THE BLACK AGENDA
The Pittsburgh Black Political Convention (“PBPC”) recognizes that the Mayor of the City of Pittsburgh has primary responsibility for developing a strategic plan for the City that addresses problems, fosters economic development, and ensures safe and thriving communities. For far too long, the interests and concerns of the African-American community have not been addressed fully or equitably.
In 2010, the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work and Center on Race and Social Problems organized a conference, Race in America: Restructuring Inequality. The goal of the conference was to promote greater racial equality for all Americans. The report on this conference was issued by the University as part of an attempt to redress race-related problems. It states:
“Some problems are worse today than they were during the turbulent times of the 1960s. … Indeed, racial disparities across a number of areas are blatant—family formation, employment, community violence, incarceration, education, and health and mental health.”
For this reason, PBPC is asking all candidates for Mayor to address those problems which have the most deleterious impacts on African-Americans in Pittsburgh and by extension the entire region. Candidates for Pittsburgh Mayor are asked to provide a written response to all of the items included in this Black Agenda, by COB, Wednesday, April 17. Candidates are also asked to prepare a verbal presentation of a 3- to 5-bullet point plan for what you consider to be the major issues that you will advance and actions you will initiate if you are elected Mayor. Please include in your response how your plan will promote greater quality of life outcomes for African-Americans, and reverse the damage the lack of equality has caused for African-Americans living in our most disadvantaged communities.
Poverty and Segregation
African-Americans in Pittsburgh experience greater poverty than African-Americans in any of the 50 largest communities in the United States. Concentrated poverty created by the collapse of the steel industry and off shoring of jobs and by the disinvestment of public-sector resources from minority neighborhoods to more affluent areas, has resulted in devastating poverty in Pittsburgh’s African-American community. This condition, combined with housing discrimination and reduced mass transit access, has exacerbated racial segregation in Pittsburgh to a greater extent than segregation in most major cities, North or South. In fact, even when income levels are comparable, African-American communities are often at greater disadvantage in many quality of life aspects including access to jobs and transportation, quality schools, recreational facilities, and public safety. What policy and approach would you implement as Mayor to alleviate these disparities and increase investment and economic development in poor African-American neighborhoods?
In the early years of the 20th Century, African-Americans were recruited from the South to come to Pittsburgh to work in factories, steel mills and coal mines and other jobs in the Pittsburgh economy. The implosion of the steel industry in the 1970’s and 1980’s created widespread unemployment throughout Pittsburgh, but for a variety of reasons had a greater impact in the African-American community. Manufacturing was replaced by educational and medical facilities (Eds and Meds) which require advanced formal training and education. However, opportunities that grew from that shift have not translated into employment opportunities within the African-American community, thus creating higher unemployment rates for African-Americans. In fact, unemployment among young black males is said to be as high as 50%.
Additionally, African-Americans in Pittsburgh were disproportionately impacted by the loss of jobs following the 2008 recession, and are recovering more slowly than workers of other races or ethnicities. A greater proportion of African-Americans remain out of work with limited prospects for re-employment. Others have returned to jobs with reduced hours, salaries, and benefits and fewer promotional opportunities.
Long-term unemployed and under-employed adults frequently lack sufficient education and/or work experience to obtain employment in jobs that provide a living wage. Further, those with criminal records face barriers to re-entering the workforce, even when the offenses were minor, when they have paid their debt to society, and are well-qualified. As Mayor, what steps will you take to?
- Encourage local employers to provide meaningful opportunities for African-Americans in hiring and promotion practices,
- Ensure the City of Pittsburgh workforce mirrors the demographics of the city at all levels of employment, including supervisory and executive positions, and
- Develop job training and career opportunities for African-American youth throughout the city?
The public education system in Pittsburgh is a deeply troubled institution, especially for African-American students. Research over the last 30 years proves that African-American students have disproportionately higher rates of school suspension and expulsion when compared to white students, and are usually disciplined more frequently and more severely than white students for similar offenses.
Students experiencing frequent and lengthy suspension have a higher incidence of poor performance generally, and on standardized tests in particular, causing these students to drop-out and become delinquent at higher rates. In fact, the dropout rate among black high school students is as high as 30 percent overall, and for African-American males as high as 50%.
The lack of culturally competent teachers and administrators is believed to be directly related to these disparities, meaning most schools are ill-equipped to deal with issues like poverty, discrimination, and negative peer culture. Research shows that cultural insensitivity, when displayed by teachers and administrators, has a negative effect on children’s behavior and their ability to perform well. These conditions, combined with a lack of supportive services, account for much of the achievement gap between African-American and white students.
Also of great concern is the disproportionate closure of schools in African-American neighborhoods. Although the public school system is governed by an elected school board, effective education is critical to the economic success of the entire Pittsburgh region. What would you do as Mayor to improve the quality of education in Pittsburgh? In particular, as Mayor, what steps will you take to reverse these trends relative to African-American educational achievement?
Narcotics and Gun Trafficking and Homicides
Almost every evening, the news reports shootings and homicides throughout the City of Pittsburgh. Most of these shootings are done by African-American youth and the victims are also predominately African-American youth. These shootings are, for the most part, the result of narcotics and gun trafficking. Youth who lack formal education, skills and/or employment opportunities can be easily attracted to a primary means of earning a living available in their communities – drug trafficking. Drug trafficking is enforced by guns! The drug and gun trafficking enterprise is large and well-financed in Pittsburgh and Western PA. The Pittsburgh police seem to be unable to dismantle the drug and gun trafficking enterprise.
Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG) has recognized that increased violence, particularly in African-American communities, is the result of illegal guns that are deliberately trafficked to young African-American males in poor communities to support the illegal drug trade and undermine efforts to improve the safety of these communities. In addition, the rate at which young African-Americans are killed or maimed due to gun violence, and disabled due to drug addiction, greatly exceeds the rates for whites.
What steps would you take to dismantle the Narcotics and Gun Trafficking and Homicide epidemic in Pittsburgh? As Mayor, would you join with MAIG on behalf of the City of Pittsburgh to reduce gun violence? Also, what actions will you take to improve access to culturally competent mental health and substance abuse treatment for individuals and families that have been affected by the drug and gun epidemics? What strategy do you propose for reducing gun violence and addiction in the African-American community?
Police Protection and Police Brutality
- A woman who was recently being beaten by her boyfriend called the police to her Lincoln Larimer home. The police arrived and a man came to the window, refused to allow the police to enter and told the police “everything was alright.” The next day, the woman was found in her apartment shot to death. The police finally tracked down her boyfriend, who then shot himself to death.
- A young CAPA high school student was walking up the street in Homewood to his grandmother’s house, a few doors away. He was approached by three white plain cloths police officers who said they thought he was carrying a gun. They jumped him and beat him, almost beyond recognition.
African-American neighborhoods, terrorized by drug trafficking and violence need as effective police protection as any other neighborhood in Pittsburgh. Yet, many African-Americans are too often in a dilemma as to whether to call the police, because they don’t know whether they will be protected, or whether they will become the victims of police abuse.
In the 1970’s, the City of Pittsburgh Bureau of Police was compelled by a Consent Decree, to hire one black male, one black female and one white female for every white male police officer that was hired. In this manner, the police force became racially and gender diverse. This rule, however, was overturned by the courts. Many of these minority hires are now approaching retirement. Recent police department recruitment classes, with only one or two minorities and a few women reflect Pre Consent Decree practices. As Mayor, what would you do to decrease abusive treatment by police officers and what would you do to increase the numbers of black and female police officers in Pittsburgh?
Also recently, the African-American Chief of Police, Nate Harper was forced to resign and has been indicted on five criminal counts. Other senior police officers have been implicated in the financial mismanagement of overtime assignments and overtime payments deposited in non-city accounts and used for questionable purposes. What is your view of the cause of these allegations of corruption in the police department? What would you do to prevent police corruption? What would be your criteria for hiring a new Police Chief? What would be your approach to working with community based organizations such as the ACLU to develop and publicize the process to be used for hiring a new police chief in the City of Pittsburgh?
Senior Administrative Staff
The Mayor of the city has a generous budget with which to employ personnel in his administration. What would be your policy and approach with regard to racial and gender diversity among senior staff in your administration?
Office of Urban Affairs
The social and economic issues that threaten Pittsburgh’s African-American community are complex and inter-related. They require further research, constant monitoring and effective implementation of inclusive policies. An Office of Urban Affairs that has the blessing of the Mayor’s office would be empowered to monitor and coordinate all of the Mayor’s policies relative to improving the conditions of the African-American community of Pittsburgh. As Mayor, would you be willing to create an Office of Urban Affairs?
The Mayor hires department heads, which are then approved by City Council. What would be your policy and approach with regard to racial and gender diversity among department heads in your administration?
Newly elected Mayors usually want to bring in new managers to replace the managers left over from previous administrations. Oftentimes, the Mayor will form a Transition Team to help structure the new administration and hire new staff. Would you create a transition team? What would be your policy and approach with regard to racial and gender diversity on your transition team?
Authorities and Commissions
Although Authorities and Commissions are governed by independent Boards, these Board Members are appointed by the Mayor. The Mayor also influences, through these appointments, the election of Chairpersons of these Authorities and Commissions. The Mayor also, through these appointments, influences who will be hired as the Executive Directors of these Authorities and Commissions. What would be your policy and approach with regard to racial and gender diversity in Authority and Commission Board appointments, Chairpersons and Executive Directors?
The City of Pittsburgh, through its departments, authorities and commissions, is one of the largest employers in the city. What would be your policy and approach with regard to the employment of minorities and women in the City of Pittsburgh?
Although City Council controls the purse strings of the city budget and approves all contracts, it is the Mayor who executes these contracts. The Prime Contractors and Sub contractors on these contracts provide a wide variety of goods and services to the general city population. Through these contracts, the city is able to grow the capacity of companies and increase wealth among their principals and employees. As Mayor, what would be your policy and approach with regard to contracting with bona fide minority, women and disadvantaged businesses?
The black residents of Pittsburgh make up nearly one-third of the population. Blacks have labored and lived in this town since the city’s very beginning and have helped to make Pittsburgh a successful, modern urban metropolis. We deserve better living conditions than the conditions under which we currently live. We deserve to be visible to and respected by the elected political leadership of the city. We intend to make our voice heard. We look forward to working closely with the next Mayor of the City of Pittsburgh and we wish all of the candidates “Good luck.”