Tomorrow afternoon, friends of Ka'Sandra Wade — and those concerned about the tragic circumstances of her death — will hold a vigil to mourn her passing. But they will also seek to commemorate her another way: by launching an effort to change city 9-1-1 procedures.
Wade was found dead of a gunshot wound on Jan. 1; her boyfriend, Anthony L. Brown, killed himself during a subsequent stand-off with police. Police say Brown confessed to killing Wade, but over the weekend, the Post-Gazette and other media outlets reported a tragic coda: Wade had called police to her home on New Year's Eve. But the call was interrupted, and though police were dispatched to the scene, they did not enter the apartment or speak to Wade. Brown reportedly did not allow them in, or even open the door, while assuring them everything was all right.
It's unclear whether police could have saved Wade, who may already have been dead by the time they arrived. But while city officials, and District Attorney Steve Zappala, are reviewing the incident, Wade's friends are already mobilizing to change how police respond to potential domestic-abuse situations.
"Ka'Sandra was moving so fast toward a leadership role here. She was going to be a change-maker," says Maryellen Deckerd, the Western Regional Director of Action United, the community-justice group where Wade worked. "One reason we want to hold this vigil is to change people."
The event will take place at 4 p.m. tomorrow, starting outside the Action United offices at 5907 Penn Ave. and including a procession to the nearby Eastminster Presbyterian Church. (Bloggers will be holding an on-line vigil of their own.) Those who knew Wade will be invited to "say the deepest thing they can say about her," says Deckerd. But she says the event will not just mark an end, but the beginning of a grassroots effort to prevent such tragedies from reoccurring.
"The police had their chance to write a [9-1-1 response] policy that would be good for women," Deckerd says. "We're going to write our own policy, one that will be good for us. We're going to ask council to pass it, and then the police are going to follow it. If we have to mobilize a campaign in each council district to do that, that's what we will do."
The proposed changes — which organizers are calling "Ka'Sandra's Law" — will be crafted by a roundtable Deckerd expects to number between 20 and 25 women. Members will include representatives from anti-domestic-violence groups and women who have been abuse victims. Deckerd says they'll be asking themselves, "If you were Ka'Sandra, what would you have wanted to happen [when police were called], and what policy would make that take place? If police were going by the book, what should that book say?"
It's not clear what provisions the law will include: Deckerd says it could feature anything from mandating how police respond to potential domestic-abuse calls, to streamlining the process for getting a PFA. (Friends of Wade's say Wade sought a PFA after Brown threatened her last year, but was dissuaded by long lines.) "The police come to the house, they’re men, and they talk to a man who tells them everything is okay," Deckerd says. "But I'm not blaming the authorities: We're second-class citizens in this society in almost every way."
"There are a lot of other Ka'sandras out there," Deckerd says. "And they are still precious to us. We don't know who they all are, but because we loved Ka'sandra, we love them all too."
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