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Pennsylvania Supreme Court To Consider Police Use-Of-Force Provision

People walk by the Pennsylvania Judicial Center Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa.
Matt Rourke
People walk by the Pennsylvania Judicial Center Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa.

On today’s program: The state Supreme Court is considering police use-of-force rules that allow officers to use deadly force when someone is escaping arrest; a study will look at how effectively the COVID-19 vaccine creates antibodies in pregnant and postpartum people; and a new book explores the impact of colonialism in higher education, from the land the institution sits on to the admissions process.

State Supreme Court considering constitutionality of police use-of-force law
(0:00 - 6:59)

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner is requesting the state Supreme Court consider the state’s police use-of-force law when someone is attempting to escape arrest.

He is bringing up this use-of-force statute because he is set to try ex-officer Ryan Pownall, who shot and killed 30-year-old David Jones, as Jones ran from a traffic stop. Jones was unarmed.

“Pennsylvania law establishes certain parameters for the use of deadly force. Krasner’s appeal focuses on a nearly 40-year-old [U.S.] Supreme Court ruling that establishes a slightly narrower set of parameters for the use of deadly force,” explains Colin Deppen, who’s covering the issue for Spotlight PA. “Under this appeal, Krasner wants that court to weigh in on whether the jury instructions, the outlining of the rules that they weigh guilt or innocence by, are constitutional and comport with that nearly 40-year-old Supreme Court ruling.”

In a 1985 case, Tennessee v. Garner, the U.S. Supreme Court justices ruled, “the use of deadly force to prevent the escape of all felony suspects, whatever the circumstances, is constitutionally unreasonable.” If officers use deadly force in this instance, they must have “probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.”

Krasner’s appeal says jurors are given a state statute that does not line up with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling, but is a weaker standard.

“Not everyone is convinced that this will make or break a case,” says Deppen. “As anyone who has had jury duty before knows, jury instructions can be pretty voluminous and dense. There is certainly a human tendency to sort of gloss over or even miss some of the finer details and the legalese and the subtext here.”

UPMC studies antibodies from COVID-19 vaccine in pregnant and postpartum people
(7:05 - 14:35)

Slightly more than 60% of Allegheny County residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. But how many of those vaccinated are pregnant and postpartum individuals?

A new study from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is partnering with UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital to learn more about this particular population and their newborns.

“While we really, firmly believe that the COVID vaccines are safe for pregnant and postpartum individuals and we have data already out there to suggest that the antibodies that our bodies make are transferred to the babies, what we’re missing is really a better understanding about how long those antibodies are present when the individual that gets vaccinated is pregnant or postpartum during that vaccination series,” explains Dr. Katherine Bunge, local principal investigator for this study and assistant professor with Pitt School of Medicine’s Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences.

Bunge says the study is observational, following pregnant and postpartum people vaccinated at clinics or other settings for a year to see how they respond. The study is also collecting pregnancy outcome data, including rates of preterm delivery and assessing infant safety.

The national principal investigator on this study, Dr. Richard Beigi, told The Confluence in January the lack of studies including pregnant people in clinical vaccine trials “perpetuates a cycle of exclusion and evidence gaps.”

Bunge says there’s a growing movement to include pregnant people in vaccine trials. Meanwhile, she has noticed vaccine hesitancy among pregnant and postpartum people has decreased since COVID-19 vaccines have become available and more data on its safety and efficacy has been collected.

“The more we can look at pregnant and postpartum people earlier in the development of medicines and vaccines, the better,” says Bunge.

Pitt professor’s new book argues that progress comes with study of and struggle against existing systems and long-held beliefs
(14:39 - 22:30)

Higher education is often considered a path out of poverty, or a way to make a better life for oneself, but what if higher education was understood to reinforce systems of oppression?

University of Pittsburgh professor Leigh Patel’s latest book, “No Study without Struggle: Confronting Settler Colonialism in Higher Education,” investigates this phenomenon, and how colleges and universities can recognize and reconcile with such a legacy.

Patel defines “settler colonialism” as an occupation of land by outsiders who claim it and its resources as one’s own.

“We can see [settler colonialism] from the obvious fact that colleges and universities, be they private or public, are on indigenous lands,” says Patel.

“The only way to actually deal with these inequities is with the truth,” says Patel. “That’s how we unlearn the mythologies that we were taught in K-12 schooling and sometimes in higher education.”

Some state legislatures are making efforts to ban the teaching of critical race theory in schools, a decision Patel says is less about critical race theory, and more a reaction to movements such as Black Lives Matter, the election of the first Black president, and mobilization of voters in Georgia to elect Joe Biden as president.

“I’m not terribly shocked by it, but I am of course very, deeply concerned about it, because bottom line: when we cordon off facts about how the nation came into existence, what we’re giving up is accuracy, and that will weaken any society that claims to be one that is democratic.”

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

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