Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Public Safety Debate: Words

Here is some text about last night's forum. Video to go up tonight or tomorrow in some fashion.

"The question is, do our police officers understand the youth of this city?" [Ravenstahl] asked, [repeating the question]. "One way they're going to understand the youth of this city is having the opportunity to enforce the curfew" which has been in abeyance for five years since the closure of a prior center. (P-G, Rich Lord)

This is pretty typical snapshot of the discussion. Mayor Ravenstahl either doesn't buy into the touchy-feely, community-oriented, root-causes side of the public safety coin as much as the other candidates, or he just doesn't speak of it nearly as convincingly. Ravenstahl wants more cops with more tools and newer technology including cameras and curfew centers, whereas the community "needs to understand" this and "needs to understand" that.

From an electoral aspect that may not hurt him at all, but from a public safety standpoint it's a little chilling. I would prefer actions that work to those that look or sound tough.

I was surprised that yesterday's announcement about high powered rifles getting loaded into police cars as a way to deter crime didn't come in for discussion, for example.

Ms. Robinson criticized the lack of progress on the Pittsburgh Initiative to Reduce Crime, or PIRC, an effort modeled on Boston's successful anti-gang push. (ibid)

She specifically pointed out that the Mayor had said it would start making a difference in March, though now obviously it's the beginning of May. Ravenstahl responded by explaining that there are lots of people and pieces to talk to and organize.

The timeline may not be as important though, since Robinson also criticized the PIRC, or the "Botson Plan", for being run by a Caucasian out-of-towner with less than stellar credentials. In my own interview with Robinson, she also pointed out that the Boston plan was designed for large organized gangs, whereas in Pittsburgh she alleged what we have is dozens upon dozens of of tiny, barely-organized-at-all gangs.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said that one of the proudest accomplishments was establishing more stringent policies for handling domestic abuse by city police officers. True enough. But as challenger Patrick Dowd pointed out shortly afterward, Ravenstahl only ushered in that policy after promoting three officers with domestic-abuse allegations in their past. (CP Slag Heap)

Dowd could have twisted the knife even further by recalling that the Mayor first promoted one of those officers -- which itself blew up into a nice-sized domestic abuse scandal -- and then a week later the Mayor promoted two more officers with past abuse allegations without apparently bothering to check into their histories. Then Dowd could have added that during the hearing to explore these contentious issues, the Mayor went golfing with celebrities .

But that probably would have been too much.

I like how Ravenstahl begins many of his answers with a 20 second warm-up about how he'd love to have even more time to talk about this, and then ends with another 20 second cool-down about how his time is running out and he wishes there was more time to list the many examples that are bursting out of his noggin. It's kind of like a student using a 16-point font and triple-spacing to fill out a four-page term paper.

Oh, and Doc Harris was a part of things. He proved that he can hang in this atmosphere and with these folks in this type of discussion. It'll be interesting to see how much more closely and frequently the local media covers politics once he enters the race formally.


  1. Mayor Ravenstahl either doesn't buy into the touchy-feely, community-oriented, root-causes side of the public safety coin as much as the other candidates, or he just doesn't speak of it nearly as convincingly.

    I think the most effective way to fight crime, especially from the mayoral perspective, is to ensure that our police are properly equipped and that the right experts are available and programs emphasized. I'm not worried at all about Ravenstahl understanding our youth. He sets the program, that's what he's payed for, and the cops can figure it out, that's what they're payed for.

  2. An ouce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

    Globally, society build too many jails.

    Fighting crime, in a mayor's race discussion and debate, needs to include lots of elements, including teaching about about playing well together as young people and evolving into literate, productive citizens with strong community bonds.

    Face it, the 'gang mentality' works. Frankly, I want 'productive gangs' -- as in orchestras, swim teams, casts in high school musicals, etc.

    BTW, join me and my family on Thursday night (28 hours from now) at Peabody HS for the Schenley HS Musical. $5 at the door, 8 pm start.

    Once a mind expands, it never returns to its oringinal size.


  3. Ravenstahl has to be able to understand what the cops need, true, however, that includes being able to grasp what is going on with youth in this city who get in trouble and are in crisis.

    All for proper equipment for the police, so they have it when they need it, but am also for the proper intervention so that they will need it less often.

