Some African-American youth say they no longer feel safe walking down the street in their neighborhoods, not because of the rampant Black-on-Black violence taking young lives every day, but because of an incident on January 2010 when then CAPA High School student Jordan Miles was severely injured during an arrest by three undercover police officers.
|POSTERS SHOW FRUSTRATION—Young protestors says they fear and no longer trust Pittsburgh police officers. (Photo by J.L. Martello)
“I was in school when this happened and I thought it was unfair. It’s scary. I live about five minutes away in Garfield. I had a friend who was killed by the police,” said Michael Clemm, a Peabody High School graduate close to Miles’ age. “It’s bad enough that people are shooting each other in the streets, but the people who are supposed to protect us, aren’t.”
“If we can’t call the police, who are we going to call? They pulled this baby’s hair out by the roots,” said 22-year-old Shannon Williams. “They destroyed this child’s life. And nothing is being done about it.”
On May 6, the Justice for Jordan Miles campaign held a protest at the city county building in response to the Department of Justice’s refusal to prosecute Richard Ewing, Michael Saldutte and David Sisak , the three police officers who arrested Miles on Jan. 12. Miles was hospitalized for injuries he sustained during the arrest and District Magisterial Judge Oscar Petite threw out the charges against him.
“We were taught we should trust the police. I should be able to trust them and believe them, but I can’t,” said Bria Adams, a CAPA graduate and friend of Miles who said he would sometimes call her at 4 a.m. when he couldn’t sleep because of the incident. “For them to say the police are suffering, Jordan’s life has changed and not in a good way.”
Since the announcement by the DOJ, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Police Chief Nathan Harper said officers Ewing, Saldutte and Sisak would be reinstated. Protestors at the rally were outraged by the news and called for a “new mayor” and a “new chief.”
“It does not say that a crime was not committed. You were not found, not guilty. A crime was committed,” said Tim Stevens, chairman of the Black Political Empowerment Project, referring to a statement release by the DOJ. “All of us are here today to protect the constitution. If these three police officers did nothing wrong, why was Jordan Miles’ face unidentifiable, even to his own mother.”
“I need the city to remember that these police officers lied in court. If you didn’t do anything wrong, why did you have to lie? The last time I checked, lying under oath is a crime,” said Brandi Fisher of the Alliance for Police Accountability. “We will not be done, until something is done. Jordan Miles didn’t run from the police, he ran from three people in Homewood at night.”
For more than a year, local community activists and youth have been calling for the firing and prosecution of the three officers who have been on paid administrative leave since the incident. At a rally at District Attorney Stephen Zappala’s office on Aug. 12, protestors were told the DA would not act to prosecute the officers while a federal investigation is pending. Now that the federal investigation has been put to rest, Miles’ family hope the DA will act.
“There cannot be another person, whether completely innocent, like Jordan, or not, senselessly beaten by police officers,” said Jordan Miles’ mother Terez Miles in a letter read at the rally. “D.A. Zappala, I implore you to do the right thing and prosecute these three officers. A jury needs to hear this case.”
The incident has done little to soothe the already tense relations between police and the Black community. For longtime community activists, the Miles incident is just one in a long line of police brutality, although other victims might have not had as sterling records as Miles.
“The problem is we’ve all been turning a blind eye to the brutality,” said Paradise Gray, One Hood. “What sense does it make to chase down terrorists in Afghanistan, if our children aren’t safe in Pittsburgh. Don’t talk to me about Homeland Security when we don’t have Homewood security.”