Community leaders meet to discuss improving police, community relations
At a recent gathering of community leaders, the East Allegheny NAACP chapter president criticized protesters who shut down roadways following the shooting and killing of teen Antwon Rose by an East Pittsburgh police officer.
“I’m tired of turning on the news, and I’m tired of seeing young black kids spit in cops’ faces, taunting officers to do something to them. There’s something seriously wrong with that,” said Kenneth Huston at the event for NAACP leaders, municipal officials and police chiefs held at Monroeville’s municipal building Sept. 20.
The meeting, intended to initiate dialogue to improve relations between the community and police officers, included police chiefs from Monroeville, Plum, Rankin and North Versailles; leaders from those communities; and Pittsburgh NAACP chapter President Richard Stewart and Penn Hills’ NAACP chapter President Joyce Davis.
The group of about 20 discussed, at length, police protocol for responding to potentially violent calls and training officers on unconscious bias and shared anecdotes of what they do in their communities to improve relations with law enforcement.
Huston said the first of seven forums set to be held on the topic was inspired by the shooting and killing of Rose by an East Pittsburgh officer in June.
Huston’s chapter represents Monroeville, Murrysville, Pitcairn, Plum and Wilmerding.
“How do we tone down that (negative response to Rose’s death)? I think tonight is what we’re trying to do to start that dialogue as to how do we build those trusts so that officers know that everybody is not against them,” he said.
Rose, 17, was fatally shot by officer Michael Rosfeld on June 19 following a traffic stop. The teen had been a passenger in a car that matched the description of one involved in a drive-by shooting in North Braddock about 15 minutes prior. He was unarmed when he was shot in the back three times.
The shooting led to several protests that shut down major thoroughfares and busy intersections in Pittsburgh and the surrounding region. They have gained nationwide attention.
Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. charged Rosfeld with homicide on June 27.
NAACP leaders urged police to get into schools more often to eliminate fear of officers among children.
“When a police officer stops a black person, automatically, right now in this climate, there’s fear in their hearts,” said Marcella Lee, treasurer for the East Allegheny NAACP chapter.
Lee’s comment came after Turtle Creek Chief of Police Dale Kraeer said his officers complain often about being called racists after routine traffic stops.
“Nothing upsets an officer more than when he’s called ‘racist’ and he’s just doing his job,” Kraeer said.
Doug Cole, Monroeville’s police chief, said, by and large, police departments in the area have responded well to the aftermath of Rose’s shooting.
“Police officers are human, too. They make mistakes, absolutely. We try to minimize them as much as we can, and when we make a mistake, we certainly try to reevaluate,” he said.
Huston said the East Allegheny chapter has not scheduled the other six community forums.
Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Dillon at 412-871-2325, email@example.com or via Twitter @dillonswriting.