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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Advocates call on state Rep. Dom Costa and Port Authority to drop fare-check policy proposal

Posted By on Thu, Oct 12, 2017 at 4:13 PM

Advocates march through Morningside to protest Port Authority's proposed fare-check policy - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Advocates march through Morningside to protest Port Authority's proposed fare-check policy
The Port Authority of Allegheny County is proposing a new fare-check policy on its light-rail trains, in which Port Authority police officers will be patrolling stations and cars and asking for proof of payment. If a rider fails to prove payment, officers will run the name through a background check and give the passenger a warning. Upon repeat infractions, riders can be issued criminal charges.

On Oct. 12, a group of 30 advocates marched in Morningside, requesting that state Rep. and Port Authority board member Dom Costa (D-Stanton Heights) reject the fare-check proposal. Gabriel McMorland, of the social-justice advocacy group The Thomas Merton Center, has met with Port Authority officials and spoken at multiple authority board meetings about the potential harm this policy could have on vulnerable populations that often use public transit, like low-income earners, the homeless and undocumented immigrants. Before the march, McMorland said that possibility of putting someone into the criminal-justice system for failing to pay a $2.75 fare is overly punitive.

“They do not appear at all concerned about the potential dangers we brought up,” said McMorland. “We want to stand up against over-policing in this community.”

Nationwide, there are a handful of other transit-police agencies that use armed officers to enforce fare-evasions, such as in New York, Dallas and Cleveland. The policy of Cleveland's Regional Transit Authority is similar to the proposed Port Authority policy, as it makes multiple infractions of fare-evasion a criminal offense. However, recent news reports from Cleveland have highlighted flaws in the RTA system.

In September, the Cleveland Scene wrote about how some RTA transit cops believe that RTA’s fare-check policy is merely a way to generate revenue, and how citations were disproportionately targeting black riders. And in July, TV station WKYC reported how the RTA was charging teenage students with criminal offenses for failure to show their school ID, which acts as their transit pass.

At the Oct. 12 rally, Brandi Fisher, of the Alliance for Police Accountability, worried that if Port Authority were to institute this policy, a minor fare-evasion infraction could escalate, given the oft-tumultuous relationship between minorities and police officers. “Things like traffic stops and pat-downs often escalate to a place where serious things occur, like death or major injury,” said Fisher. She cited the case of Leon Ford, who was severely injured by Pittsburgh Police officers after being pulled over for running a stop sign.

Alma Brigido, the wife of deported immigrant-rights activist Martin Esquivel-Hernandez, told the crowd that this policy will likely decrease ridership among undocumented immigrants, who utilize public transportation because Pennsylvania doesn't allow them to obtain driver’s licenses. “We are obligated to use public transportation in our daily lives.”

As City Paper reported in June, undocumented immigrants could be potentially in threat of deportation with their first fare-evasion infraction. Even though the proposed Port Authority policy prohibits officers to ask for identification, authority officers will still run people’s names through a database that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has access to.

A coalition of advocacy groups surveyed local Latino transit riders and found that about 80 percent of them would stop taking the T, if the proposal were implemented. Monica Ruiz, of Latino-service organization Casa San Jose, said this is troubling because many Latino residents and many undocumented immigrants live in Beechview and other South Hills neighborhoods which the light-rail serves. Ruiz told CP she spoke to one woman who would stop taking the T if the policy were implemented, and she told Ruiz that armed officers on the light-rail would make her and her children “very afraid.”

The group of 30 marchers ended their march at the office of Costa and delivered more than 300 letters from constituents, asking Costa to oppose the proposed change.

When asked for comment on this story, Costa’s office directed CP’s request to the Port Authority. Adam Brandolph, spokesperson for the Port Authority, emailed CP  the following statement: “Interim CEO David Donahoe delayed implementation of the proposed fare policy on our light-rail system in June due to unexpected equipment issues. He has taken that time to review how other transit agencies enforce fare payment, and he has not recommended any changes thus far.”

The date for the Port Authority vote on the fare-check policy has not been determined.

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Thursday, May 18, 2017

Pittsburgh policing expert David Harris celebrates 50 episodes of Criminal (In)Justice podcast

Posted By on Thu, May 18, 2017 at 1:19 PM

  • Photo courtesty of Criminal (In)Justice
  • David Harris
Over the last several years, interest in complex policing stories has mushroomed. The Black Lives Matter movement, as well as immigrant-justice groups, have capitalized and propelled these stories, frustrated in how criminal-justice matters were too often swept under the rug.

