Pittsburgh Police Chief Poses With Anti-Racism Sign: Police Union Has a Fit

After Pittsburgh's Police Chief Cameron McLay spoke with some activists from What’s Up?! Pittsburgh on New Year's Eve, he ended up posing with a poster reading, “I Resolve To Challenge Racism @ Work. #End White Silence" the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.  

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto posted McLay's New Year's Eve photo on his Facebook page, endorsing its message. “I thought there was very little chance for someone to say this was the wrong message to send."

Peduto was wrong. Local police union president Howard McQuillan threw a fit, claiming the sign is anti-cop.

“The chief is calling us racists," McQuillan told CBS Pittsburgh. "He believes the Pittsburgh Police Department is racist. This has angered a lot of officers.” In an email, McQuillan accused the chief of “pandering to the community at the expense of the police community....”

It's an odd accusation. I mean, if you're not racist and want to and racism, why protest the sign? Unless, of course, your department has racism issues you don't want to resolve. 

Given the tensions in New York City between Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYPD—cops disrespectfully turned their backs on Mayor de Blasio at Sunday's funeral for a slain officer—McLay's gesture is a breath of fresh air. Community relations between police and black residents in New York resembles the tense four years David Dinkins was mayor. When Dinkins called for a civilian review board to investigate police misconduct back in 1992, NYPD officers nearly rioted in protest.

Police and community relations aren't much better in many parts of the country today, especially in Ferguson, Mo., where 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by Officer Darren Wilson. The police shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio, revealed sharp racial tensions between law enforcement and the black community there. In the aftermath of these shootings, you'd be hard-pressed to get police chiefs or union heads to admit racism exist in their departments, so McLay is the rare exception. 

“The sign indicated my willingness to challenge racial problems in the workplace," the chief wrote in an email to Pittsburgh officers. He continued:

"I am so committed. If there are problems in the PBP related to racial injustice, I will take action to fix them. To me, the term ‘white silence’ simply means that we must be willing to speak up to address issues of racial injustice, poverty, etc. In my heart, I believe we all must come together as community to address real world problems; and I am willing to be a voice to bring the community together."

McLay was hired in September and says his priority is to end racial tension between the cops and the community. Two years ago, Leon Ford was shot during a traffic stop that left him paralyzed; the Department of Justice is now investigating that case

Though Mayor Peduto tried to assure his officers McLay's sign wasn't anti-cop, he didn't back down from his support of his new chief. 

“Racism is against the law,” he said in a statement. “The police chief’s job is to uphold the law. Basically, he was saying he would do all he can to make sure the law is equitably enforced in 2015. I can’t see why anybody would be upset with that."

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