Police crackdown angers some Homewood coaches

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Over the past few years, at least two shootings have occurred during youth football games at the Willie Stargell Field in Homewood. The most recent, in August 2010, saw three people shot on the overpass of the Martin Luther King Jr. Busway as people left the field following the game. Despite the crowd of people present during the shooting, to date, no one has been charged with the crime.

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PITTSBURGH POLICE CHIEF NATE HARPER (Photo by Rossano P. Stewart)

In an effort to improve safety at youth football games throughout the region, the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police have begun attending these games to ensure coaches are in compliance with rules set in place in response to last year’s shooting. However, members of the Homewood community erupted with outrage following a compliance check at Stargell field Sept. 17 where they felt their neighborhood was unfairly targeted by the police.

“(Chief Harper) tried to say we were selling drugs to buy equipment for the kids. We would never do that,” said Bajumba Lowry, a coach from Homewood. “I know why Homewood’s being targeted, it’s because of the shooting last year. And there was a shooting the year before, but it has nothing to do with our organization. He’s disrespected our whole community. Instead of tracking down the drugs that are running rampant in our community, he’s targeting us who are trying to do good.”

Following last year’s shooting and more recently, rumors swirling throughout the city accusing coaches in the youth football program of engaging in criminal drug activity. While these allegations have never been proven, officers at the game Sept. 17 did find coaches in violation of several rules including not having the appropriate credentials.

“(Harper) came three weeks ago and wanted us to get other badges. We had already turned in our Act 33/34 papers,” Lowry said. “The thing is instead of sending a few cops like they said they were gonna send, they sent a whole task force. There were over 30 cops there at our homecoming game.”

Under the PBP’s regulations coaches submit a copy of the appropriate Clearances Acts 33/34 and submit to a background check. Though they had been notified about the requirement of clearances, Lowry said they were told only last month that they would be required to obtain credentialed badges from the major crimes unit.

“The PBP will have officers making periodic checks at game locations to ensure that the process is being upheld and/or those coaches etc. who are in violation will be subjected to the appropriate legal enforcement,” said Diane Richards, PBP spokesperson. “The bottom line for the Chief is that he wants to ensure the safety for the youth, spectators as well as those who are participating at these games. He does not wish to see a re-occurrence of what happened last year and is very adamant about this process. He is looking to implement this process across all leagues. The Homewood Leagues are first because this is where the issues lie and non-compliance exist.”

Lowry said several coaches were unable to acquire their credentialed badges because of busy schedules. Other compliance checks have been done in Garfield, East End, Beltzhoover and Wilkinsburg.

“I want to also add that there are Leagues that are in complete compliance and are happy to see that the Chief has taken this hard stance in an effort to protect our youth by having all teams be in compliance with the law,” Richards said. “As mentioned the process has begun for the PBP credentialing the coaches and on field personnel and the Chief will conduct this process across the board.”

Still some members of the community say Homewood is being unfairly targeted. Some have even gone as far as saying the PCP’s actions are racially motivated.

“Basically, they’re targeting the city; and the chief of police and the mayor, they’re targeting the coaches when the issue has never been the coaches. There’s crime in these areas,” said Mubarik Ismaeli, another Homewood coach. “They’re focusing their time and energy focusing on these coaches, when someone was shot in Homewood (Sept. 20). You need to focus on finding the killer.”

The Homewood youth football team is part of the Allegheny County Midget Football League. Other teams originally a part of the association are now a part of the Western Pennsylvania Youth Athletic Association. When asked about the possibility of drug activity in his organization Ismaeli said to the best of his knowledge nothing was going on.

“You can only vouch for what you know. I can vouch for myself, but it’s the same as any other organization,” Ismaeli said. “If you go to any incident, it’s the area. The coaches are willing to help the police. We want to help the police.”

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