University of Pittsburgh professor and well-known policing expert David Harris knows this all too well. For decades, he has been a go-to source for many media outlets (including Pittsburgh City Paper) for criminal-justice stories. He has even testified before the U.S. Congress on the subject.

And with all his available knowledge and expertise, Harris wanted to bring it directly to the the public. So last year, Harris started the Criminal (In)Justice podcast with help from former and current WESA staff members Josh Raulerson and Megan Harris. The first episode aired in March 2016, and this weeks marks the 50th episode.

Continue reading »

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Friday, November 4, 2016

Breaking: Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay resigns

Posted By on Fri, Nov 4, 2016 at 11:48 AM

Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay
Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay has resigned. His last day will be Nov. 8, Election Day. He became known as a reformer in the department, which often made him unpopular within the department's ranks and popular with members of the community.

Earlier this year, members of the Pittsburgh FOP, the officers' union, gave McLay a vote of "no-confidence," however, Mayor Bill Peduto stood behind the chief, our Rebecca Addison reported at the time.

While McLay's last official day is Dec. 4th, he has accrued enough time off that his last day will be Nov. 8 and he will move back to Wisconsin shortly after, to rejoin his family. The reason he gave why this would be his last day: "I wanted to vote."

McLay was hired on the promise of instituting improved police-community relations and made a splash when he held up a sign during Light Up Night 2014 that read "I resolve to challenge racism at work, #endwhitesilence."

At a Nov. 4 press conference announcing his decision, he relayed the message to his former officers that they were on the right track in terms of a forging a positive relationship between police officers and the community.

"To the men and women of the police bureau, stay the course, you are on the right track," said McLay. "Everyone of you are leaders, everyone of you have an ethical responsibility to serve this community."

While McLay denied that the FOP's no-confidence vote influenced his decision to step down, he did communicate that results that can come after someone comes in and tries to make changes. He said that often the person who comes and and "knocks down the silos, usually ruffles the most feathers." McLay said he had been discussing the possibility of leaving the Pittsburgh police with Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto since August. McLay was the first chief chosen from outside the bureau in more than 150 years.

"For everybody, I remind you that change is hard," said McLay. "Everybody wants things to be different and we all resists change, but please understand improvements only come about with change."

McLay believed he was able to accomplish some change, through his office's work forging relationships with activist and faith leaders. When Black Lives Matters protesters took to the streets in July, and the marchers wanted to enter and shut down the parkway, McLay said he was proud to avoid that by speaking with the activist leadership and persuade them to march down Ft. Pitt Boulevard instead, toward Point State Park.

He praised Pittsburgh and became emotional when issuing his send-off: "This is a great city. and it has been an honor to serve you all."

Taking over for McLay in the interim is Assistant Chief Scott Schubert, who has been with the Pittsburgh Police for 24 years. He vowed to continue the community-policing model. "We are not going to stray from our vision," said Schubert. "We believe in it." Peduto said Schubert would serve for 90 days and McLay's replacement will be named after that.

Peduto said that when he hired McLay, they had spoken about how the average term for a police chief was three years and he knew the city "only had him for a short time." Peduto, like McLay, believes that Pittsburgh policing is on the right track.

"We needed a wrecking ball chief to get reform. Now we have the opportunity with an entire new command set," said Peduto. "We are so much closer to getting there because [McLay] was our chief."

10:25 a.m.:

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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Public officials calling for removing law enforcement from schools at panel tonight in Pittsburgh

Posted By on Thu, Oct 20, 2016 at 12:26 PM

Dignity in Schools campaign poster - COURTESY OF DIGNITY IN SCHOOLS CAMPAIGN
  • Courtesy of Dignity in Schools Campaign
  • Dignity in Schools campaign poster
According to a 2014 report from the U.S. Department of Education for Civil Rights, students of color are disproportionately more likely to be referred to law enforcement and be subject to school-related arrests.

This is why a group of local, state and national policy-makers is calling for law enforcement to be removed from public school campuses, instead replaced by additional counselors and social workers. The group is part of the Dignity in Schools Campaign and will be discussing these school-arrest issues at a dinner and panel discussion tonight in the Hill District.

