Summer Lee, Legislative Black Caucus look to reform police procedures in Pennsylvania | Pittsburgh City Paper

Summer Lee, Legislative Black Caucus look to reform police procedures in Pennsylvania

click to enlarge Summer Lee, Legislative Black Caucus look to reform police procedures in Pennsylvania
CP photo: Jared Wickerham
Summer Lee
If Antwon Rose II were alive today, he would be represented by state Rep. Summer Lee (D-Swissvale). Since winning her first election in May 2018, Lee has been in the streets with hundreds of demonstrators calling for justice for Rose after he was shot and killed by former East Pittsburgh police officer Michael Roseld. She was in the streets when Rosfeld was acquitted of all charges.

Now, Lee has teamed up with state Reps. Ed Gainey (D-East Liberty) and Jake Wheatley (D-Hill District) and several other members of the Legislative Black Caucus to introduce four bills aimed at increasing oversight and training for law enforcement.

The proposals, which are separately sponsored by Lee, Gainey, and Philadelphia Democrats Jordan Harris and Brian Sims, were presented in the General Assembly on Tuesday. The lawmakers say they were inspired to act by the frequency of fatal interactions between police officers and young, unarmed Black youth and men such as Rose, according to the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Rose was shot in the back while fleeing a traffic stop last July.

“Public confidence in our justice system has been damaged in the wake of incidents of police violence. It’s time to restore confidence in the investigation process,” Sims tweeted on Tuesday.

Some of the bills have been introduced in previous legislative sessions or are still seeking co-sponsors. Lee is proposing a bill that would clarify when police officers are empowered to use deadly force. Sims is proposing a measure that would require the state Attorney General’s Office to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate any incident of deadly force by law enforcement.
Other proposals include plans to reform the arbitration process in disciplinary matters involving the police and strengthen hiring practices and the certification and decertification process for police officers.

“These bills are not anti-police,” Lee said on Tuesday. “We want to ensure that our communities are safe. But also that our departments are safe.”

So far, 265 people have been fatally shot by police in the U.S. in 2019, according to the Washington Post’s police shootings database. Of the 133 shootings where the race of the victim was known, more than a third were Black, even though Black people only account for 13 percent of the U.S. population.
Lee acknowledged Tuesday that there are situations where it’s appropriate and necessary for officers to use deadly force. But those situations should be rare exceptions, she said at a press conference, and officers should be able to better judge when the use of deadly force is and is not appropriate, according to the Capital-Star. She wants to make sure that both advocates and law-enforcement organizations help set standards.

“We’re asking all of our colleagues throughout the House to support these pieces of legislation, to rally behind this and to understand that this is an issue that we can fix,” Lee said on Tuesday.

Mike Straub, a spokesperson for House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) told the Capital-Star that GOP lawmakers are willing to have discussions about the proposals, but want to avoid the possibility of imposing “burdens on so many law enforcement officers who are working to keep us safe.”