Pittsburgh City Council’s final approval June 7 of the financial settlement in the Jordan Miles case has been welcomed as a long overdue end to a sad process that began with a false arrest in December 2010. As long as two years ago, Mayor Peduto stated that the situation has “hurt us all in some way.”
There is a different way of looking at the case. Its conclusion is an opportunity to reflect on what Mr. Miles won besides money, and what he stood for and against by not accepting the City’s original monetary offer to settle.
In the immediate aftermath of the police beating, Mr. Miles’ CAPA schoolmates left school to protest before the Mayor, City Council, and the Citizen Police Review Board. City Councilman Reverend Ricky Burgess introduced a number of bills he called The Jordan Miles Public Safety Reform Agenda. Four of the bills were eventually passed into law, after reworking that involved extensive collaboration with a determined public. Although Mr. Miles’ name was officially removed from the bills, they remain on the books as a positive part of his legacy to Pittsburgh.
There is more. In early 2011 delegates from several community groups met to support Mr. Miles and oppose police brutality. They organized the Alliance for Police Accountability, which is still combating injustice. It is not called the Jordan Miles Alliance for Police Accountability, but it could have been.
Mr. Miles’ stand for his rights shone a clear light on police practices and influenced the atmosphere in which Chief Cameron McLay was hired to replace Chief Harper. At six public meetings held as part of the Chief hiring process the message from the public was unmistakable: community/police relations must be reformed.
Because of the absolute clarity of his case, Mr. Miles supplied a solid gold opportunity for then Chief Harper, DA Zappala and US Attorney Hickton to take a national lead in police reform, an opportunity they chose to forego. Instead, the nation had to wait for Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, and so many other high profile wrongful police killings, for Black Lives Matter to begin to influence public policy in a positive direction. All along, though, Mr. Miles was on the right side of police accountability reform.
Mr. Miles’ willingness to be a controversial center of attention led to a couple of revealing demonstrations of the FOP’s juvenile petulance. The union defiled the 2011 St. Patrick’s Day parade by wearing green t-shirts that supported the police who made the false arrest and beat Mr. Miles. Later, when a satirical email, a fake apology from the police to Mr. Miles, was sent anonymously, ostensibly through a server at the Dreaming Ant store in Bloomfield, the FOP arranged for an armed squad to confiscate the server to try to track down the author. The bullies’ double standard regarding First Amendment rights was a precursor of their recent anti-Beyoncé, duty-shirking, pouting tantrum.
The jury’s verdict that came out of Mr. Miles’ first appeal demonstrated the profound absurdity of a body of laws which says that during a false arrest, when the actual amount of force that is proper for police to use is zero, the amount of force that clearly was used to injure Jordan Miles so severely was within the law! Mr. Miles’ stand showed the need to eliminate such nonsense so that communities can trust the law.
It is not how a person is knocked down that counts, but how he or she gets back up. When Mr. Miles objected to what the police did to him, he started out alone, the odds stacked against him. In gathering support for a cause that was right, he inspired many people and showed what one person can do, the “power of one.” Mr. Miles’ attorney, Joel Sansone, said that Mr. Miles is not defined by what the police did to him. That is true. And Jordan Miles’ getting back up after being knocked down is not a bad way for a young man to define himself.