The message of the event is written in a press release put forth by the campaign: "Instead of hiring school police, schools should invest in hiring more counselors and training school personnel in these positive approaches, which research shows can significantly improve behavior, decrease suspensions and expulsions and improve academic outcomes."

Speakers include Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Anthony Hamlet, state rep. Ed Gainey (D-East Liberty) and Tanya Clay House of the U.S. Department of Education. Also local rapper and activist Jasiri X will be performing. 

The group is demanding that schools across the nation stop arresting minority students; shift funding from police to counselors and “peace builders”; fund measures like positive interventions; enforce the Every Student Succeeds Act; and abolish paddling in schools. The group will also be focusing on decreasing school suspensions, since data from the Department of Education shows that once suspended, students are more likely to drop out.

The event is free and starts at 5 p.m. at the Jeron X. Grayson Community Center
(1852 Enoch Street, Hill District). It's open to public and those interested can register at the group’s Eventbrite page.

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Friday, September 30, 2016

Gun-violence rates drop in Pittsburgh, Police Chief McLay credits community-policing tactics

Posted By on Fri, Sep 30, 2016 at 5:07 PM

Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay
Compared to last year, non-fatal shooting crimes were down in Pittsburgh, according to statistics released by the FBI this week. From January 2016 to August 2016, there were 25 less non-fatal shootings and about 70 less aggravated assaults with a firearm compared to the same time frame in 2015. (However, there were 44 homicides this year, up 10 from the same period in 2015.)

In a press conference on Sept. 30, Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay detailed how community-policing strategies, such as outreach, were effective in lowering these numbers. He said these strategies were  particularly effective in the North Side, given that many neighborhoods there saw significant reductions in violent crime.

“We were very targeted at those who were actually causing the violence,” said McLay. “Since most of the offenders there did not actually live there.” McLay said he wanted his officers to only target those committing the crimes. “I wanted to convey [to residents] that ‘We care about you, we love you, we don’t want you to fall victim to violence.’ That is why outreach is important.”

McLay also explained how in the East End, his officers have worked with the Pittsburgh chapter of Men Against Destruction-Defending Against Drugs and Social-Disorder (MAD DADS) over the last year. He said the work has reduced violent activity in East Liberty and Homewood. “We have seen a dramatic decrease in [complaints] in the East Liberty business district,” said McLay. “In the Homewood business district, businesses have reported less loitering and people are feeling safer.”

McLay said the working relationship with the volunteers at MAD DADS helps to increase communication with the community because “some people are not comfortable talking to the police.”

But McLay says there are still many problems to address. Violence rates are still disproportionately higher among blacks, particularly young black men. And McLay says his department will be paying special attention to Downtown, particularly the area around the Wood Street T Station, which has seen a flurry of criminal activity.

Over, McLay said he will continue to institute community-policing strategies and rejects the notion the department needs to be “tough on crime.” He points to the work with MAD DADS in the East End as proof, as crime rates have dropped there.

‘Community policing is crime prevention,” said McLay. “It reduces crime. It is not just a feel-good strategy.”

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Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Pittsburgh neighborhoods spend a 'Night Out' for community and police relations

Posted By on Wed, Aug 3, 2016 at 4:07 PM

Event organizers yelled to passers by, asking if they'd like something to eat from off the grill. - CP PHOTO BY BILLY LUDT
  • CP photo by Billy Ludt
  • Event organizers yelled to passers by, asking if they'd like something to eat from off the grill.

On the first Tuesday in August of every year, residents from across the nation gather for communal outdoor events to establish stronger relationships between communities and their police force.

This year, in recognition of National Night Out, Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods organized individual community outdoor events and Spring Garden’s, at Catalano Parklet, was particularly bumping.

From 5 to 8 p.m., Spring Garden neighbors gathered at Catalano Park for an evening of hot dogs, grilled vegetables, entertainment and community awareness. Local dance troupe Get Down Gang provided entertainment for neighbors, performing break dance routines.

“I think it brings communities together,” says Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. “I think anytime in a neighborhood when you know your neighbors, it’s a healthy thing. It breaks down barriers. There are people with different religions, backgrounds, sexualities.