  4. More and well-equipped police will reduce crime in the short run, but to reduce it in the medium to long run we need more good paying jobs that hire African Americans in particular and improvements in the City schools (in that order). I don't know that the Mayor can influence either of those things, although I don't think our current Mayor is trying particularly hard so far.

  5. Ed,

    how about hiring the best qualified person for the job regardless of race?

  6. Correct me if I am wrong, Ed, but didn't you mean more oppotunities for African Americans, and disenfranchised people for that matter, so that they do not turn to crime. Another astounding retort by Marr H.

  7. How about the most qualified for the job?

  8. Matt, frequently the playing field has not been level since before the person from a poor neighborhood was born. The people know this as well, and do not even bother to apply for jobs. They know the education they received was not designed to prepare them for employment in this or any century, they know that employers see things this way, and they know that employers see people from their neighborhood as current or potential future criminals. As Carmen Robinson says, it is the hopelessness that is the problem. I think that since crime is a problem the government is supposed to deal with, it is reasonable that the government use the tool of tax incentives and subsidies to bring companies to poor neighborhoods to provide jobs, as a crime fighting tool. If you give people a stake in their own lives, they will actively work to make their neighborhoods better.

    But just saying let the best qualified people have any jobs that are available ignores the reality of discrimination in the US today. And guarantees that African Americans will remain in poverty for the foreseeable future.

  9. Ed-

    Should a caucasian male be put at a disadvantage because his skin is white? There are just as many poor caucasians in Pittsburgh as there are African Americans (probably more). Should they be eliminated from consideration because of their skin color? Reverse discrimination is just as bad as discrimination. Simply put, hiring based on sex or skin color is wrong. I agree with Matt H - you go with the most qualified candidate.

    As you say, you can't ignore discrimination, or racism, or sexism. They are all problems. Problems that will not be solved by replacing old wrongs with new.

    Consider this: How many Asian women are employed by the City of Pittsburgh? Does this lack of representation guarantee that they will remain in poverty for the foreseeable future?

  10. The Truth, Matt H.,
    You are correct in some respects and wrong in others. If you honestly believe that minorities have had the opportunity because the Civil Rights issues were an issue of long ago then Yes, in a perfect world you would want to choose the best candidate.

    The reality is, that has not yet happened. I know that is not a popular viewpoint amongst white males. What does best candidate mean? Is the best candidate the one who scores the highest on a written and physical exam? Let us review a few examples. If we are speaking of Police, is the best candidate the potential recruit the one who has performed the best on the written and physical portion of the exam? If the best candidates are who we want, then we would not award any points for Veterans Preference. It has nothing to do with the sacrifice.
    We are talking the best candidate right? We would never consider removing the additional points to a score for Veterans Preference in the Commonwealth of PA. That is one issue. Ten points on a civil service exam in this city is a huge advantage. Do minorities or specifically, black males, have that opportunity to go into the military to get those additional 10points added to their score? Yes they do. Are they aware of this? Can they or do they have the ability to get throught the indiscretions of youth to get to the military? Maybe or maybe not. When the city of Pittsburgh decided over 30 years ago to force busing in this city to diversify city schools, it was done for several reasons. One of them was an attempt to bring young people of different races together so that they could begin to realize that the differences were only in color. The same attempts have been made successfully to bring together Arab children and Israeli children. Whether anyone wants to admit this or not, forced busing is when the white flight took place in this city. What is white flight? Where does the fostering of acceptance of difference begin? If you think we are there in this city, you are living in a very different city than I live in.

    The reality is that in a lot of instances, a situation is quelled by the personnel on scene. Sometimes it does not matter whether that personnel is black or white, man or woman. So many times IT DOES MATTER. The diversity of any work force whether it be in government civil service, the private sector, brings with it a dynamic that is unmatched. Few, who are educated, can ignore the virtue. Many ignore it due to their own personal ignorance. It is a choice to ignore it. In a perfect world, you are correct, lets take those who score the highest, no preference added for any reason, military service, black, white, or male, female. If you think we are at this point, I can tell you without blinking in the City Of Pittsburgh, we are not yet there.

  11. Good post Anon 11:54, You said...

    When the city of Pittsburgh decided over 30 years ago to force busing in this city to diversify city schools, it was done for several reasons. One of them was an attempt to bring young people of different races together so that they could begin to realize that the differences were only in color. I honestly believe that a good percentage of younger people today realize that differences are only in color.The same attempts have been made successfully to bring together Arab children and Israeli children. Whether anyone wants to admit this or not, forced busing is when the white flight took place in this city.

