Protesters marched through the streets of McKees Rocks on Sunday to speak out against systemic racism and demand an investigation of the borough’s police department. 

The almost five-hour event began at the intersection of Linden Street and Chartiers Avenue and continued to Sto-Rox Junior-Senior High School before returning to the starting point.

“They’re gonna hear us. Not just in the streets, but when we vote. They’re gonna hear us in the White House,” said Dasia Clemons, founder of grassroots organization Pittsburgh, I Can’t Breathe [PICB].

It was organized by McKees Rocks resident Lorenzo Rulli and Nique (who preferred not to include their last name) with support from PICB.

Dasia Clemons, founder of the organization Pittsburgh, I Can’t Breathe, marches on Sunday. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

“McKees Rocks is not failing because of the people. McKees Rocks is failing because of the police,” Rulli said while addressing the crowd of roughly 150 people in front of the department. The organizers demanded an investigation into the police department, which Rulli said does not represent the community it serves. McKees Rocks is about 34% Black. According to the borough’s website, the department has nine full-time officers and several part-time officers. Police Chief Rick Deliman told PublicSource in an email that the department has no officers of color on staff.

The event also centered on Black women and Black transgender people. “I feel like Black women and Black trans folks are always left out of the narrative,” Nique told PublicSource while recounting their own experiences with racism and transphobia. “I don’t want to live in fear like this anymore.”

Protesters march along Chartiers Avenue in McKees Rocks on Sunday. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

During the demonstration, organizers addressed several local businesses and entities for engaging in behavior they considered harmful. 

While gathered in front of Black Forge Coffee House on Chartiers Avenue, Nique asked Black Forge owner Ashley Corts to “take more accountability” for the “have coffee with a cop” events the business held at its Allentown location several years ago. Corts said she was approached by several community groups and asked to host the event and would not do it again. “I learned my lesson four years ago,” Corts told PublicSource. She agreed to several asks from the organizers, including hosting a cookout for McKees Rocks residents.

Stopping in front of Sto-Rox High School, speakers called for education equity for Black and brown children, including curricula that teach African American history. “I want you to understand that they are literally trying to erase our entire history,” PICB organizer Kyna James said of white-centric curricula. 

At one point, organizers collected money from attendees and distributed it to Black women in the crowd. Rulli said they collected over $500 and split it between 15 women.

At the end of the event, Rulli reminded attendees to continue supporting the ongoing protests and equal rights movement. “Racism is not one action or two individuals. Racism is an injustice everywhere,” he said.

Juliette Rihl is a reporter for PublicSource. She can be reached at juliette@publicsource.org or on Twitter at @julietterihl.

Ryan Loew is PublicSource’s visual storyteller/producer. He can be reached at ryan@publicsource.org and on Twitter at @RyanLoew.

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Juliette Rihl

Juliette Rihl reports on criminal justice, public safety and mental health for PublicSource. Her 2020 series on how court debt impacts low-income Allegheny County residents prompted the county to join...

Ryan is a PublicSource visual producer/storyteller. He joined PublicSource after being a freelance producer of news features and documentary stories in the Pittsburgh region and beyond. His work appeared...