“These events improve quality of life. Sometimes people get to talk about what they want to do with their neighborhood. Those kinds of neighborhood solutions come up.”

Fitzgerald visited eight neighborhoods Tuesday evening, and said he recognized a commonality among the crowds: they were multigenerational. Night Out events were held at churches, community centers, parks and playgrounds. Organizers often bring in social service agencies and outreach groups to talk about public safety, drug addiction and childcare.

“The neighborhoods are safer when they’re together,” says Spring Garden block watch chair Denise Pierce. “Safer Together is the theme that the city of Pittsburgh public safety department uses, and we find with some of our blighted neighborhoods here — [that's] right where a lot of crime was going around.”

Police officers from the jurisdiction stopped by the Spring Garden parklet throughout the evening. Larry Crawford, police community relations officer, spoke to the crowd briefly, introducing himself to neighbors. There were appearances from Fitzgerald and District 1 Pittsburgh City Councilor Darlene Harris as well.

“We had everybody here. It probably scared people away,” says Raphael Walton with a laugh. Walton and Pierce co-organized Spring Garden’s Night Out event.

“The event was our most successful in terms of the entertainment,” says Pierce. “We were given a budget. We were able to pay [the performers] $200. We were never able to do that before. So in terms of this as an event, and giving multiple things, that dancing really set it apart from any of our other times. It was pretty much a nice summer night, with a little entertainment and good food.”

Wayne Younger, minister at Cityview Church, spoke at the event and praised community gatherings and his neighborhood.

“I just think it’s an important thing whenever the community is gathering, just to be a part of it and to care for neighborhood unity,” says Younger. “To basically get out with the neighbors and find out what moves them."

“I basically gave thanks to the folks who organized the event and talked about what I see as the unique things about our neighborhood,” he says. “It’s a racially diverse neighborhood. People who have means and people who don’t have access live right next door to each other. I also talked with them just about the fact that when we do things like this event and come together across all our different lines, we humanize each other.”

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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Pittsburgh faith leaders to hold community hearing to discuss action and Black Lives Matter

Posted By on Wed, Jul 13, 2016 at 5:02 PM

Rev. Rodney Lyde speaks at the Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network about race and police. - PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • Photo by Ryan Deto
  • Rev. Rodney Lyde speaks at the Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network about race and police.

On June 12, a coalition of faith leaders convened to lament the recent shootings of two black men by police officers and the killings of the five police officers in Dallas, during a Black Lives Matters protest. The Rev. Rodney Lyde, president of Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network, says he is deeply saddened by all the killings, but is calling for a move that goes beyond protesting.

“This is a time for above and beyond,” said Lyde. “If our police are the best trained in the world, but we fail to deal with basic racism and the adversity of people of color ... our black people are arrested, locked up, and the worst possible outcome, killed.”

Alton Sterling, of Louisiana, was shot and killed by police officers after he was confronted for selling CDs on the street. Philandro Castile, of Minnesota, was shot by a police officer while alledgedly reaching for his wallet while being pulled over for a broken tail light. Pittsburgh activists marched through Downtown on June 9 to protest the killings.

Lyde said that police-community relations, or lack thereof, are not the sole cause of all the tensions and shootings of African Americans. PIIN has been involved in other social-justice fights in Pittsburgh, including faith leaders that were arrested outside of the UPMC Steel Tower after protesting the right for workers to form a union. He applauded the effort forged between PIIN and Pittsburgh Police to have officers trained in implicit bias but says that there is much more to accomplish to deal with the root causes of “structural racism.”

“That is where see the manifestation,” said Lyde. “In the lack of affordable housing, the disparity in education, and there are not enough family-sustaining jobs.”

Dave Swanson of PIIN and pastor of Pittsburgh Mennonite Church in Swissvale concurred with Lyde’s sentiments and said that perceptions need to be changed before positive progress occurs. “As long as black bodies and black lives are viewed as lesser, this will continue,” said Swanson.

The Rev. De Neice Welsh of PIIN announced that in response to the recent killings, PIIN will hold a community meeting on July 21, at 7 p.m., at the St. James AME Church in Larimer. Welsh said that topics will include economic inequality, loss of community resources, and self-hatred in minority communities.

“We see to convene this forum to seek justice,” said Welsh. “We believe faith should be at the center of the work going forward.”

