Identity & Justice

The identity and justice desk explores how the makeup of the Pittsburgh community is changing, and digs into issues of diversity and equity.

Eric Risberg / AP

The FBI has used the same protocols to process DNA for the last 20 years. It requires a human analyst to make comparisons based on subjective choices and simplified genetic samples.

Mark Perlin's product, True Allele, uses a different method. It's a program that lets computers process every high and low point in a piece of DNA – no comparisons or required.

On this episode of the Criminal Injustice podcast, host David Harris talks to Perlin about the program and how DNA analysis can be more powerful, faster and accurate.

Virginia Alvino Young / 90.5 WESA

One Pittsburgh-based online magazine is celebrating it's first birthday this month. QueerPGH volunteers and contributors say they hope to create a hub of content by and for the queer community in Pittsburgh.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

A petition urging Pittsburgh to officially declare itself a sanctuary city has resulted in a scheduled public hearing at City Council.

PA May Make It Easier For Non-Violent Criminals To Get A Fresh Start

Jul 2, 2017
Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

2004 was a tough year for Ronald.

In less than a month, he was arrested twice — once for theft and once for conspiracy.

Virginia Alvino Young / 90.5 WESA

On a breezy Wednesday morning, a tour group of gardeners and members of Pittsburgh's nonprofit community visited all the green spaces the neighborhood of Homewood had to offer. They saw the personal gardens of resident Amir Rashad, walked through shared plots and the garden manned by Operation Better Block.

New York Times

Police chiefs have to lead officers toward strong relationships with the communities they serve, but in the past, the same department may have participated in or enforced racial discrimination.

That history can prevent healing and can make police reform a nonstarter.

Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

The staff of the Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations investigates allegations of discrimination throughout the city.

Carlos Torres was named the commission’s executive director in 2016.

90.5 WESA’s Margaret J. Krauss sat down with Torres to talk about his background and how individuals can make the city a better place.

Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

MARGARET J. KRAUSS: One of the things I noticed is that you're not shy about handing out your business card.

Virginia Alvino Young / 90.5 WESA

 

Last year, Hopewell Memorial Junior High School started noticing some negative race-based comments being made among students. Studies show safe environments are essential for learning, and being victim to identity-based harassment can be especially detrimental in school.

Ally Ruggieri / 90.5 WESA

  Massud Fattah fled with his family from Northern Iraq in 2012. He had worked with the army for years to help fight terrorism in his home country.

Andrew Harnik / AP

Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded a 2013 memo last month written by his predecessor, Eric Holder. Sessions told prosecutors that not only will they abide by previously set mandatory minimum prison sentences, they would seek the harshest punishments possible.

Damian Dovarganes / AP

Automatic license plate readers – those cameras on police cars and light poles that capture plate numbers – have been in widespread use since the 1990s. But some argue regulations for how and how long police can use and store that information hasn’t kept up with the technology.

Joaquin Gonzalez / 90.5 WESA

Consultant Brian Burley says his new book YNGBLKPGH (Young Black Pittsburgh) is proof that his community produces a lot of success stories and that the next generation can go even farther.

The book highlights 140 black professionals from the city. Each wrote an open letter to fellow young, black Pittsburghers.

90.5 WESA’s Virginia Alvino Young talked to the author about his book and the social movement Burley says he hopes it will create. 

Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

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Proactive Child Abuse Prevention Gets Increased Attention As Fatality Rate Rises In PA

Jun 9, 2017
Gene J. Puskar / AP

Summer Chambers, a chubby cheeked 5-month-old died of starvation and dehydration in her crib, four days after her parents died from drug overdoses in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

The Pittsburgh Pride festival is no stranger to controversy. This year marks the 10th annual celebration hosted by the Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh.

Matt Rourke / AP

An impassioned group of advocates and lawmakers are pushing for two controversial pieces of legislation that would make it harder for women to access abortion services in Pennsylvania.

Eric Gay / AP

Attorney General Jeff Sessions declined to renew the National Commission on Forensic Science in April, effectively ending federal efforts to standardize how crime scene evidence is interpreted by local law enforcement agencies. It's not because the problems were solved. 

