Thursday, December 4, 2014
Today a group of more than 50 blocked off several intersections in Downtown Pittsburgh during a march that stretched from Liberty Ave. and Smithfield St. to the City County building.
"I got tired of sitting at home, watching it on TV and doing nothing," said Howard Smith from Churchill. "As a black man, I had to come out here and do something. I hope a lot of leaders in our city take notice."
In addition to responding to the grand jury decision in Ferguson, today's protest was spurred by the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was shot and killed by a police officer in Cleveland on Nov. 22. The officer was responding to a report from a 911 caller who said he saw a boy in the park holding a gun that was "probably fake."
One of two police officers responding to the call shot Rice within 2 seconds of arriving at the scene. The gun turned out to be a toy airsoft gun.
"I"m a black woman. I have a black father. I have a black boyfriend. And if they can be shot down like a dog that matters to me," said Wilkinsburg Councilwoman Marita Garrett, who was at the Pittsburgh protest."We can't keep letting this happen."
Today's action also coincided with yesterday's grand jury announcement that a New York police officer would not be indicted for the murder of Eric Garner, who died in July 2014 after a Staten Island police officer put him in a chokehold. Protests have been going on across the country in response to these and several other recent incidents involving the deaths of unarmed young black men by police.
"I'm a mother of an 18-year-old African American child and my son has been stopped by the police on numerous occasions," said Tracey McCants Lewis, a professor in the Duquesne University School of Law. "I'm standing up for my son and all the other children."
While Pittsburgh protesters are calling for justice in the national cases, today they also called on city government to address issues in the Pittsburgh Bureau of police that have led to cases of police brutality locally. Pittsburgh's new chief of police was selected from outside of the city in an effort to improve police-community relations.
"Why hasn't the local government come out and said they're committed to changing the local police force," said Vanessa German, a local artist who spoke at the rally today. "It's about more than bringing in a new police chief. We have to shift the entire culture. Pittsburgh could be a vanguard for that."
The group who organized today's protest have more planned throughout the week in Oakland and other neighborhoods.
"We need more people tomorrow, more people the next day until this is a total American citizen issue," German said. "It should be infectious."