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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Pittsburgh sees decrease in number of complaints against police officers

Posted By on Wed, Mar 23, 2016 at 2:34 PM

From left: Mayor Bill Peduto, Lourdes Sanchez-Ridge, Deborah Walker - PHOTO BY REBECCA NUTTALL
  • Photo by Rebecca Nuttall
  • From left: Mayor Bill Peduto, Lourdes Sanchez-Ridge, Deborah Walker
Two years ago, when Mayor Bill Peduto took office, he moved the Office of Municipal Investigations out of the Department of Public Safety and put it under the purview of the city's law department. Today, Pittsburgh was given an update on the progress the mayor's office has seen as a result of that change.

"We moved OMI under the law department so that it would become an independent organization that would still have oversight under the department of law," said Peduto. "What we've seen over these past few years of working together with OMI, our law department and our police bureau has been rather significant."

According to the law department, lawsuits filed against the City of Pittsburgh have decreased by 50 percent in the last two years. Both City Solicitor Lourdes Sanchez-Ridge and OMI Director Deborah Walker attribute the decrease in lawsuits and complaints to the increased training being done in all city departments.

The total number of complaints filed against police officers also decreased over the last two years and is down by 43 percent. This is a drop from 337 in 2013 to 191 last year. The total number of complaints against police officers are down across the board in every category including conduct toward the public, conduct unbecoming an employee, neglect of duty and use of force. 

"Starting with the police department, [the decrease] is due to the leadership of Police Chief Cameron McLay holding officers responsible for their conduct. Discipline plays a role in that. And discipline can be anywhere from counseling to termination and there's a lot between counseling and termination. Often times the public will think the only thing to remedy a complaint would be termination. But I've seen a decrease in officers violating policies because of the early intervention of  the chief of police and his command staff."

Despite the decrease in complaints in many areas, complaints did increase among non-officers, including employees in the Department of Public Works, where complaints went from five to 13. Peduto attributed the increase to whistleblowers, while Walker and Sanchez-Ridge said it's due to the openness of OMI since it was restructured.

"People are now coming to OMI and using our department as an investigative branch of city government. So now they know there is someone who will listen to them and take the appropriate action," said Walker. "We've been very forthcoming in contacting departments and letting them know if they feel there is misconduct in their office, they can come to us, and we will do a thorough and fair investigation."

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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Charges dropped against teen arrested in ruckus outside Downtown Pittsburgh's Wood Street T Station

Posted By on Tue, Mar 15, 2016 at 3:47 PM

On Dec. 16, 2015, a teenage boy was thrown to the ground and cuffed by Port Authority Police during an incident outside of Wood Street T Station, Downtown. City Paper happened to be on the scene and took video of the arrest shown above.

The 16-year-old boy, Mohamed Abdalla, spoke to CP on the record with his parents present the day after the arrest. He was charged with disorderly conduct. On March 11, those charges were dropped, according to Abdalla’s lawyer.

After capturing Abdalla’s arrest, CP’s video shows a Pittsburgh Police officer yelling at the reporter. This video went viral and led to investigations of the Wood Street ruckus by the Citizens Police Review Board and the Pittsburgh Police Bureau’s internal investigation office.

The ruckus that led to Abdalla’s arrest (and the arrests of four other teenage boys, all who are refugees from East 
  • Photo by Rebecca Nuttall
Africa) was allegedly started when one of the teenagers pressed an emergency-off button on an escalator inside Wood Street T Station. Port Authority officers confronted that boy, who allegedly resisted arrest, and then cuffed him and placed in a squad car parked on Wood Street. (Port Authority Police have recently been under fire by community groups for their conduct at Wood Street and in the shooting death of Bruce Kelley Jr. in Wilkinsburg, in January.)

Abdalla told CP that he was friends with the first boy arrested and he was present when that boy was confronted by officers. Abdalla exited the T station and watched from a crosswalk on Wood Street as the officers placed the boy in the car. A plainclothes Port Authority officer then looked at Abdalla and called out, “Do you want trouble?” and told him to back away. Abdalla was at that time 20 to 30 feet from the vehicle and a group of officers.

Abdalla didn't move; three Port Authority officers then dashed at him, tackled him to the ground and threatened to use Tasers. (Though one Taser was held in the suspect's back, it was not discharged.) The officers handcuffed Abdalla and placed him in a squad car.

