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.”

 

 

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)

 

Conversation with Reverend Ricky Burgess: land bank as weapon or tool?

Council member Rev Ricky BurgessPosted by Helen Gerhardt

Reverend Ricky Burgess has lived in Homewood for most of his life – his family moved there when he was nine months old – and he has pastored at the Nazarene Church for three decades. He has watched a lot of change in Homewood over those years.

“I have seen its destruction,” he says, “…when I grew up there it was a multi-ethnic, diverse community. Homewood Avenue was one of the major business districts in the City of Pittsburgh and it was filled with people. Every house had multiple families living in it – my own house, my father rented the second and third floor out so we had three families in the house I grew up in…I’ve watched it decay and become poor and violent. The violence and economic devastation are the events that led me to run for Pittsburgh City Council.”

Public safety, economic development, racial and class equity – as so many of the conversations at this blog have made clear, these issues are inseparable in Pittsburgh. As Council Member, Reverend Burgess has attempted to reform policing, working with many organizations across the City to address the development of what he calls a “crisis” in police-community relations. As Chair of the Housing Authority, Rev. Burgess has worked to comprehensively plan development that interlinks not only affordable, mixed-income housing and economic growth, but also social services, employment, and education.

In this audio conversation, Reverend Burgess expresses grave concerns about how the land bank legislation introduced by fellow Council Member Deb Gross might allow exploitative development and displacement of residents from the communities that have for so long been “left to rot” by local government. He has met with many community groups over the past weeks, heard their concerns and partnered with fellow City Council Member Daniel Lavelle to introduce amendments.

With a long-time debt of damaging neglect to make up for, Burgess asserts the special responsibility of Council to address three central concerns for communities that would be most affected by a land bank: protection, participation, and benefit.

Of course, as numerous people on both sides of the debate over this potential land bank have declared to me, “the devil is in the details.” On at least one thing we and many other concerned Pittsburgers are agreed. As the Reverend put it: “If there was ever a time when we need residents to stand up and speak out on the protection of their community, it’s now.”

Audio of conversation (twenty minutes)

UPDATE (or more accurately, my own OAR in midstream.)

During this initial research phase, I’ve been reserving most of my own opinions on the land bank legislation as I listen to a wide range of voices, perspectives, and concerns, only a fraction of which I’ve been able to present here at the blog in these audio recordings. But I do find myself moved to interject one of my big concerns about one of the amendments proposed by Reverend Burgess and Daniel Lavelle.

(7) City Council Approval. City Council, by unanimous vote, must approve all proposed dispositions of Real Property of the Land Bank.

Such a requirement seems designed to keep land bank dispositions as tied up by lengthy political wrangling and territorial feuds as by all the property title tangle the bill was designed to unravel. These doubts have been borne out by both recent Philadelphia landbanking experience and by thoughtful warnings by such land banking practitioner-scholars such as Frank Alexander. In Land Banks and Land Banking he writes:

A land bank must have adequate authority to target properties for transfer, and to complete transfers, without seeking additional approvals from other levels of local government. If the local government’s governing body, such as the city council or county commission, insists on final review and approval of each property transfer, one of the purposes of a land bank is largely undercut. Such approval requirements will either increase substantially the length of time required for a disposition, undercut the coherence of disposition policies, or both. Instead, a land bank’s controlling documents, as approved by the local government’s governing body, should establish the core public policies and delegate to the land bank board and staff the authority to administer its activities.

 CORRECTION TO MISINFORMATION IN COMMENTS BELOW:

In two of the comments below, I asserted that a land bank would be able to apply for federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program funding – true in the past, but I did not do enough research on the current status of the program. Thanks to Shawn Carter, Chief of Staff for Council member Rev. Ricky Burgess, for pointing out that the fourth year of NSP funding was not approved by Congress.

Conversation with Police Chaplain John Welch: “The streets of Homewood or the back roads of Iraq?”

Nate Harper and Police Chaplain John Welch

Former Police Chief Nate Harper and Police Chaplain John Welch in 2011

As the news of the sentencing of former Police Chief Nathaniel Harper has broken across the city of Pittsburgh, we might do well to consider the interlocking networks of irresponsibility and mismanagement and corruption that a far larger, long-standing system made possible.

