Saturday, August 14, 2010

Community Action Against Violence

Yesterday I attended a gathering/protest in Garfield sponsored by a faith-and-social-justice organization called Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network. Garfield is a mostly minority neighborhood that has been plagued by violence for I don't know how long--too long. At the protest, people from the community--young and old--shared testimonies of what it used to be like growing up in the neighborhood, what it's like now, and what they hope it can be one day. Several mothers talked about losing sons to street violence. (Leaving how many wives without husbands and children without fathers?)

Then came a call to action directed toward the police force (2 officers were in the audience), asking for more police presence in the neighborhood.

At first I was skeptical. More cops does not always equal more safety. We all know stories of police misusing their power in minority communities--consider Jordan Miles, a Pittsburgh honor student brutally beaten by police while walking home, or Oscar Grant, an unarmed Black man shot by BART police in Oakland last year. Reminders why Connie Rice's work against police violence is so important. She once told Sun Magazine, "to create a movement, you have to have alliances." And at this meeting I began to see a community building an alliance with police.

Neighbors stood up and requested specifics--"two security cameras installed at key points in the neighborhood," "at least 3 K-9s patrolling with officers," "more officers walking the streets" and therefore engaging with, and being part of, the community instead of simply marshaling from afar. I realized these tangible, specific, and not unreasonable requests, given in a compassionate manner, are what really had the potential to affect change. And the hope behind each voice. The officer responded to each request, saying that they had secured security cameras and they're working on getting more K-9s. Speakers acknowledged that it's not the police force's fault, but more the city's fault for not providing enough funding to hire more cops.

At the end, the police officer said he had heard, he had listened, and the police will not ignore or forget them. He asked that the community give them time to work toward these goals. Perhaps the police won't forget them, but will the city continue to do so? I hope not.

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