    I do not disagree with you. Keep in mind that this was a different generation. There is also a strong correlation with the downfall of the steel industry to consider.What is white flight?It is when "whites" move away from the city because they believe that their children will be exposed to drugs and violence if they stay.

    They also believe that the schools in the suburbs are stronger and that properties in the suburbs are a better investment.
    Where does the fostering of acceptance of difference begin?

    With the children.

    If you think we are there in this city, you are living in a very different city than I live in.Trust me Anon, I live in the same city as you. Pittsburgh is a small town.

  12. The Truth, I thought I posted a response to you, but it appears the internet ate it. I don't think I will try to recreate it.

    I will say this, my initial point was about reducing crime in Pittsburgh by getting at the root causes. You and Matt chose to criticize my suggestion, but I haven't heard an alternative from either of you. Meanwhile, you might want to read this: (

  13. That is a good link Ed.

    The problems you describe stem from children who do not have a stable home. What can the government do to force parents to stay together and guide their children down the right path?

    Carmen Robinson is right when she said that the Pittsburgh Promise, while great, will not solve Pittsburgh's problems. These children need guidance before and during their high school years.

    A solution? We have one right here in our own backyard. Look no further than Pittsburgh's own Bill Strickland. (A must view video)

    Consider the amount of money Pittsburgh Public Schools spends to educate each child. Where is it all going? Why can't the city follow the Bill Strickland model?

    Handing out jobs to adults based on the color of their skin will solve nothing. The root of our problem is our broken school system. The development of a new creative class is the key to revitalizing the "urban district" of Pittsburgh.

  14. I agree with Ed. And to be clear, in his first post, he never said people should hire African-Americans over anyone else. Matt H made his own assumption. Saying African-Americans need more jobs is not like saying there should be "affirmative action". Obviously the whole country is suffering from job loss so I understand it would be difficult, but as Carmen Robinson always says, quoting Jesse Jackson, "People don't commit drivebys on their lunch hour"

  15. Anon, actually I would prefer that some jobs go to African Americans over other people, if the goal is to fight crime. I think that if people in high crime neighborhoods have a increased stake in their lives, if they have a reason to expect a better future, they will start working together to help the police to reduce crime.

    So I agree, The Truth, that schools are part of the problem (like Strickland says, they spit kids out of the end, but don't necessarily teach them to read), one half the problem. And obviously Manchester Craftsman's guild and the Bidwell Training Center are very valuable neighborhood and City resources. But I would not expect them to solve the problems on their own.

    Of course, I don't think I have pointed out that I don't expect my ideas would ever be enacted. No one wants to get jobs to poor African Americans.

    Just ask yourself, is the playing field really level when there is a black face and a white face applying for the same job, even if they have the same qualifications? Then factor in the low quality of City schools, the huge drop out rate, the high numbers of African Americans who get arrested and incarcerated as youths (and become repeat offenders). Does anyone want to address these problems, and how far are they willing to go?

  16. Ed,In reading the Pitt report and Bill Stricklands work and success, the answers would seem to lie in a multi-faceted approach. Something that Bill Strickland said was profound, "that if you can change the way that the children see themselves" Although we know that this ideal should begin at home, it often times does not because if all a parent(s) has ever know was hopelessness how can you change that for the child? That is where the schools come in, the programs such as Mr. Stricklands, and also affirmative action.
    The negative connotations that are linked to affirmative action have rendered it a dirty term. What is it? It is providing someone an opportunity, that in light of the absence of affirmative action, most likely that person would not have been given an opportunity.

    No one argues the "Rooney Rule", what is that? Affirmative action with a cutesy name. It was recognized that black males were not being given an opportunity to even interview for head coaching jobs.

    No one can argue the success of Mike Tomlin, and what I would say is that how many others, given an opportunity would be successful? Actually having success stories come from the neighborhoods to present back into the neighborhoods and schools in every way imaginable, the arts, the sciences, the trades,and allowing children to see what Opportunity, and maybe a helping hand can do to provide that opportunity maybe those real efforts can change that hopelessness that continues to pervade through generations.