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.

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

Domestic abuse victims in Pennsylvania will no longer have to wait for as long as two years to get a divorce from spouses convicted of abuse.

Gov. Tom Wolf signed legislation on Thursday which makes two major changes to how courts deal with domestic violence divorce proceedings.

Greg Sciulli

While many vacant homes continue to crumble in Wilkinsburg, a select few will have their stories told.

The Wilkinsburg Vacant Home Tour began as a project by Carnegie Mellon University to address the issue of urban decay in the borough. The Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation adopted the tour during its second year.

Port Authority of Allegheny County

 

A man convicted of beating a black man and pushing him onto subway tracks in Pittsburgh almost a year ago has been sentenced to three to six years in prison.

Twenty-two-year-old Ryan Kyle was sentenced Wednesday in Allegheny County. He pleaded guilty in February to aggravated assault, ethnic intimidation and robbery conspiracy as prosecutors dropped an attempted murder charge.

Seth Perlman / AP

 

More than 100 water systems in Pennsylvania have had lead levels above a federal threshold at least once since 2013, according to an Associated Press analysis of the data.

Rebekah Zook / 90.5 WESA

Debbie Thackrah said she never expected her initiative, Feeding the Spirit, to be as large as it is today, considering its humble beginnings in 2011.

“My running partner and I ... started running with five dollar bills to slip under their knapsacks so it would be there when they woke up,” she said. Thackrah, on her morning runs, was seeing an ever-growing homeless population in her town of Greensburg, spend the night in open, public spaces.

“It made me really upset,” she said.

Noah Brode / 90.5 WESA

Neighbors are optimistic about the latest plan to create offices, restaurants, apartments and maybe a new public market in the Strip District's historic produce terminal.

Mora McLaughlin / 90.5 WESA

Anyone who visits a Community Recreation and Healthy Active Living Center in Pittsburgh can meet with neighbors or grab a bite to eat. Now, they can also surf the internet with free Wi-Fi.

Citiparks and the Department of Innovation and Performance announced the installation of free Wi-Fi in 22 of its centers throughout the city.

The announcement was made at the Greenfield Healthy Active Living Center on Wednesday.

Women & Girls Foundation of Western PA / Facebook

Fifty-six years after the Equal Pay Law took effect in Pennsylvania, politicians and advocates gathered in Market Square in downtown Pittsburgh on Tuesday to call attention to the continuing pay disparity in the state and nationwide.  

Margot Callahan

Margot Callahan, of Highland Park, is providing her voice for a stranger – literally. She’s one of thousands of people who have donated their voices to people with vocal disabilities, caused by a range of factors such as a stroke, cerebral palsy or Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

VocaliD is collecting those voices and using them for voice software devices. The goal is to provide a more accurate representation of the actual person’s voice, rather than being stuck with a robotic generic one.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

 

A Pittsburgh man arrested a third time on drug and weapons charges stemming from a police search three years ago is a suspect in a cookout ambush last month that killed five people, including a pregnant woman, a detective testified Thursday.

Allegheny County Detective Steve Hitchings testified at a bond hearing that Robert Thomas is a suspect in the March 9 cookout shootings in Wilkinsburg and has been told he's a suspect, KDKA-TV first reported Thursday.

A fired Pittsburgh police sergeant accused of wrongly pushing and punching a drunken man at Heinz Field and then lying about it says he's fighting the criminal case against him.

Ex-sergeant Stephen Matakovich has been indicted by a federal grand jury. He's appealing his firing.

Defense attorney Blaine Jones said Wednesday they're prepared to fight the case wherever they need to fight it.

The police chief and the public safety director agreed to fire the 22-year veteran for using what was deemed to be "unreasonable" force during the arrest in November.

Variety

Variety, a charity that gives away adaptive bikes, strollers and communication devices for children with disabilities, will be taking their services on the road this spring.

The “Life Changing” tour began in late March and will continue into May. They will make 15 stops throughout Pennsylvania and West Virginia to give away 150 products, as well as fit 35 children for their new devices.

The organization's kickoff event took place last week, with a “bike parade” at St. Francis University in Loretto, Pa. Eight individuals received new bikes.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Since 1961, the Pennsylvania State Police have been able to use radar to hand out speeding tickets, but municipal police in the state have been denied the same authority. 

“We trust them with a gun, we trust them with a Taser, we should be able to trust them with a radar gun,” Whitehall Borough Mayor Jim Nowalk said.

Nowalk was among a small, but vocal group that gathered Tuesday in Harrisburg to call on lawmakers to lift the ban. 

Megan Harris / 90.5 WESA

Emily Ahlin said three years ago, no one at the University of Pittsburgh really talked about sexual assault. 

“But I helped lead orientation week this year,” said Ahlin, a junior. “One of the things we had the kids do was a bystander intervention training. That didn’t exist my freshman year, and that exists now.” 

Megan Harris / 90.5 WESA

The National Aviary’s sloth is now 5 months old and finally has a name.

Aviary officials said he was named Valentino by an anonymous donor who bid for the naming rights.

“I mean, look at that adorable face. It’s just very Valentino to me,” said Cathy Schlott, curator of behavioral management and education, who works with Valentino. “How can you not fall in love with that face?”

Valentino, a two-toed sloth purchased from a breeder in Florida and acquired in February, also had his 5-month checkup this week.

Rebekah Zook / 90.5 WESA

Deanna Blincow has been working with the Orphan Care Ministry since its conception in 2007, and serving as its director since 2012.

