PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – The Black Political Empowerment Project wants to see a resolution to the Leon Ford civil rights case.
The original trial against two Pittsburgh Police officers ended with a mixed verdict last week. The charges against one officer were dropped, but the jury was deadlocked on excessive force charges against the second officer. The second officer will be retried.
But, community leaders say the dispute has gone on long enough.
Ford was shot five times by police on Nov. 11, 2012. He was 19 years old at the time. He survived the shooting, but was paralyzed.
“Five shots are a lot of shots at close range,” says Tim Stevens, the Chairman & CEO of the Black Political Empowerment Project (B-PEP). “For him to survive was significant.”
Ford claims he did nothing wrong, and that police mistook him for a gang member with a similar name. Police say they didn’t shoot at Ford until he tried to drive away.
“None of us may ever really know what really happened on that date,” says Stevens. “There may have been bad decisions on all sides.”
Now, B-PEP wants to revive an initiative to help young people understand what to do if they’re stopped by police. They say the same guidelines can be applied to adults, too.
“When stopped, just turn the engine off,” says Stevens. “That way, police are sure that you’re not going anywhere… Put your hands on the wheel or on the side of the car so they can see your hands and what you’re doing. At night, turn the light on (the dome light), so they can see that you’re being open and transparent.”
Community leaders are also pushing for more training for members of law enforcement, so incidents like Ford’s can be avoided.
“This has got to stop,” says Richard Stewart, Jr., the President of the NAACP. “This goes from the officers all the way up. Let’s sit down and talk, and let’s discuss this, even with the officers at the academy. Whatever we need to do… we will do that.”
B-PEP is encouraging Ford and police to settle the case, so everyone can put the incident behind them.
“We don’t want to see any more young people in wheelchairs,” says Stevens. “We don’t want to see any more young people in graves. We don’t want to see any more of our young people arrested, beaten or otherwise…. We want to move forward, and we hope that’s going to happen.”