Why many African-Americans have no interest in becoming Pittsburgh Police Officers

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by Blair Robertson-Fisher

“Get down! Put your hands up!” Pittsburgh Police officers shouted to my husband as I went to open up our back gate to let him in from walking the dog. My husband put his hands up and several police officers pushed him to the ground to handcuff him. I kept asking them, “What happened? Why are you doing that to him?” and not one answered. A female police officer asked me to come inside the house to explain what had happened. As soon as I approached my living room, more police officers were at my front door. They asked my 5-year-old daughter to open the door so they could come in. Why did they need to come inside my house when only my children were inside?

I continued to ask them what happened, why my husband was outside in handcuffs, and why five of them needed to be in my home. Instead of answering my question in a professional manner, one police officer proceeded to ask me what I was to my husband, “are you his girlfriend?” he said. When I expressed to the officer that I’m his wife, he then said to me “Why don’t you know what happened? What are you doing in your house that you can’t hear gunshots?” He never did respond to any of my questions. I asked some of the officers to move onto the porch because they were scaring my 5- and 1-year-old children, none of them budged.

The female officer pulled me to the side and explained that they had a call that a gunshot had been fired. I asked her what my husband had to do with it. She explained that a neighbor on the corner called the police saying my husband shot at his dog and my husband said it was in self-defense. To make a long story short, my husband was walking our family dog and our neighbor’s German Shepherds jumped over their fence and towards my husband and another child. In self-defense, my husband, with a gun permit and license to carry, shot in the air to scare the dogs away.

Here is where my problem lies; I overheard officers telling my husband that they were surprised he didn’t have a criminal record and that he was going to get one that night. They treated me unlike a knowledgeable citizen with two small children, obviously worried about my husband, and used excessive force to handcuff him. No one addressed my questions and continued to ask me what my husband does for a living and does he regularly shoot into the air? What kind of questions are these?

I have a Masters degree in Education and my husband has a Bachelors in Criminal Justice. Neither of us have a criminal record. We both work, have two beautiful children, and a house that is well taken care of. Why would these police officers feel the need to harass my family? My answer is because we are in our 20s and are Black.

In light of the Jordan Miles case, and many cases I’ve witnessed of police harassing African-Americans in their own communities, I never thought this would happen to my own family. I’ve been the passenger in my husband and mother’s car while police surround the vehicle over a simple traffic violation. It doesn’t take five or six officers to give a ticket for a missed turn signal. Instead of the police creating a sense of community and trust within the neighborhood in which they patrol, they instead use intimidation and harassment as a tactic to scare people. I believe they are this way due to lack of training in urban areas and no repercussions for complaints of harassment and excessive force.

I am a teacher in a class of mostly African-American 4- and 5-year-olds and one day I told them that a police officer was coming to talk to them about safety. Some of the students replied that they didn’t want to see the police officer because they don’t like them. These children should not have to grow up feeling this way. In order to build trust, you must first respect the fellow citizens of the city in which you and your family lives.

Many African-Americans graduate from the colleges and universities in Pittsburgh and the surrounding area  with various degrees. Yet, Pittsburgh Police are having continued difficulty recruiting any of these graduates for their next Police Academy class. Our own police chief is African-American, no one has an interest. Instead of looking at the reasons why, articles and television interviews discuss that we need to trust the police. My question is why? Give me one good reason a person of color would trust someone who judges them before even asking what has happened or pull someone over and not say why.

My husband is very much qualified to be a Pittsburgh Police Officer, he is young, has a degree in Criminal Justice and a clean criminal record. He has absolutely no interest in applying due to continued harassment by some officers who have no idea how to speak to someone with respect.

We plan on moving outside of  Southwestern Pa like many college-educated African-Americans. Every time we see a police car drive by or a police officer giving us a smile we turn the other way. You never know if they are going to find a reason to “talk” to you. We feel as if a target is written on our forehead for no reason at all. We should feel a sense of safety, not fear of people who are trained to serve and protect.

This message is for Pittsburgh Police Chief Nate Harper: talk to your fellow officers about how to treat African-American citizens. Every Black man walking down the street is not a drug dealer, not every Black man with a firearm is carrying it illegally, not every Black family is dysfunctional and broken. There are plenty of young, college educated African-American people who are qualified to join your police force and have NO interest. Figure out why! If you want to diversify Pittsburgh Police, you need to fix the problems with some of your current police officers who believe a gun and badge give them the power to disrespect and harass.

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