Carly Rice, a law student at Duquesne Law School, recently took up Abdalla’s case and told CP that the arresting officer didn’t show up to Abdalla’s hearing. Consequently, the charges against him were dropped.

Members of Abdalla's family and community in Northview Heights believed the boys were unfairly targeted by the police officers. Of the incident, a family member in December asked: “Why did the police only pick these gentlemen when they are all from Africa? When something happened like this, shouldn’t more people be arrested? Were they waiting for these kids?”

Sam Hens-Greco, attorney for three other teenagers arrested on the scene, says that none of the charges have been dropped against his clients. Haji Muzhimu, the 19-year-old adult arrested, is facing felony riot charges, as well as misdemeanors for resisting arrest and disorderly conduct, among other charges. This is Muzhimu's first offense on record. The two other minors, who CP covered here, have been charged with misdemeanors for criminal trespass.

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Friday, February 12, 2016

Review: Jelani Cobb at Carnegie Mellon University

Posted By on Fri, Feb 12, 2016 at 12:01 PM

Black history, we’re often reminded during Black History Month, is simply American history. But as Cobb noted in his great talk yesterday, the reverse is also true: You can’t grasp American history without understanding the role of race.

That role goes beyond the well-documented fact that the nation’s fundamental wealth was extracted from exploited black bodies — starting with chattel slavery, which, as every schoolkid should know, was written into the Constitution. (And, as Cobb reminded us, a Jeffersonian condemnation of which was written out of the Declaration of Independence.)

Race is also at the heart of so seemingly simple a matter of how many states we have, and where. Cobb cited the long-running 19th-century practice of admitting new free and slave states in “pairs”: Maine was created only so that Missouri could be a state, for instance. And he said Gen. Andrew Jackson (not yet president) seized the Spanish territory of Florida for the U.S. largely at the behest of Georgia slaveholders, who were losing runaways to the nonslaveholding land to the south.

History remains alive. When Cobb, a history professor at the University of Connecticut, visited Ferguson, Mo., for The New Yorker, he said, he got “the overwhelming sense that my syllabus had jumped off the page.” From Ferguson to Charleston, S.C., Cobb found the history of race in America embedded down to the very street names: Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Charleston church where a horrific shooting took place last year, is on a street named for pro-slavery politician John Calhoun.

Cobb also recalled how, for decades, federal policy to facilitate the mortgages that helped build middle-class America effectively excluded black Americans. And even many apparent advances in race relations are heavily qualified: How could Barack Obama’s election in 2008 herald a “post-racial” era when only 39 percent of white voters chose him? (And why, for that matter, Cobb asked, did no one laud black voters as post-racial during the decades they spent voting for white candidates?)

Still, Cobb said he counts himself as an optimist, though his optimism is tempered by a historian’s long view. Take Obama’s election. While an African-American chief executive had been unthinkable as recently as, oh, 2007, Cobb said, “Until we had a black presidency, we did not properly conceive of the limitations of one.” Likewise, just as Obama himself is a community activist who decided he could achieve more through electoral politics, his struggles in office have convinced a whole new generation of activists, like the folks in Black Lives Matter, that real change comes from the streets.

Finally, some interesting words on racialized monuments. Though Cobb cheered the removal of the Confederate flag from South Carolina’s statehouse, he pointed out that other, less obvious plaques and statues honoring Confederates and even lynchers remain abundant there and elsewhere. Yet “I do not think we should take any of those monuments down,” he said. For one thing, simply eliminating the monuments allows whites to grant themselves too easy an absolution for the wrongs of the past. Two, “like removing fingerprints from the scene of a crime,” mere removal effaces a history we need to remember. It would be more useful, Cobb said, to amend the monuments with signage identifying them as “monuments to our own inhumanity.”

Cobb was CMU’s featured Martin Luther King, Jr., speaker. (Here's the rest of the school's month-long roster of MLK programming.) The free on-campus event was attended by about 200 folks, most of whom seemed to be students and faculty. But the talk, which began at 4:30 p.m., was so good I wish more Pittsburghers could have seen it. Is it too much to ask of CMU (and other universities, for that matter) to hold more of these events after 6 p.m., say, when more working folks could attend? Just a thought.

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