Within this time frame, she has witnessed at least 25 families she knows personally go through the intense process of adopting a child, and has counseled countless others.

“My husband and I adopted two children out of an orphanage in Russia, so we did an international adoption about 17 years ago. That’s really what started it for us,” Blincow said.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Members and allies of the transgender community are gathering in Pittsburgh on Thursday to raise awareness about transgender issues.

Events celebrating Transgender Day of Visibility are taking place across the state, including the Steel City at 6 p.m. at the Persad Center in Lawrenceville.

Members of the local transgender community are planning to share their personal stories and how they’ve been affected by discrimination.

Canadian2006 / Wikimedia Commons

An adult homicide charge has been filed against a 14-year-old Mount Pleasant boy after he allegedly shot and killed his 13-year-old friend while playing with a handgun in a neighbor’s house.

A Westmoreland County judge will now have to decide whether to decertify the case, which would send it to juvenile court for a maximum possible sentence of seven years, when the boy would turn 21.

Monroeville attorney Patrick Thomassey, who has represented juveniles facing adult charges, said the limitations of juvenile courts' jurisdictions in Pennsylvania make that a tough choice.

Magnus Karlsson / Flickr

Syrup producers don’t have as much to celebrate at this year’s Pennsylvania Maple Festival.

Somerset County is the biggest producer of maple syrup in the state and home to the Pennsylvania Maple Festival, celebrating spring maple tapping over the first two weekends of April. Warm weather has meant a lower yield for sap, however.

Farmers, like Jason Blocher who operates Milroy Farms in Salisbury, Somerset County, are feeling the effects. Blocher said his family's been in the sap business a long time. 

Megan Harris / 90.5 WESA

The Christian season of Lent spans six weeks leading up to Easter. For some, that means giving up something they love like chocolate, television or profanity.

Mary Kate Ranii, 25, of Shaler Township said this year she wanted to sacrifice trash.

pap.accela.com

Kiss your favorite pothole goodbye.

Officials with Pittsburgh’s Department of Public Works released its 2016 street paving list Thursday, which includes 49.5 miles of streets to be repaired between April 1 and Oct. 31.

The city also has an interactive map, where residents can track which streets – and specific spots on those streets – will be paved, milled or repaired in some way. It’s expected to be updated as changes arise.

Megan Harris / 90.5 WESA

It's National Puppy Day! What better way to celebrate than with adorable dog photos, especially these pups from the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society and the Animal Rescue League in need of forever homes. 

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

East Liberty residents hoping to keep a public park out of the hands of a private developer have scored a victory.

The city released a statement Tuesday evening saying Enright Parklet would remain publicly owned, and would not become part of the redevelopment of Penn Plaza.

The announcement came shortly after a public hearing in City Council, in which neighbors spoke out against the rezoning of the park.

Infrogmation / Wikimedia Commons

Homeowners would no longer need to have Pittsburgh City Council approve reimbursements for damage to sidewalks from city tree roots under new legislation introduced Tuesday.

Sponsoring Councilman Dan Gilman said his bill could reduce the time of the reimbursement process by about two months through a special exception to the rule that requires council approval for any spending greater than $2,500.

Lawmakers Push Changes For Judicial Discipline

Mar 23, 2016
Brian Turner / Flickr

  State senators on Tuesday urged their colleagues to advance their plans to change how judicial conduct cases are handled in Pennsylvania.

A proposed amendment to the state constitution would overhaul how the commonwealth’s court system metes out discipline for its justices and judges. The issue is particularly relevant this week, after the second resignation of a state Supreme Court justice over his exchange of offensive emails with prosecutors and others. 

The entire affair has led lawmakers to scrutinize the ways Pennsylvania’s court system judges its own.

Mike Procarlo / Flickr

The leader of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh said Monday the church is human and wants to apologize for any pain its leaders may have caused.

Bishop David Zubik held a special Service of Apology at St. Paul's Cathedral in Oakland open to anyone who may have experienced emotional or physical pain from the church.

90.5 WESA's Virginia Alvino talked to Larkin Page-Jacobs about the service's message and why some sexual abuse victims find it troubling. 

VCU CNS / Flickr

First-time offenders of driving under the influence may soon be required to utilize ignition interlock systems within their cars for one year.

Currently, Pennsylvania law only requires repeat offenders to use the technology for one year. But a new bill would also require first-time offenders, caught with a blood alcohol content level of .10 or higher, to install an interlock device. 

Noah Brode / 90.5 WESA

City leaders met to ring in Pittsburgh’s 200th birthday Friday.

That’s when Pittsburgh went from a borough, to a city.

google Maps

The former Gladstone Middle School building in Hazelwood has sat vacant for 15 years.  

Now it soon could have a new owner and new life.

The Hazelwood Initiative, a neighborhood development group, has signed papers to purchase the building from Pittsburgh Public Schools for $250,000.

The school board in November awarded the Initiative the option to buy the building, and since then the two sides have been finalizing the language of the agreement.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

From a corridor outside the intake bays at the Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s office, chief examiner Karl Williams takes a mental inventory.

"Thirteen-hundred cases, 1,600 items in every year, around 150,000 tests," he said. "You can’t do analyses of every piece of potential evidence you get in, but we’ve always got it."

Homicides committed outside city limits make up just a fraction of the deaths Williams’ county-wide office oversees, but most murders are evaluated in tandem by multiple agencies, including county and municipal police, pathologists and a spectrum of other agencies tasked with a battery of supplemental tasks.

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