A Pittsburgh teacher faced a racial slur and threats in a city park this week.
Mark A.D. Williams, who teaches fourth grade at Frick Environmental Charter School, visited Riverview Park Monday afternoon to walk his dogs and shoot a nature video for his students. On a dirt path, he was surprised by three white men illegally riding motorscooters.
Williams, who is 41, was aware of park officials’ concerns about illegal riding in recent months. “I was just fed up with what was happening,” said Williams, who lives in neighboring Observatory Hill. So, he said, he motioned for the riders to turn around and go back the way they came rather than passing him. Then one man sped around him and fell, Williams said.
Portions of the incident that followed were captured by Williams on his cell phone and later posted on YouTube.
In the midst of contending that Williams caused his fall, the first rider said, "I'm going right the [expletive] that way, and if you choose to stand in my way, then you get ran over, bro." Moments later, he called Williams a racial slur.
“What did you call me?” said Williams, who identifies as mixed-race.
“What, you want to turn this into a racist thing?” said the man.
Another man repeatedly threatened Williams, saying, “You just keep it movin’, man, before you get hurt, for real, man.”
Eventually the men rode off, past Williams and back down the trail they had come up. Shortly afterward, Williams met with police at the trailhead, on Perrysville Avenue, and showed them the video.
Police told him that if they caught the men, they could cite them for riding illegally in the park, said Williams. “I said, ‘What about him calling me a [racial slur]?’” But the police said neither the slur nor the threats constituted a crime, and advised Williams he could file a civil suit if the men were identified.
“I left very frustrated from my interaction with the police,” Williams told WESA. “I mean they were kind, and respectful, and … I was like, ‘I’m not mad at you, I’m mad at the whole system.’”
“I’ve spent my whole life being called this, and why is that not a crime?”
Jam Hammond, interim executive director of the Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations (PCHR), said the incident likely would be classified as “hate speech” rather than a hate crime. Hammond said such incidents can be reported to both the PCHR and the FBI.
Williams said Tuesday that police told him one of the men had been identified and would be cited for motorbiking on park trails.
A reporter’s message to the city’s Department of Public Safety was not returned. The city’s Department of Parks and Recreation also did not respond to messages by press time.
Williams also reported the incident to the nonprofit Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy. A Conservancy spokesperson said via email, “We hear of these types of incidents very, very infrequently.” In a statement, the group said, “The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy condemns the kinds of aggression and racial slurs reported by a recent visitor to Riverview Park,” and added, “we believe that park equity means that every park user must feel welcome and safe.”
The incident occurred just one day after Gisele Fetterman—the wife of Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman—was called a racial slur at a store near their Braddock home.