Conversation with Richard Carrington: Part II: My civil rights aren’t as important as your civil rights?

Richard Carrington on far left, serving on CPRB in 2007

Richard Carrington on far left, serving on Citizen Police Review Board in 2007

As our fellow Pittsburgher who does not feel safe in his own home streets, in Part II of our recorded conversation Richard Carrington had far sharper words to share both with fellow citizens and our Mayor. As former CPRB board member, he spent years confronting the systemic reforms needed to hold police accountable and to retrain our public servants in the most basic respect necessary to keep the peace. Carrington addresses the nationally publicized cases of Jordan Miles and Leon Ford which represent a far wider pattern of civil rights violations and police brutality that have become all too common here since the consent decree was lifted in Pittsburgh.

And he tells stories of his own painful experience of aggressive and humiliating racial profiling that should be heard in his own voice, the story of his own refusal of a command to strip on a public highway during a police search that he had given no cause for. He describes his feelings when he was unable to protect his own son from being searched on the streets of his own neighborhood, pushed up against a wall, backpack torn open, books thrown on the ground, while Richard was threatened with jail for trying to intervene with a question. Richard Carrington’s controlled rage and concern should ring in our ears.

My civil rights aren’t as important as your civil rights? And you want to know why I won’t cooperate…? I won’t cooperate with you because you don’t treat me equally. And if you want me to treat you with respect, treat me with respect…Do not get it twisted. I know the need for police. I know the need for law and order. I also know the need for equality and fairness. We don’t have it out for the police. The police have it out for us. And we’re responding to them.

Many of Carrington’s personal stories illustrate Law Professor David Harris’ warnings about the patterns in which plainclothes squads in unmarked cars often act in far more violent and disrespectful ways that depart from all normal police procedures. Such concerns have been echoed from police themselves, heard here at the blog in my conversation with retired police detective Sheldon Williams and shared even more publicly by current Zone Two commander Eric Holmes. Leaders from the Coalition Against Violence met with Holmes and Carrington reports…

…I haven’t seen anybody as forthright as that Commander… This man gave us…a block of information that literally stunned us, that he does not believe in these jump teams, that he would prefer they be removed, that they would at least be under his command so he had some say-so….

Tonight Pittsburghers will travel from many neighborhoods to a city-wide meeting to hear our Mayor speak about our public safety.   Carrington challenges both elected City officials and many prestigious black community leaders to come out from behind the buffers that protect them from the demands of community members for change and from the direct experience of the streets that they are supposed to help protect. He challenges us all to look in the mirror and to “work together with one common cause to pull ourselves up from this struggle.”

Audio of conversation with Richard Carrington, Part II  25 minutes

COMPLEMENTARY OVER AT THE PITTSBURGH COMET: Bram Reichbaum’s interview of Jerome Jackson, director of Homewood’s Operation Better Block, who, like Richard, has also been dedicated to “clothing, feeding, education, mentoring” – to caring for children as a “communal responsibility.”

 

 

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Conversation with Richard Carrington: Part I: How do we keep our children safe?

IMG_20140310_133233Posted by Helen Gerhardt

Over the twenty years since he returned home to Pittsburgh from military service, Richard Carrington has dedicated most of his life to ending violence in communities decimated by poverty, by the War Against Drugs, by systemic racism and by a brutally inequitable justice system and industrial prison complex – by pressures that too often pit men and women who should be allies against each other, sometimes to the point of mutual murder.  As member of the Coalition Against Violence, as partner to the Black Political Empowerment Project, as former member of the Citizen’s Police Review Board – and as a frequent target of racial profiling by the police – Richard has dedicated much of his life to building personal and systemic accountability within the black community, in the Pittsburgh Police Bureau, and in the larger political framework of our mutual choices. He has just been appointed to the interim land bank board, reflecting the awareness that violence, blight, poverty and vacancy are all deeply interrelated, deeply reflective of a system that has often violently exploited, neglected, and abandoned black communities

When so many fathers have been sent away to prisons for nonviolent drug offenses, tearing apart the fabric of families and neighborhoods, many young men and women have called Richard Carrington, “Dad.” As the daily practice of mothering is inseparable from Joy Kmt’s activism and artistry, so Carrington’s days are fired and shaped by fathering. He has directly cared for multitudes of young Pittsburghers, not only through the organization he directs, Voices Against Violence, but by providing them his own home, his direct guidance, his tough love, his affirming respect:

…safety comes through example of “You matter to me. And because you matter to me, I will do whatever I can to make sure that you know that you’re safe”…the example of simple protection, concern and care, consistency….They know that the struggles come…but they have somewhere to come at the end of the day where nobody’s going to be belittling them, nobody’s going to be tearing them apart, nobody’s going to be exploiting them…

Few people are willing to give so much – in a field known for high burnout and self-protective professional boundaries, Richard speaks of how and why he has been able to so directly father so many neglected, traumatized youth scarred by abuse, violence, systemic poverty and Pittsburgh’s deep-rooted racism:

…I often tell people I wake up in the morning and I go about the business in the direction that God has pointed me in. I do it with the best of my heart…I simply have to follow the path…and what gives me an advantage over a lot of people who try to delve into this field of serving underprivileged and underserved and abused youth, is that the end of every day God releases that day’s activities from my mind…so when I start tomorrow…I’ve already forgotten what took place yesterday: I did it, I served the need, and I move forward and so I’m not dwelling on what happened yesterday – so I don’t have a lot of build up inside of me of 25 years of all the..negativity and corruption and just belittling of our kids. I don’t deal with that, I deal with their issue for today and I move on when tomorrow comes…

Most simply put, Richard is driven by a sense of mission. As he once risked potential death in his military service, he now lays his day-to-day life on the line in service to his mission to obey the commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself.”  And his mission has borne fruit – he has seen almost every young person who has lived in his home complete high school, go on to college, and then commit to careers, to families, to community, to life. Voices Against Violence has had similar, clearly practical successes, with stunningly high graduation rates:

Everything was built around taking them to the next level, allowing them to see their future before we ask them to participate in it. Most of these kids can’t see their future…We teach them the importance of an education and that knowledge is power in the world that you live in. And unfortunately, whether it’s a good bad or a bad world, it’s the world that we live in. You have to adapt to your surroundings.

As with Joy Kmt’s wide-ranging explorations and reflections, what Richard shared in our conversation was too large to fit within the bounds of any clear cut compartment or topic – this audio post will be Part I, just nineteen minutes of the three hours he so generously shared with me, and of the days and months and years that he shares with his community – and his kids – our kids.

Audio: Part I, Richard Carrington the father (Nineteen minutes)