Ferguson

Jeff Roberson / AP

After riots erupted Ferguson, Mo. following the 2014 shooting death of Michael Brown, investigations revealed that the entire criminal justice system in St. Louis County – not just the police department – levied massive amounts of fines and fees on its poorest citizens in order to fund itself.

It was a wake-up call for the nation, and one organization had already been in place working on these issues for five years.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

It's an oft-repeated mandate: law enforcement needs to change for the 21st century. But what does "21st century policing" actually mean, and how would a forward-thinking department be different than what most jurisdictions have now?

Analyzing The "Ferguson Effect"

Sep 15, 2015
Neil Cooler / flickr

As Police Chief Cameron McLay completes his first full year in office, it is important to note exactly what he has done to improve relations between the police force and citizens, especially minorities. The so-called “Ferguson Effect” is becoming a large-scale societal movement according to David Harris, Professor of Law at the University of Pittsburgh. He explains McLay has done well in his first year in order to improve these relations.

On Monday, nearly 20 student organizations are expected to meet with community leaders at the Frick Fine Arts Auditorium in Oakland to announce the formation of a student-run diversity council.

The organization will work with university officials, students and the greater Pittsburgh area to bring attention to diversity-related problems, said Ernest Rajakone, senior advisor for Pitt’s South Asian Student Association and a diversity council student organizer.

Rajakone said there are dozens of ethnic and cultural groups at Pitt, but there is a lack of unity among them.

Was 2014 as Tumultuous as 1968?

Jan 2, 2015
Seth Anderson / Flickr

Post-Gazette columnist Tony Norman says when it comes to 2014, we probably haven't experienced as much turmoil in a single year since 1968.

From the riots in Ferguson and the nationwide demonstrations in reaction to police violence inflicted on African Americans to the debate over gay rights in the U.S., the American landscape was filled with social upheaval.

An incoming Pennsylvania state senator wants to make sure there are no incidents in the commonwealth similar to those in Ferguson, Missouri and New York where local prosecutors investigated the deaths of citizens at the hands of police officers, and no charges were filed.

State Senator-elect Arthur Haywood (D-Montgomery) said Friday he will introduce legislation January 6, the day he’s sworn in to office, that would require the state Attorney General to appoint a special prosecutor whenever there’s a deadly force incident and a police officer is involved.

Are Local Prosecutors to Blame for Failure to Prosecute Police?

Dec 17, 2014
David Harris

The public outcry over the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, two unarmed black men, at the hands of white police officers continues to spark protests around the country. 

One of the many legal aspects being called into question in these instances is the role of local prosecutors taking the cases to grand juries. Pitt Law Professor David Harris examines the part that local prosecutors have played in these cases.

Harris says that local prosecutors often have ties to police departments, thus producing a possible conflict of interest. Although sometimes local prosecutors do indeed prosecute police, Harris acknowledges that concerns about impartiality are justifiable.

So What Does It Really Take to Indict a Police Officer?

Dec 9, 2014
Britt Reints / Flickr

The recent decisions by grand juries not to press charges against white police officers involved in fatalities of unarmed black men in Ferguson, MO and Staten Island, NY has led the headlines in recent weeks. 

These incidents have called into question the difficulty of charging police officers with crimes, even with video evidence, and what alternatives there could be to address police misconduct.

Pitt Law Professor David Harris explains the difficulty of charging officers, and how police departments are changing.

Jessica Nath / 90.5 WESA

“Hands up – don’t shoot!”

That was the cry of dozens of Pittsburghers who gathered downtown Thursday to protest the deaths of two unarmed black men at the hands of white police officers.

“The average person, the average citizen has to get involved in this. This involves all of us,” said organizer Julia Johnson. “Police brutality, systemic racism, the list goes on and on of the issues that our country is suffering from right now. Everyone must be a part of this movement. We must liberate ourselves from this oppressive system.”

Julia Johnson on Protests Following Eric Garner Decision

Dec 4, 2014
Britt Reints / Flickr

In the wake of a New York grand jury’s decision not to indict a white police officer in the alleged chokehold death of Eric Garner, protests erupted around the nation -- including in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood. Local social justice organizer Julia Johnson joins us to offer her take on the local and national reaction to the Garner case.

