On Friday, a crowd held candles outside of the apartment building in McKeesport where Aaliyah Johnson lived. They were there to honor her life — and demand a proper investigation of her death. Johnson, a transgender Black woman, died on May 26 after falling from her window in Midtown Plaza Apartments. She was in her early 30s. Her death was ruled a suicide, but friends and family say there wasn’t an adequate investigation and demanded answers.
Hundreds gathered at Allderdice High School and in Bloomfield and Fox Chapel borough on June 11, the 13th day of Black Lives Matter protests in Pittsburgh.
Those in attendance carried signs, participated in chants and listened to impassioned speakers who called on the crowds to show solidarity with Black students and residents in the Pittsburgh area along with those who have experienced police brutality. "Welcome to the movement because we are going to need every single one of you ... Oppressive institutions don't get to tell the oppressed how to fight for their freedom." —State Rep. Summer Lee
In Bloomfield, skateboarders convened to honor George Floyd and others taken by police violence. At one point in their rolling march, they shut down traffic on Bloomfield Bridge and the Black Lives Matter demonstration ended in Friendship Park.
Advocacy groups, including the ACLU of Pennsylvania, and some Pittsburgh parents have already been calling on PPS leaders for years to remove the police presence from schools and instead invest money in additional resources for students and schools, such as counselors, social workers and mental health professionals. In 2019, there were 623 youth ages 10 to 17 arrested by police in Pittsburgh, including school and city police, according to the ACLU.
On the day that George Floyd was being put to rest in his hometown of Houston, Texas, and 11 days into an intensified anti-racism movement throughout the Pittsburgh area, the Pittsburgh City Council introduced several bills to reform public safety and policing.
Public defenders, social workers and activists on Monday kneeled in front of the Allegheny County Courthouse in Downtown Pittsburgh to protest institutional racism in the criminal justice system. “We, as public defenders, are here to say, ‘Black lives matter to us,’” Matt Dugan, chief public defender for Allegheny County, said to the crowd. Dugan called for an end to systemic racism in policing and criminal justice outcomes. Public defenders throughout the country held demonstrations on Monday, including events in Philadelphia, Salt Lake City and Washington, D.C.
Several participants in Pittsburgh called for systemic changes to the criminal justice system, including defunding police and stopping the practice of laying disproportionate charges on Black people. “The District Attorney’s office has to change their method of charging and overcharging people,” attorney Lena Bryan Henderson said to attendees.
Several hundred people lay in the grass and the walking path at Point State Park on Sunday for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the length of time prosecutors said Derek Chauvin, a Minneapolis police officer, kneeled on the neck of George Floyd before he died.
Pittsburgh protesters on Friday honored what would have been the 27th birthday of Breonna Taylor, who was fatally shot in March by police officers in Kentucky. On the same day, the seventh of anti-racist demonstrations locally, the Pittsburgh police bureau announced a multi-agency task force to target the “small group of people intent on causing destruction” amid the largely peaceful protests. The task force, formed earlier this week, has already launched investigations into: “...people who have attacked journalists, looted business, caused property damage and committed other crimes such as arson,” the press release stated. Protesters gathered in Friendship Park in Bloomfield at noon Friday calling for an end to system racism and police brutality against Black citizens and protesters. The hundreds in attendance marched from Friendship Park about 2 miles to Lyndhurst Green in Point Breeze, where they stopped to hold a vigil in honor of Taylor and her birthday.
Louisville, Kentucky police officers killed Taylor at the age of 26 in her home on March 13.
The calls for reform in Pittsburgh come at a time when the movement to defund police departments is growing stronger in the U.S. and demonstrators all over the world have been marching for justice in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer on May 26.
Has racism by white people against Black people in this country hit a crescendo? Or is it simply a perpetuation — albeit now publicly consumable — of the same white supremacy we have seen in the United States for more than 400 years?