Today marks two years since the police killing of Black teen Antwon Rose II just outside of Pittsburgh.
Video of the shooting went around the world and prompted demonstrations at home, the arrest and eventual acquittal of the officer involved, and renewed calls for police reform.
But a statewide reform push that followed quickly stalled. Why?
State Sen. Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) and state Rep. Jake Wheatley (D-Allegheny) helped lead that effort, and both blame a lack of bipartisan consensus for the lack of tangible results.
“Unfortunately, I don’t believe many of my Republican colleagues in the Senate saw the seriousness of the issue after Antwon’s death,” Costa said by email. “The Pittsburgh community saw it and felt it deeply and was ready for change, but for some reason, it did not resonate statewide.”
Wheatley added, “A lack of responsible leadership is why nothing has changed.”
But both lawmakers now say the paradigm may be shifting on the heels of another police killing — that of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Floyd’s killing, which was also captured on video, has prompted protests in almost every corner of the commonwealth and country.
As a result, a national reckoning is underway in a nation with disproportionately high rates of police violence, and it’s prompting newly feasible reform proposals at the state and federal level.
Just this week, Pennsylvania lawmakers succeeded in moving forward a bill that would create a confidential statewide database of disciplinary actions and complaints against officers — an idea meant to weed out problem officers and one first floated after Rose’s death. (Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro supports naming the database “The Rose Registry” in honor of Antwon.)
Another advancing proposal would require new forms of police training — including those related to cultural awareness and implicit bias, mental-health screenings for officers that use deadly force, and annual instruction on the use of force and de-escalation tactics.
Action was taken on these proposals after members of Black Legislative Caucus took over the House podium to demand it.
And while these bills are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg as reform proposals go, the initial movement — and receptiveness of state Republicans — is encouraging, if not conclusive.
Costa said he hopes to see floor votes in the Senate and House this summer, adding that the urgency is there, where maybe it wasn’t before.
“The murder of George Floyd (…) has awakened demands for reform nationally,” Costa told The Incline. “The response is unlike anything we’ve seen in this country for a long time. People are more aware than ever of racial inequities, particularly as it relates to our criminal justice system.”
But Wheatley said sustained public pressure is crucial.
“I think legislators and others respond to crisis and threats of civil unrest by looking for the easy and simplest things to do that will get folks to calm down and for now, I see that same energy being deployed,” Wheatley told The Incline. “I’m hoping that the citizens in the streets keep pressuring us to do more than what’s easy and simple! They deserve real systemic changes, not symbolic gestures.”
- Three takeaways from the first day of the Pa. Senate’s police reform hearings (Pennsylvania Capital-Star)
- Gov. Tom Wolf will appoint misconduct watchdog, establish commission to oversee Pa. State Police (Spotlight PA)
- Pa. state House members get a small deposit on GOP’s pledge to air police reform bills (PennLive)
- Here Are the Differences Between the Senate and House Bills to Overhaul Policing (The New York Times)
- Why Pittsburgh just endorsed 8 police reforms that ‘can’t wait’ (The Incline)