Responding to critics who pointed out that last night’s protests in Oakland disrupted traffic and disturbed the community, Johnson explains, “that small inconvenience is the price people have to pay for allowing this system that oppresses people, that kills people and has no accountability for the murderers.”

The protests in the Garner case have been especially impassioned, Johnson says, because of growing momentum that has been built in recent weeks and months following the Ferguson case.

Johnson explains that in response to a series of national and local cases of police brutality against African Americans, a coalition of Pittsburgh activists and concerned citizens has created a list of demands in the interest of social justice and police accountability.

Protest footage courtesy of The Pitt News:

AP Photo/ Joseph Kaczmarek

Crowds protesting the deaths of two unarmed black men at the hands of white police officers marched in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia on Wednesday.

In Philadelphia, a group rallied at the train station and marched through downtown before disrupting a tree lighting ceremony at City Hall. The group's chants of "No justice, no Christmas!" and other phrases drowned out several performances at the City Hall celebration, but the tree was lit as scheduled.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

“No justice, no peace, no racist police!” was the chant from more than 200 protesters outside the William S. Moorhead federal building in downtown Pittsburgh Tuesday afternoon.

Julia Johnson, with Pittsburgh for Justice, led the rally in which nearly a dozen speakers channeled their anger at a grand jury’s decision not to indict Ferguson, Mo. police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown.

As a community member and organizer, Tim Stevens, President of the Black Political Empowerment Project, gives his reaction to the grand jury's decision in Ferguson, MO. He also presents us with some historical perspective on community and police demonstrations in Pittsburgh.

Julia Johnson, a 22 year old social justice activist, says last night's announcement "reflects a larger problem with systemic racism and sets an ugly precedent.” She talks about the peaceful demonstrations being planned in Pittsburgh and the local issues that connect to this case.

President Obama's Monday night speech following the Ferguson decision touches emphasizes the need for a larger conversation about police and community interaction. 

Light Brigading / Flickr

Demonstrations have been happening all over the country following a Missouri grand jury's announcement that it will not seek an indictment of police officer Darren Wilson in the August shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

Rachel Lippmann covered last night's announcement for St. Louis Public Radio and joins us for an update. David Harris, University of Pittsburgh School of Law Professor, explains why a grand jury was used and offers his thoughts on the prosecutor's approach.

Lippman says that Ferguson has been comparatively calm today after hours of demonstrations. She says that St. Louis police reported that demonstrations last night were the worst seen since the shooting occurred in August, with many shots fired and more than a dozen buildings burned to the ground.

Meanwhile, Harris explains that there were several different options for moving forward in the Ferguson case, but the prosecutor used the grand jury option in order to involve members of the community while simultaneously absolving himself of responsibility for making the decision.

David Harris Explains Grand Juries

Nov 4, 2014
David Harris

A grand jury is a legal body that is empowered to conduct official proceedings to investigate potential criminal conduct and to determine whether criminal charges should be brought.

One of the most famous grand juries was used in the investigation of President Clinton by Ken Starr.

More recently a grand jury is now investigating the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. University of Pittsburgh Law professor David Harris joins us to discuss the role of grand juries and their role in our justice system.

Elvert Barnes / Flickr

Much of the nation’s attention has been focused on the unrest in Ferguson, Mo. The fatal shooting of Michael Brown, a young African American man, by a police officer has led to riots, looting and tension between law enforcement officials and the citizens of Ferguson.

Pitt Law Professor David Harris evaluated the police department’s response to the incident.

“What you have here is not just the killing of one person by another, but the killing of a person by an agent of the state, a police officer."

Because of these stipulations and "the possibility that the police officer went beyond his duty to protect with reasonable force while depriving the person of their 'constitutional right to life without due process,'" Harris said there is a possibility of both state and federal court cases.

If the officer is charged, which Harris said is "a big if", the court case would still be a long process. Harris pointed out that a police officer has the right to use force to effectuate the job.