Identity & Justice

The identity and justice desk explores how the makeup of the Pittsburgh community is changing, and digs into issues of diversity and equity.

What Was The National Guard Doing In Philadelphia, Anyway?

Jun 12, 2020
Matt Slocum / AP

Pennsylvania National Guard troops are making their way out of Philadelphia, after their ranks peaked at 3,000 over the last two weeks of demonstrations protesting the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and others at the hands of police. 

Gif by Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

When Gov. Tom Wolf ordered all bars and restaurants in Pennsylvania to close in mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic, Pittsburgh drag queen Scarlet Fairweather had to cancel a voter registration performance planned at Blue Moon Bar in Lawrenceville. 

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Two faith leaders of prominent congregations that have been rocked by mass shootings came together Wednesday night to talk about how to fight racist and hateful attacks, as protests against police violence and systemic racism continue across the country.


Newsrooms are not doing enough to support and amplify the voices of black journalists. That was the message from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Alexis Johnson during a Tuesday virtual panel hosted by 1Hood Media, called “What Black Pittsburgh Needs to Know About Media.”

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

The University of Pittsburgh police department says it has no plans to rehire a former university police officer later acquitted in the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager.

Keith Srakocic / AP

Reporters at the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette said the company racially discriminated against staffers, after management at the paper removed two black journalists from covering issues related to police brutality, and called upon advertisers to pressure the paper on their behalf.

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

Chanting the names of black men and women killed by law enforcement, hundreds gathered to march Sunday from Mt. Washington to Market Square.

Racist Birding Incident Sparks Joyful Online Event #BlackBirdersWeek

Jun 5, 2020
Courtesy Juita Martinez

  Many people watched a video taken in Central Park in late May in shock and disgust. A white woman threatened a black birder, who tried to get her to leash her dog. She purposely called out his race on a phone call to the police. But the incident has sparked an online action that is bringing joy to many called #BlackBirdersWeek on Twitter and Instagram.

Gene J. Puskar / AP

Pittsburgh police charged Natalie Lewis, 24, and Abigail Rubio, 24, Thursday for allegedly throwing water bottles at police from a nearby apartment during a protest in East Liberty Monday. Documents say that Rubio, who filmed police and protesters from her balcony and later told reporters about a subsequent encounter with police a day after the protest, was arrested Friday.

Gene J. Puskar / AP

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said Thursday he will wait for the results of two investigations before drawing conclusions about why and how police broke up a protest in East Liberty Monday. In the meantime, he vowed to adopt new police reforms — a pledge that received a tepid response from some local black activists, who said the city must go farther.

Cities See Protests Rage On As Wolf Vows Changes To Policing

Jun 4, 2020
Bill O'Driscoll / 90.5 WESA

Large protests over police treatment of black people arose in Pittsburgh and Bethlehem on Thursday, while Philadelphia braced for more marches and demonstrations on the night before some pandemic-related restrictions will end in the city.

Kiley Koscinski / 90.5 WESA

Scores of people surrounded East Liberty Presbyterian Church on Wednesday for an afternoon vigil, marking the fifth straight day of local demonstrations in response to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis Police custody last week.

Marc Levy / AP

Philadelphia will be under curfew again for a fifth straight night Wednesday, as Gov. Tom Wolf marched in Harrisburg with demonstrators protesting police violence against black people and racial injustice following the killing of George Floyd.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA


On today's program: A recap of the results from Pennsylvania’s delayed primary election; courts in Allegheny County reopen with new restrictions; and police look for more information about the homicide of Tionna Lashay Highsmith, who died this year after being wounded 15 years ago.

Gene J. Puskar / AP

Pittsburgh’s cooling centers might not be able to open this summer. The facilities are typically housed in senior centers, which serve a community most vulnerable to severe effects of the coronavirus.

According to a city spokesman, senior centers will be primarily focused on offering meals and activities to the elderly. It’s unclear if the facilities will later be able to open to the general public as a place to cool off. 

Sarah Boden / 90.5 WESA

Protesters in downtown Pittsburgh marched from Downtown to the South Side and back Tuesday afternoon and early evening. They staged sit-ins outside the Allegheny County Jail, on East Carson Street, and in Market Square. Organizers say they are seeking to bring awareness to the disproportionate policing and incarceration of black men in the United States.

An-Li Herring / 90.5 WESA

The death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police has sparked waves of protests across the country to oppose police brutality. On Monday afternoon, officials held a press conference to discuss how a Saturday demonstration in Pittsburgh devolved into a clash between protestors and the Bureau of Police, and ended with property destruction, tear gas, and rubber bullets.

An-Li Herring / 90.5 WESA


On today's program: After two days of protests of the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, Pittsburgh demonstrations end in a peaceful vigil; and a Liberian-born poet discusses her latest collection of poetry. 

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

Religious leaders gathered at Freedom Corner in Pittsburgh’s Hill District Monday afternoon to pray for peace in the wake of the death of George Floyd. 

90.5 WESA

It will be at least another three months before jury trials resume at the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas. Last week, the court’s president judge, Kim Clark, announced that due to the continuing threat of COVID-19, she would extend a prohibition on those proceedings through the end of August.

Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

The day after a peaceful Pittsburgh demonstration downtown turned chaotic, leaving a police car burned, businesses looted and damaged and a multiple reporters injured, community members met for a peaceful vigil in East Liberty around racial justice.

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

A group of several dozen protesters is marching through Downtown Pittsburgh Sunday afternoon, after gathering in Market Square.

Much Of Central Philadelphia To Be Closed Off After Violence

May 31, 2020
Matt Rourke / AP

Officials in Philadelphia announced plans to close off much of the center of the city Sunday after peaceful protests over George Floyd's death turned into a night of destruction with store windows smashed near City Hall, merchandise taken from stores and police and other vehicles and structures set afire.

Kiley Koscinski / 90.5 WESA

Cleanup crews got to work all over Downtown Pittsburgh on Sunday morning to remove debris, spray paint and broken glass. Public Works and Pittsburgh citizens scrubbed graffiti from statues, windows and buildings.

Bill O'Driscoll / 90.5 WESA

It began as a march, one of dozens across the United States, to protest the death of a black man at the hands of Minneapolis police. Thousands marched through Downtown Pittsburgh and the Lower Hill District, and even as they chanted “no justice, no peace,” the police kept their distance.

That changed after about two hours, as police cars were burned, buildings vandalized, and police used tear gas and horses to disperse crowds. Shortly after 7:30 p.m., public safety officials had declared a curfew to go into effect from 8:30 p.m. to 6 a.m. Sunday. 

90.5 WESA

Allegheny County has settled some key issues in a lawsuit over its handling of the coronavirus at the county jail, with prison-reform advocates winning several concessions.

Emma Lee / WHYY

Over the last six weeks, Pennsylvania state prisons have temporarily released 153 people under an emergency program designed to limit the spread of COVID-19 behind bars — a total even prison officials say is lower than expected.



On today's program: Applications for SNAP benefits are up; today is the deadline for mail-in ballot requests; a preview of one state House election; and a Pennsylvania company pivots from making football jerseys to face masks. 

Frank Franklin II / AP

State Health Secretary Rachel Levine has stressed the importance of taking it slow when reopening businesses in Pennsylvania. “Yellow means caution,” she said at a recent press conference. That sentiment has been echoed by Pittsburgh’s religious groups grappling with whether or not to reopen their doors to worshippers.


In the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s first live-streamed oral argument, the justices raised doubts Tuesday about whether state trial courts can ban people on probation from using medical marijuana.