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

After years of back and forth, Pennsylvania has passed a law to bring its state IDs up to federal standards.

But compliance doesn’t end there.

It’ll still be a multi-year process to phase in the new IDs, and a lot of the timelines and costs are unknown.

The state says it tentatively plans to make the new federal “Real ID” compliant cards available around March 2019.

Rehumanize International

Pittsburgh organizers of an anti-war event have removed a pro-life group from co-sponsorship, after receiving a number of public complaints. The demonstration is still scheduled to proceed in July.

States Offer Breaks To Minority Marijuana Entrepreneurs

May 31, 2017
Eric Risberg / AP

Andre Shavers was sentenced to five years on felony probation after authorities burst into the house where he was living in one of Oakland's most heavily policed neighborhoods and found a quarter ounce of marijuana.

Evan Vucci / AP

The Trump administration has promised a return to "tough on crime" criminal justice policies, including a recent memo that instructs federal prosecutors to reverse Obama-era reforms meant to curb mandatory minimum sentences.

Fired Pittsburgh Sergeant On Stand In Civil Rights Trial

May 25, 2017
Gene J. Puskar / AP

A fired Pittsburgh police sergeant is set to continue testifying in his civil rights trial on charges he wrongly beat a drunken man and then lied about it in a report.

Former Sgt. Stephen Matakovich testified Wednesday that he thought 19-year-old Gabriel Despres was preparing to attack him and that he struck Despres to prevent that.

But federal prosecutors say a surveillance video of the incident doesn't support Matakovich, who is charged with deprivation of civil rights and falsification of a document.

Noah Berger / AP

At least 15 states have allowed police agencies to pilot surveillance drones in the name of public safety, including one that can carry weapons.

This week on 90.5 WESA’s Criminal Injustice podcast, University of Pittsburgh law professor and host David Harris talks to the Cato Institute’s Matthew Feeney from his office in Washington D.C.

Megan Harris / 90.5 WESA

**UPDATED: 4:45 p.m. Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled Monday that Pittsburgh Police officers don't have to live inside city limits.

Megan Harris / 90.5 WESA

The president of the South Side Chamber of Commerce said he feels the popular bar district is still a safe place despite a deadly shooting inside the Rowdy Buck bar early Sunday morning.

Gene J. Puskar / AP

*UPDATED: May 22, 2017 at 5:39 p.m.

The panel that will decide Bill Cosby's fate in his sex assault trial began to take shape Monday with the selection of five jurors, three white men and two white women.

The search for 12 jurors and six alternates was expected to take several days. Experts believe lawyers on both sides will be considering race, sex, age, occupation and interests of potential jurors.

Virginia Alvino Young / 90.5 WESA

Theresa Finn’s son, Jamar, was murdered nearly five years ago. She said it’s getting harder to deal with every day.

“Somebody shot through the window and killed my baby instantly. What I told people is that everyone is suffering. It [isn’t] just the moms,” Finn said. “When you take somebody’s life, it affects everybody, the whole community.”

Last week, Finn attended a preview of a new exhibit at Center of Life in Hazelwood called "I Lived, We Live, What Did We Miss?"

Matthew Apgar / The Chronicle via AP

The exposure of wrongful convictions began in 1989, and it upended the idea that guilty verdicts were always trustworthy. When there’s a wrongful conviction, what has to happen to get a court to exonerate someone?

On this week’s episode of 90.5 WESA’s Criminal Injustice podcast, University of Pittsburgh law professor and show host David Harris talked to Marissa Boyers Bluestine, legal director for the Pennsylvania Innocence Project.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala said he’s considering filing charges against Pittsburgh Police officer Raymond Toomey in connection with a violent arrest Sunday outside The Flats bar on Carson Street in the South Side.

Adam Kucenic

A local restaurateur who planned to open a ‘90s hip-hop-themed fried chicken restaurant in East Liberty is changing the concept after receiving some backlash from the community.

Chicago Police Department / AP

The last few years have exposed major problems in policing: use of force, high-tech surveillance and a systemic lack of transparency. Some police tactics have even been called undemocratic, because the public isn’t involved on the front end.

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