A few weeks ago, I spoke with Police Chaplain John Welch about his own concerns and perceptions of the drastic reforms in policing that need to be made. He said, “Nate Harper had a strong heart for the community.” Our former Chief certainly seems to have betrayed his own good intentions. Although he’s done much good for the community, the temptations to personal profit and neglect enabled by our current policing systems seemed to have proved stronger than his heart.

But is it constructive that it is mainly Harper that is currently bearing the fullest brunt of formal legal consequences, even as the larger problems in our policing system continue with sometimes grievous impact on our most vulnerable communities, on men and women and children that are too often treated as though they were insurgents rather than Pittsburghers?

A couple of days ago on Essential Pittsburgh our new Mayor Bill Peduto laid out his intentions for Public Safety reforms, noting that healing the breakdown in police-community relations must be a central priority of both Public Safety Director and a new Police Chief. As both Law Professor David Harris and Police Detective Sheldon Williams underlined in earlier conversations, repairing that long-time breach means deep systemic and cultural change within the Police Bureau, not just a change in Chiefs. While John Welch asserts that the Mayor must take a crucial leadership role, he also argues that no one man or woman or Mayor can make these changes alone. Welch calls us all to account to put pressure on both the Mayor and all our elected leaders who must exercise checks and balances on police power.

Welch notes the negative impacts when the Fraternal Order of Police resists such oversight and accountability, with special note of the cases of Dennis Henderson and Jordan Miles. And he emphasizes that we must address the far larger networks of racism, inequitable power, exploitative privilege, and poverty that literally weave matters of life and death every single day in Pittsburgh.

“I actually think that the word democracy is evaporating from our lexicon,” Welch said, “… Money is buying Washington, it’s buying Harrisburg, it’s buying Grant St…” The only antidote, he says, is for all of us to take responsibility.

Audio of conversation with Welch: 24 minutes

Public Safety: Vacancy as Vortex

By Helen Gerhardt

This past Sunday, I bundled up in many layers against the cold of the polar vortex and walked over to Larimer, from my row house rental on Borland St., down East Liberty Blvd, left on Frankstown, left on Lowell. I didn’t take a bus to where I was going. I wanted to walk alone through streets that are riddled with vacancies, empty houses, empty churches, empty businesses, empty lots. I needed to walk on foot through the larger scene of two deadly crimes, one last year, one last week.

Window 2I needed to look at this window, again, after a full cycle of seasons. Very early last year, in the first few days of January of 2013, I stood on the other side of that glass, inside the apartment. I stood and looked at a pool of dried blood under the Christmas tree that had not been taken down. I looked at the larger pool of blood near the window, where a few nights before, the police had briefly spoken to man who was not quite yet a murderer through the thick panes of glass.

Further inside, farther back, away from the window, unseen, a woman waited for the help she had called for.

But before I write about that night, about the many years of choices and layers of systems that helped set the stage for that particular shooting of a friend I loved, as I consider the particular reasons for the murder of Hosea Davis by assault rifle just a little over a week ago, just around the corner from this spot, I think it is important to listen to Hosea’s cousin, Michelle Gilmore, as directly quoted in these two new stories I’ve linked to.

“People don’t understand the struggle we deal with every day, living in the inner city, hearing gunshots every night. There’s not an easy night that somebody can sleep,” Gilmore said. “Different gunshots, like, every hour. We just want the violence to stop. You’re tired of burying your kids, you’re tired of violence every day, you’re tired of murders being unsolved…Till you live in our area and know how we feel, can’t nobody walk in our shoes. People have no respect for human life these days. It’s got to stop somewhere. We need to take back our streets. We need to stand up and take our kids back.”

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Empty lots everywhere.

It was important for me to walk through the physical streets where Michelle Gilmore said those words. I needed to pull back and look at those physical vacancies that reflect a larger vortex of choices and consequences, a deeper poverty of root and branch, a long-time corrosion and corruption, not only of the Pittsburgh Police Bureau, but of the very fabric of what we sometimes too lightly call “community” in this city.

