Eric Garner

Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

It's an oft-repeated mandate: law enforcement needs to change for the 21st century. But what does "21st century policing" actually mean, and how would a forward-thinking department be different than what most jurisdictions have now?

Are Local Prosecutors to Blame for Failure to Prosecute Police?

Dec 17, 2014
David Harris

The public outcry over the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, two unarmed black men, at the hands of white police officers continues to spark protests around the country. 

One of the many legal aspects being called into question in these instances is the role of local prosecutors taking the cases to grand juries. Pitt Law Professor David Harris examines the part that local prosecutors have played in these cases.

Harris says that local prosecutors often have ties to police departments, thus producing a possible conflict of interest. Although sometimes local prosecutors do indeed prosecute police, Harris acknowledges that concerns about impartiality are justifiable.

90.5 WESA / Michael Lynch

Dozens of University of Pittsburgh medical students wearing white lab coats and surgical masks lay in the lobby of Scaife Hall Wednesday as part of a national “die-in” to raise awareness of racial injustices.

Students played dead for 4 minutes and 30 seconds to represent the 4 hours and 30 minutes 18-year-old Michael Brown’s body lay in the street after being shot and killed by a white police officer in August in Ferguson, Mo.

So What Does It Really Take to Indict a Police Officer?

Dec 9, 2014
Britt Reints / Flickr

The recent decisions by grand juries not to press charges against white police officers involved in fatalities of unarmed black men in Ferguson, MO and Staten Island, NY has led the headlines in recent weeks. 

These incidents have called into question the difficulty of charging police officers with crimes, even with video evidence, and what alternatives there could be to address police misconduct.

Pitt Law Professor David Harris explains the difficulty of charging officers, and how police departments are changing.

Jessica Nath / 90.5 WESA

“Hands up – don’t shoot!”

That was the cry of dozens of Pittsburghers who gathered downtown Thursday to protest the deaths of two unarmed black men at the hands of white police officers.

“The average person, the average citizen has to get involved in this. This involves all of us,” said organizer Julia Johnson. “Police brutality, systemic racism, the list goes on and on of the issues that our country is suffering from right now. Everyone must be a part of this movement. We must liberate ourselves from this oppressive system.”

Julia Johnson on Protests Following Eric Garner Decision

Dec 4, 2014
Britt Reints / Flickr

In the wake of a New York grand jury’s decision not to indict a white police officer in the alleged chokehold death of Eric Garner, protests erupted around the nation -- including in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood. Local social justice organizer Julia Johnson joins us to offer her take on the local and national reaction to the Garner case.

Responding to critics who pointed out that last night’s protests in Oakland disrupted traffic and disturbed the community, Johnson explains, “that small inconvenience is the price people have to pay for allowing this system that oppresses people, that kills people and has no accountability for the murderers.”

The protests in the Garner case have been especially impassioned, Johnson says, because of growing momentum that has been built in recent weeks and months following the Ferguson case.

Johnson explains that in response to a series of national and local cases of police brutality against African Americans, a coalition of Pittsburgh activists and concerned citizens has created a list of demands in the interest of social justice and police accountability.

Protest footage courtesy of The Pitt News:

AP Photo/ Joseph Kaczmarek

Crowds protesting the deaths of two unarmed black men at the hands of white police officers marched in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia on Wednesday.

In Philadelphia, a group rallied at the train station and marched through downtown before disrupting a tree lighting ceremony at City Hall. The group's chants of "No justice, no Christmas!" and other phrases drowned out several performances at the City Hall celebration, but the tree was lit as scheduled.