Police Brutality Breeds Public Outrage After Pittsburgh Teen’s Beating

By Guest Columnist Feb 01, 2010

By Matthew Newton This post originally appeared on true/slant. Take a look at the photos of Jordan Miles, the 18-year-old CAPA (Creative and Performing Arts) high school student allegedly beaten by Pittsburgh Police on January 11, and it’s impossible to ignore the signs of force used in his arrest. And while it is questionable whether this level of force was required to subdue a man of Miles’ size, the incident is now center stage, with community groups calling for action and formal investigations set to begin. Last Tuesday, the FBI announced it will investigate allegations that Miles’ arresting officers — Richard Ewing, Michael Saldutte, and David Sisak — brutally beat the teenager:

FBI spokesman Jeff Killeen says the probe is in an early stage that will determine whether there’s “a potential violation of federal civil rights criminal laws” and the need for a more thorough investigation. Killeen says the assessment has begun even though the bureau has not yet received a letter from Jordan Miles’ attorney formally requesting a criminal investigation. (via Associated Press)

And on the heels of the FBI announcement, public outrage played out on the streets of downtown Pittsburgh. Miles’ CAPA classmates, along with local activists and community leaders from groups such as The Black Political Empowerment Planning Council (B-PEP), marched from outside CAPA to the office of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, where a public rally was held. More than 50 classmates from Miles’ school took turns publicly expressing their grief, frustration, and anger over the police beating of their friend and classmate:

“Jordan will never forget what has been done to him, and he will have to live with this for the rest of his life,” said Damarra Underwood, Miles’ classmate at CAPA. “On behalf of his suffering, I believe the police who are involved in this case should be suspended without pay until this case is further investigated.” (via Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

And longtime local activist, and former head of Pittsburgh’s NAACP chapter, Tim Stevens had this to say:

“I cannot remember in my more than 40 years of community activism seeing a picture much worse than that of the severely beaten face of Jordan Miles. I cannot fathom how the Pittsburgh police could in any reasonable way defend the beating, stomping, choking and kicking and hair-pulling of an unarmed, 5-7, 150-pound teenager by three armed police officers.” (via WTAE)

Following comments from activists and Miles’ classmates, Police Citizen Review Board chairwoman Marsha Hinton addressed the crowd and pledged a full investigation, saying: “Most of the members sitting here feel just as much outrage at what has happened to this child.” Earlier in the week, as words of Miles’ beating spread, police chief Nate Harper asked the citizens of Pittsburgh to be patient as the Office of Municipal Investigations looks into the incident. At the same time, members of the Fraternal Order of Police pointed out the accomplishments of Ewing, Saldutte, and Sisak as the city’s best at getting guns off the streets.

“Their actions were correct and law-abiding by everything they received in their training,” FOP Vice President Charles Hanlon said. “The demand by special interest groups that they be removed from the streets is an insult to their hard work.” (via Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

On Wednesday, after what some had viewed as an initial lack of support, the Pittsburgh chapter of the NAACP called for the firing of the officers involved in Miles’ beating and suggested criminal charges be filed. “When a young man is simply walking down a street to get to his grandmother’s house and is savagely beaten almost beyond recognition, we must speak out,” said M. Gayle Moss, president of the Pittsburgh NAACP. Moss also urged police to drop the loitering and aggravated assault charges against Miles. But what happens next? For Miles, physical recovery is the first step. Last week, the young violinist and honor roll student told NPR that he was still awaiting physician approval to return to school, and suffering from nightmares and flashbacks. At the same time, however, the fate of officers Ewing, Saldutte, and Sisak, the undercover officers who arrested Miles on suspicion of gun possession, remains unclear. At last word, the men had been ordered to uniformed office duty with no disciplinary action taken. And the charges against Miles still stand. “I feel that my son was racially profiled,” Terez Miles told NPR earlier this week. “[Homewood is] a rough neighborhood; it was after dark. … They assumed he was up to no good because he’s black. My son, he knows nothing about the streets at all. He’s had a very sheltered life, he’s very quiet, he doesn’t know police officers sit in cars and stalk people like that.” Claims of police brutality and racial profiling are sensitive subjects in Pittsburgh, especially given the city’s history of police violence against Black citizens. In the wake of this recent incident, the names of past victims have been appearing with increasing frequency: Johnny Gammage, Maneia “Little Stoney” Bey, Deron S. Grimmitt, Jerry Jackson, and Micheal Ellerbe. Each name represents an incident that ended in the death of a black citizen. And in each case, officers were acquitted of any wrongdoing.