On a snowy Feb. 26, concerned citizens and activists from all corners of Pittsburgh packed the corner of Race street in Baptist Temple Church, in Homewood, to see if new Pittsburgh police chief Cameron McLay would agree to a new set of reforms involving police interactions with the public.
The title of the town hall meeting organized by the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network, “Marches to Measurables,” is endemic of a shift in the movement against police brutality symbolizing the days of marching and civil disobedience are going to yield to fundraising and organizing to achieve goals geared towards better policing.
The meeting opened with a prayer from Rabbi James Gibson of Temple Sinai and was succeeded by several pastors and reverends giving a veritable progress report on the gains made since the marches last summer across all pockets of America where tensions fomented to the surface involving race and policing.
From the beginning, a noticeable charge filled the air as the churches did a boisterous roll call of all parishes in attendance with everyone wanting their church to be the loudest. The milieu was overflowing with emotions of anticipation, feelings of frustration and desires for a resolution while the pews and aisles were choked with people standing up, and some even kneeling or sitting on the floor to find room.
This was to be the night of truth. Slogans ranged from “Investing in Our Safety,” “We want it now” to “We Need Commitment.” Finally, the moment arrived and Rev. Rodney Lyde of Baptist Temple Church asked McLay in front of the entire audience if he would agree to each of six changes.
The first request was if McLay was willing to coordinate with P.I.I.N. to participate in quarterly open community forums starting in June of 2015. McLay agreed. The applause was ground shaking after each affirmation. The second request was for annual trainings starting in 2016 on racial bias, racial reconciliation and procedural justice. McLay agreed.
Third Lyde asked if he was committed to the diversification of the police force so that the amount of minority police mirrored the demographics in the community they are policing by fall of 2017. McLay agreed.
Of the six questions asked and agreed to, the affirmative McLay gave when Lyde asked if he was committed to police wearing body cameras by June of 2015 got the most ear shattering applause.
After McLay let the applause die down, he spoke briefly, informing and warning the audience that while he could and would do what was asked of him, he couldn’t do it alone. He would need the help of the community to be more open with the police.
“Help us to find what the problem is, who the players are that are driving the violence and get together with us to look at these young men and women to say enough is enough. We love you but we don’t want the violence,” McLay said.
McLay made national news in January and fielded criticism after he was photographed during the city’s New Year’s Eve parade holding a sign stating: “I resolve to challenge racism @ work #EndWhiteSilence.” On Feb. 26, however the response was most decidedly positive.
“I think the chief spoke from his heart and I firmly believe in his commitment,” Rev. John Welch of Bidwell Presbyterian on the North Side said. “Now I think it’s time for us as a community to step forward with our own responsibilities and obligations and see if we can change our community.”
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