In her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs wrote about some of the causes of corrosion and vacancy, I see all around me here in Larimer, the combination of fear and detachment that I hear in the voices of the neighbors along this block when I ask about the murders, of my friend, last year, and of Hosea last week.

Abandoned home, former owner deceased.

Abandoned home, former owner deceased.

….Today barbarism has taken over many city streets…It does not take many incidents of violence on a city street, or in a city district, to make people fear the streets. And as they fear them, they use them less, which makes the street still more unsafe…

…The barbarism and the real, not imagined, insecurity that gives rise to such fears cannot be tagged a problem of the slums. Nor is it illuminating to tag minority groups or the poor, or the outcast with responsibility for city danger. There are immense variations in the degree of civilization and safety found among such groups and among the city areas where they live. Some of the safest sidewalks in New York City…at any time of day or night, are those along which poor people or minority groups live….the public peace – the sidewalk and street peace – of cities is not kept primarily by the police, necessary as the police are. It is kept primarily by an intricate, almost unconscious, network of voluntary controls and standards among the people themselves, an enforced by the people themselves….the problem of insecurity cannot be solved by spreading people out more thinly…

Blind eyes painted on the walls of abandoned church.

Blind eyes painted on the walls of abandoned church in Larimer.

…A well-used city street is apt to be a safe street. A deserted street is apt to be unsafe….there must eyes upon the street, eyes belonging to those we might call the natural proprietors of the street. The buildings on a street equipped to handle strangers and to ensure the residents of both residents and strangers, must be oriented to the street. They cannot turn their backs of blank sides on it and leave it blind.

“The basic requisite for such surveillance is a substantial quantity of stores and other public places sprinkled along the sidewalks of a district; enterprises and public places that are used by evening and night must be among them especially. Stores, bars and restaurants, as the chief examples, work in several different and complex ways to abet sidewalk safety.067

“First, they give people — both residents and strangers — concrete reasons for using the sidewalks on which the enterprises face. 

“Second, they draw people along the sidewalks past places which have no attractions to public use in themselves… Moreover, there should be many different kinds of enterprises, to give people reasons for crisscrossing paths.

“Third, storekeepers and other small businessmen are typically strong proponents of peace and order themselves; … they are great street watchers and sidewalk guardians if present in sufficient numbers.

“Fourth, the activity generated by people on errands, or people aiming for food or drink, is itself an attraction to still other people. (Jacobs, 30-37)

I can’t know if a thriving neighborhood with watchfully engaged neighbors and regular small business traffic would have made the difference in the continued life of my friend, or of Hosea Davis. But as I considered the well-being of other friends, neighbors, and co-workers in other neighborhoods facing similar challenges of vacant, abandoned, and blighted properties which are tied up so closely with overall public safety, I resolved to pay close attention to the recently introduced legislation for a land bank proposed by City Councilwoman for District 7, Deb Gross, evidently partly informed by Transition Team recommendations which assess such legislation as one of the best chances for bringing such properties back into circulation, and back to shared life.

I was tired after looking at that window from where the police stood and talked to Anthony Brown through the glass, far more tired than my short walk through the snow would have explained. I decided to take the bus back home. As I caught the 82 Larimer, the bus driver spoke to me with notable concern and welcome: “Take your time, now, and be careful,” she said as I stepped through the thick snow at the curb, out of the bitterly cold vortex into the warmth of the bus. I stood with her a moment, told her I was writing about the needs for change in Pittsburgh, traveling across the city by bus to hear people’s concerns, ideas, hopes.

I didn’t tell her about my current focus on this general Transition Team topic of Public Safety, but her response met the weight of my own memories and concerns halfway. “Here on this bus,” she said, “I try to do whatever I can to make people feel safe. I want them to feel safe on here, wherever they’re coming from, wherever they’re going.” As she took me back home, again and again she spoke with people she’d come to know over many, many days of taking them to work, to school, to shop, to church, to all the necessities and pleasures of life and back home again. She asked about what was going on with them, how their families were doing, how their jobs were going. She watched and responded to what was happening on the streets she was driving through, commented to the passengers standing at the front of the bus. Again and again, as they got off, she said, “Take your time, stay warm, be careful now.”

When I got off the bus, I felt safer.

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