Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay responded Friday to the head of a local police union who said that the chief called out his own department for being racist.
McLay sent a department-wide email responding to the city’s Fraternal Order of Police President Howard McQuillan, who took offense when McLay posed for a picture on New Year’s Eve while holding a sign that read “I resolve to challenge racism @ work. #EndWhiteSilence.”
— WHAT’S UP?! (@endwhitesilence) January 1, 2015
“…Our current Chief of Police (is) insinuating that we are now racist, merely by the color of our skin and the nature of our profession. I say enough is enough!” McQuillan wrote in an email to police, as quoted by local TV station WTAE.
In his response, McLay explained that he ran into a group “seeking people of all races to join the discussion about racial inequality and injustice” during Pittsburgh’s First Night celebrations at a coffee shop. He agreed to participate and to be photographed holding the sign.
“To me, the term ‘white silence’ simply means that we must be willing to speak up to address issues of racial injustice, poverty, etc,” he wrote. “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 community together.”
“I saw no indictment of police or anyone else in this sign, but I do apologize to any of you who felt I was not supporting you; that was not my intent,” McLay added.
McLay’s email follows a similar letter from Nashville Police Chief Steve Anderson that went viral last week. Anderson was responding to a resident who criticized his department for serving hot chocolate to anti-police brutality protesters and for allowing the protesters to cut off an interstate highway.
Here’s the full text of McLay’s email, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
From: McLay, Cameron
Date: Friday, January 2, 2015
Subject: Race and Police…
To: Bureau of Police
It appears my having been photographed with a sign supporting racial justice at work and “white silence” has offended some. If any of my PBP family was offended, I apologize. You are very important to me and I would never hurt you purposefully. Let me explain the back story:
I stopped at a coffee shop at First Night, and ran into the group seeking people of all races to join the discussion about racial inequality and injustice. We spoke for a few minutes about how implicit, or unconscious bias results in misunderstanding on all sides, and how the need is for dialogue to clear up misunderstanding. They asked for me to take a picture holding a sign.
The sign indicated my willingness to challenge racial problems in the workplace. 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 community together.
I saw no indictment of police or anyone else in this sign, but I do apologize to any of you who felt I was not supporting you; that was not my intent.
The reality of U.S. policing is that our enforcement efforts have a disparate impact on communities of color. This is a statistical fact. You know, as well as I, the social factors driving this reality. The gross disparity in wealth and opportunity is evident in our city. Frustration and disorder are certain to follow. The predominant patterns of our city’s increased violence involves black victims as well as actors. If we are to address this violence, we must work together with our communities of color.
We, the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, need to acknowledge how this reality feels to those impacted communities. Crime and disorder take us to the disadvantaged communities, which are predominantly those of color. The disparities in police arrest and incarceration rates that follow are not by design, but they can feel that way to some people in those communities.
I know, because I have been there too. My own street drug enforcement efforts were well intended but had an impact I would not have consciously chosen. In retrospect, we should have been far more engaged with those in the communities where we were doing our high-impact, zero tolerance type policing; to obtain the consent of those we were policing.
We will be engaging in training to refine our policing efforts in the near future. In the mean time, simply approach your job mindfully, with a continued motivation to protect and serve.
Please beware also, race impacts how we view one another, and unconscious bias applies to how we deal with the public. It can also impact how we judge one another; I intend we will confront both through training.
I support your efforts to keep our communities safe, and will back your best efforts to do so. I trust and have faith in you. I also support efforts to improve and restore the communities’ perceptions of justice. The next time you see me engaging in discussions supporting social justice, please remember, we all all guardians of the constitution. This is the mission we all took an oath to uphold.
Please forgive me if I have offended, as that was not my intent. I will be visiting all of the Zones and work units in the coming couple weeks to allow opportunity for open discussion, and look forward to being able to talk these tough issues through.
In the mean time, thank you for your service!