Protesters gathered in Mellon Park in Pittsburgh’s East Liberty neighborhood Saturday afternoon, for the fourth consecutive Civil Saturdays event. The weekly demonstrations against systemic racism and police brutality are organized by high schoolers and recent graduates with the group Black, Young, & Educated.
Activist Nick Anglin of BYE said they are specifically calling for changes to Section 508 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, which gives law enforcement officers significant latitude in determining when the cause of deadly force is justified.
“We’re basically going to call out our [state] senators,” Anglin said, adding that he had received an e-mail from Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa’s office saying he would introduce legislation related to the use of force statute. Costa, a former law enforcement officer, has not spoken publicly on the state’s use-of-force law.
“Basically, I’m going to call him out on that and make sure that our voices are being heard and that we’re taken seriously,” Anglin said.
In a response, a spokesperson for Sen. Costa pointed to two bills he backed that passed unanimously in the state Senate on Wednesday. One would ban chokeholds and the other would require local law enforcement agencies to track and report instances of use of force. Neither addresses Section 508. However, a bill from Sen. Art Haywood, a Philadelphia Democrat, aims to limit the circumstancces under which an officer may use deadly force. Costa's spokesperson identified him as a co-sponsor, though he's not currently listed as such.
A House version of the bill was introduced by Allegheny County's own state Rep. Summer Lee, one year after the death of Black teenager Antwon Rose at the hands of a white East Pittsburgh police officer. It's been sitting in the House Judiciary Committee for more than a year.
A new chant (at least for me): “hey hey, ho hi, 508 has got to go.” A note: I asked organizers, who are all very young, if this experience had changed their ideas for their futures. Many said they were considering going into politics/policy development. @905wesa pic.twitter.com/ppi84tiGsQ
— Katie Blackley (@kate_blackley) June 27, 2020
This weekend’s gathering was smaller than other Civil Saturdays protests, which have drawn hundreds of people in recent weeks. Despite intermittent bursts of rain, protestors marched through East Liberty chanting slogans such as “No justice, no peace, no racist police” and “Defund the police, refund the people’s peace.” Most wore masks and dressed in red, one of the colors of the Pan-African flag.
WESA's Katie Blackley contributed to this report.
This post was updated at 10:07 p.m.