Homewood residents criticize police
Yvonne F. Brown of the Hill District expresses her outrage over the beating of 18-year-old Jordan Miles by city police officers at a public hearing with Pittsburgh City Council at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh's Homewood branch on Wednesday. Council members in the background are, from left, Natalia Rudiak, Bruce Kraus, Theresa Kail-Smith and R. Daniel Lavelle.
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A public hearing on proposed police reforms Wednesday night quickly turned to emotional talk of race relations and animated calls from residents for further punishment against three officers accused of beating a Homewood teen during his arrest in January.
City Councilman Ricky Burgess called the hearing to get neighborhood input on a set of proposed bills he named "the Jordan Miles Public Safety Reform Agenda," which includes a plan to put video cameras in all city of Pittsburgh police cars.
Residents who lined up by the dozens to voice chagrin over Mr. Miles' allegations said they supported the councilman's proposals but wondered whether they would go far enough to cure what they see as chronic problems with police.
"I come dressed today in black because of the death of our community, where young black men can't walk the streets of their neighborhoods without fear of being accosted by Pittsburgh police," said Judith Ginyard of Lincoln-Lemington, who drew applause and cheers from more than 100 people who filled an auditorium at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in Homewood.
At a microphone, some residents said the police bureau needs a "transformation" that would include a more diverse force and cultural sensitivity training.
The hearing provided the latest ire in the Miles case, which has stirred emotions in both the community and the police bureau as the city's Office of Municipal Investigations continues its probe into the allegations. Mr. Miles has said Officers Michael Saldutte, Richard Ewing and David Sisak attacked him without cause as he walked on Tioga Street between his mother's and grandmother's homes, and a magistrate last week dismissed criminal charges against him.
The officers have been suspended with pay.
Activist rapper Jasiri X urged council to demand that criminal charges be filed against the officers, and other speakers said they feared they would be wrongly targeted by police while walking after dark in their neighborhoods.
"If I see the police and I'm scared and I run, will they attack me, too?" said 12-year-old Deondre Smith of Homewood. "Everyone in this room should be wondering, are they going to attack you, too?"
The case has also stirred strong emotions among police officers, and a top official cautioned police against any kind of work slowdown in response to the judge's decision to dismiss charges against Mr. Miles.
"I believe our officers are above that," Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said Wednesday. "They would not walk off the job."
Rashad Byrdsong, president of the Community Empowerment Association, asked council members to hold another public hearing on Mr. Burgess' legislation before council votes on it.
The bills also would require all officers under investigation for excessive use of force be placed on paid leave, and would create a task force to study ways the bureau can improve practices.
B.J. Samson of East Liberty stressed that though race was a focal point in the hearing, it shouldn't be.
"This is not a black issue," she said. "This is a public safety issue."
First Published March 11, 2010 12:00 am