigate Criminal Justice System After A Loved One Is Killed

Jun 11, 2018

 Around six months ago, during a West End community meeting hosted by Black Women for Positive Change, Pittsburgh chapter president Diane Powell heard a frustration she knew how to tackle. 

Residents were struggling to receive updates about ongoing investigations into their deceased loved ones' homicide cases. She reached out to the Allegheny County district attorney's office and brought the two groups together to find a solution. It's all part of her work for BWPC, a national group dedicated to strengthening the African-American middle class and ending America's culture of violence.

Powell spoke with 90.5 WESA contributor Elaine Effort about the work and why it is important. 

Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

ELAINE EFFORT: What kind of complaints did you hear from West End residents that led you to reach out to the Allegheny County district attorney's office?

DIANE POWELL: There was a general feeling of intimidation in dealing with the District Attorney's office, of not knowing how to navigate the system and have their inquiries addressed about the status of the investigation for a deceased loved one, who were homicide victims.

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EFFORT: How have your volunteers been able to bridge that gap and to help connect residents and to be able to understand the process?

POWELL: Well, one of the ideas that we came up with was reaching out to the DA's office to share some of the feedback that we were receiving. One key resource that the DA's office provided to us is that they had developed a website, so that families of victims could actually plug in information and track the status of their criminal investigation. The DA's office also donated a computer to White Lily Baptist Church in the West End, to make it available to residents, so they could visit the church and use their computer to track status of their relatives’ cases.

EFFORT: How are West End residents benefiting?

POWELL: Well, they benefit in the sense that they're getting important information; many people are actively grieving the loss of their loved ones. But bottom line, we're hoping to provide additional information. We want them to know that law enforcement is doing everything they can to solve the cases and to extend a hand to the community, to help them get additional information so the cases can be solved.

EFFORT: Why is your group, Black Women for Positive Change, interested in this work?

POWELL: We believe that the culture of violence in our country is just at an epidemic level and it's a public health crisis. The number of shootings that occur; incidents of bullying; just general acts of violence that are being perpetrated by citizens one against the other. It goes against the grain and we have to be able to advocate for violence prevention and to educate people that there are alternatives to violence, like conflict-resolution mediation. You don't have to resort to violence to resolve the conflict.