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.

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

Democratic Allegheny County Councilors Liv Bennett and Bethany Hallam plan to introduce emergency legislation next week to slash the county’s jail population, the latest effort to mitigate the spread of coronavirus behind bars.

Marc Levy / AP

Prison-reform advocates and the state Department of Corrections jousted Thursday morning over whether the coronavirus has already infiltrated the state prison system – and over what should be done to limit its spread.

Carolyn Kaster / AP

On today's program: The state prison system grapples with social distancing for staff and inmates; a look at our region’s health care system and its readiness to take on more sick people; and PA is creeping closer to its new mail-in voting deadline.

Ringo H.W. Chiu / AP

The Pennsylvania Instant Check System, which is used to determine if someone can legally acquire a license to carry a firearm or obtain a firearm for a seller, saw a “surge in requests” earlier this week, said Major Gary Dance, director of the Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Records and Identification.

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In response to the spread of the coronavirus, people are encouraged to wash their hands and to isolate themselves if they experience symptoms. “When you’re homeless you don’t have many of those options,” said Jerrel T. Gilliam, executive director of Light of Life Rescue Mission on the North Side.

90.5 WESA

Conditions at the Allegheny County Jail create “the perfect storm for a potential COVID-19 outbreak,” local activists said in an online statement that calls for the mass release of people held at the jail.

Crowded Conditions, Close Contact Behind Bars Complicate Public Health Challenge

Mar 13, 2020
Matt Rourke / AP

Matthew Keller got word on Thursday that he was losing his job. He wasn’t performing poorly at the Cold Choice salad bar in Lebanon, where he works food prep. In fact, he was on track to a full-time schedule at $9.50 per hour.

Jared Murphy / 90.5 WESA

Child care facilities and after school programs in the Pittsburgh region are developing plans if there are large-scale school closures. Most centers remain open, with caretakers emphasizing good hygiene among children. 

Altaf Qadri / AP

Cleaning companies have been in high-demand this week as employers across the region have moved non-essential workers off-site or adjusted hours and duties to ward off the spread of COVID-19.

So far, there are no cases of the coronavirus in Allegheny County, but businesses, elected officials and health care professionals are preparing for that eventuality.

SEIU 32BJ is a union representing about 23,000 service workers statewide, including janitors, food service workers and security guards.

Marc Levy / AP

A task force set up three years ago issued recommendations Wednesday about how to improve the process of reentering outside society among prisoners who have finished their sentences.

The Pennsylvania Reentry Council's report addresses housing, work, health, education and other challenges that former inmates face upon release from incarceration.

Ariel Worthy / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh City Councilors Daniel Lavelle and Ricky Burgess introduced legislation on Tuesday that asks the city to adopt 10 commitments to racial equity. 

Courtesy of Therese Rocco


On today's program: A new play explores the life and career of Pittsburgh’s first female assistant police chief; Pitt explains why PFAS chemicals are cause for worry; residents of a Philadelphia neighborhood are proud of their exclusionary reputation; and COVID-19 preparations continue in Pittsburgh.  

Megan Harris / 90.5 WESA


On today's program: Pittsburgh’s new NAACP director shares her vision for equitable community development; how refugees are affecting some American towns; and why some local libraries have eliminated late fees.

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

About $5.5 million that poured in from donors after the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue attack that killed 11 worshippers is being distributed according to a plan outlined Monday by Jewish groups.

The largest share, just over $3 million, will go to the families of those killed and to two people who were seriously injured. Donations are also being distributed to people who were in the Tree of Life building during the attack, to first responders and to the congregations.

Matt Rourke / AP

A judge in western Pennsylvania has thrown out the conviction of a retired Roman Catholic priest accused of having assaulted a boy almost two decades ago.

Andrea Tudhope / America Amplified

Refugee admission into the U.S. has dropped dramatically in recent years. 

Jose Luis Magana / AP

Allegheny County Judge Terrence O'Brien heard arguments Friday in a dispute over more than 1,000 security cameras operated by District Attorney Stephen Zappala's office in and around Pittsburgh.

Civic Groups Argue Supervised Injection Site Will Boost Crime

Mar 4, 2020
Nina Feldman / WHYY

More than a dozen neighborhood associations from South Philadelphia and the River Wards have joined the Fraternal Order of Police in filing a court document in opposition to a planned supervised injection site. The filing, a “friend of the court” brief, supports U.S. Attorney William McSwain’s request for a stay that would prevent the site from opening while his appeal moves through the Third Circuit Court.

Miguel Martinez / Billy Penn

During a high-profile event on Tuesday, City Council unveiled its “Poverty Action Plan” — aimed at helping 100,000 Philadelphians climb out of poverty by 2024.

Maggie Young / 90.5 WESA

Lunar New Year celebrations were held in Pittsburgh on Sunday after being pushed back due to concerns over the coronavirus. Organizers of the parade waited until Saturday night for a final go-ahead from the state Department of Health so the parade could proceed. 

Speaking Mam In MAGA Country: Immigration, Education And The Teenage Boy In The Middle

Feb 26, 2020
Jeffrey Stockbridge / Keystone Crossroads

Pressure is mounting on 15-year-old Fredy Garcia Morales.

In January, he was called into a meeting with a truancy officer for his school in Chambersburg. His jaw dropped when he learned he’d missed 33 days of class.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

Federal authorities say a man acquitted less than two weeks ago in the slayings of five people and an unborn baby at a western Pennsylvania cookout four years ago has been indicted on a firearms charge.

Nonprofit Says It Will Open Injection Site In Philadelphia

Feb 26, 2020
Elana Gordon / WHYY

A Philadelphia nonprofit group said it will open the nation's first supervised injection site next week to combat overdose deaths after a federal judge rejected Justice Department efforts to block the plan.

An-Li Herring / 90.5 WESA

Just over a week after engaging in a public spat over a not-guilty verdict in a case involving a 2016 mass shooting in Wilkinsburg, borough Mayor Marita Garrett and Allegheny County Police Superintendent Coleman McDonough came together for a forum on combating gun violence.

Courtesy 412 Food Rescue

On today's program: How 412 Food Rescue hopes to expand in 2020; U.S. Steel settles the first in a series of pending class action lawsuits; Pennsylvania launches its own Conviction Integrity Unit; more turmoil for the Allegheny County Democratic Committee; and a look into the true cost of court debt.

Joseph Darius Jaafari / PA Post

The Lebanon County Correctional Facility’s handbook says no inmate can have long hair unless it is worn in a ponytail or a bun. But for many Black inmates, that rule doesn’t apply. Instead, they are placed in solitary confinement if they refuse to cut their hair. 

Matt Rourke / AP

Human-rights groups plan to hold rallies in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia Tuesday to protest state Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s record on commutation. While Pennsylvania's Board of Pardons recommended more commutations last year than at any time in the past quarter-century, rally organizers say Shapiro, one of the board’s five members, stands in the way of granting the relief more widely.

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

The Supreme Court said Monday it will hear a dispute over a Philadelphia Catholic agency that won't place foster children with same-sex couples.

Jared Murphy / 90.5 WESA

The number of homeless public school students in Pennsylvania increased by more than 30 percent from 2015-2018, according to a report released last month by the National Center for Homeless Education. 

Opioid Settlement Still Elusive As Some Lawyers Criticize It

Feb 24, 2020
Matt Rourke / AP

State attorneys general are finding a national settlement over the toll of opioids to be elusive, as some lawyers for state and local governments are renewing public criticism of the proposed deal with a group of companies led by the nation's largest drug distributors.