Forum planned in New Kensington on race relations
Community leaders and police will gather in New Kensington tonight for a public forum on maintaining race relations and preventing violence that has led to and evolved from police-involved shootings across the country.
Liney Glenn of New Kensington, president of the Allegheny-Kiski Valley branch of the NAACP, said the organization planned the event in an attempt to spur conversations and be proactive.
“Personally, I've attended so many funerals of students I've taught,” said Glenn, a retired New Kensington-Arnold teacher and current school board member. “And we've been fortunate they haven't involved law enforcement. I would much rather us have a discussion with law enforcement now” than after a race-related incident.
Glenn said the NAACP asked a variety of local police and elected leaders to participate in a panel discussion at Westmoreland County Community College's New Kensington campus.
“One of the primary goals, I feel, we wanted to come up with solutions for divisions, or perceived divisions,” Glenn said.
Glenn said police and/or officials have committed to attending from Allegheny Township, Arnold, Harrison, Leechburg, Lower Burrell, New Kensington, Vandergrift and the Armstrong County-based state police.
Glenn said she was thrilled that state police Lt. Chris Yanoff, the new commander at what is known as the Kittanning station, reached out to the NAACP. When Glenn told him about the upcoming forum, he agreed to a participate.
Yanoff said he has called community groups in the area to open up dialogue.
He plans to discuss the state police action plan regarding diversity. He said he also is encouraging minority students in Indiana University of Pennsylvania's criminology program to look at state police opportunities.
Stephen Aulerich, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 39 union that represents more than two dozen Alle-Kiski Valley law enforcement departments, said the F.O.P. “encourages conversation” about possible racial strife.
Aulerich, a Lower Burrell police officer, said rather than the F.O.P. being directly involved, “we would leave that up to individual departments.”
Tonight's event will be moderated by Phillip Ayers, a New Kensington native who has served as a judge for the state's Human Relations Commission.
Glenn said Ayers will kick off the discussion by asking the panel for their thoughts on the existence and causes of divisiveness in the community and possible solutions.
She said the audience also will be able to participate, likely by submitting written questions that Ayers will review and present.
Glenn believes it's in the best interest of everyone — police, minorities and the community at large — to talk about potential issues and ways to prevent problems before they happen.
“We want to bridge the relationship. When I grew up, you knew the policemen. It's not like that now,” she said. The current state of affairs “is dangerous not just for members of the community, but also for law enforcement. We need each other to stay safe.
“I'm real pleased with the (police) response,” she said. “I think they're probably on the same page to have more dialogue and communication.”