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How to get arrested? Stand there.

Posted by Elwin Green on June 27, 2013 at 1:35 AM


 

Journalist Rossano Stewart (striped shirt) and schoolteacher Dennis Henderson (yellow shirt) in handcuffs after a police officer arrested them, according to Mr. Stewart, for obstructing the street.


(UPDATE, 6/27/2013, 12:27 pm - Quotes from Mr. Henderson, addtional commentary at end, new link to extended video.


UPDATE, 6/28/2013, 1:54 am - Mr. Henderson's cell phone video, video of Jerome Jackson. This is the final version of this story. New/additional information will go into a future story, as Homewood Nation continues coverage.)


You've heard of DWB - Driving While Black? Tonight a journalist and a schoolteacher found themselves in handcuffs - and the teacher ultimately landing behind bars - apparently for SWB: Standing While Black.


Rossano Stewart, a reporter-photographer for the New Pittsburgh Courier, and Dennis Henderson, a teacher at Manchester Academic Charter School, were both attending the Community Empowerment Association' meeting on implementing an Urban Agenda, held in CEA's auditorium. They stepped out of the meeting so that Mr. Stewart could interview Mr. Henderson, and Mr. Stewart asked for a business card. Mr. Henderson went to his car to retrieve one.

 

Minutes later, they were both in handcuffs.

 

As Mr. Stewart told it, he and Mr. Henderson were at Mr. Henderson's car, on the driver's side, when a police cruiser came by, coming so close to them that they had to lean back against the car. Mr. Stewart made a comment, and Officer Jonathan Gromek MADE A U-TURN to come back and ask if they had a problem with his driving.


As Officer Gromek got out and approached the men, Mr. Henderson began shooting video with his cell phone. But that didn't last long. 


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Here's Mr. Stewart's first account of the encounter, given minutes after he was released and Mr. Henderson had been taken away, under arrest:


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He would wind up telling the story several more times before the evening was over.

*****************

I had interrupted Mr. Stewart and Mr. Henderson as they were on their way outside, because I wanted to doublecheck a couple of quotes with Mr. Henderson.


He had just spoken in the meeting, about preparing our young people for the future. 


"One of the biggest things we need to do is to look long-term," he said. "More than anything, we need human capital in these neighborhoods."


He spoke about preparing Manchester students by taking some of them to Future City, a national competition in which middle-school students design model cities.


"We were the only all-black school" at the event, he said.


Having heard him say those things in the meeting, then having just spoken with him, made it even more of shock when I saw him handcuffs minutes later.


Most of us were still inside the building when the incident occurred. But Jerome Jackson, executive director of Operation Better Block Inc., was outside, and witnessed the last part of it (in his account, "Rashad" refers to CEA head Rashad Byrdsong; "Mr. Moses" refers to George Moses, who lives in North Point Breeze, but is involved in Homewood through his church, Bethany Baptist):


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Mr. Jackson "got the rest of the people out" by coming back in and shouting that everyone in the building needed to come outside right now. We did, and that's when we saw the scene captured in the photo.

 

What the photo doesn't show is that there were as many as 14 police vehicles there (I counted 11, but others said 14), including a canine unit. 


The entire crowd immediately went into a state of outrage, raising their voices and their cell phones: "Record all police activity in our community all the time!" "This is why we need our own agenda!"

 

After Mr. Henderson was taken away and Mr. Stewart freed, and after hearing Mr. Stewart's first account of the incident, we went back inside the building to talk about what to do. The group agreed that we needed to take some action tonight, rather than waiting until tomorrow. As we went back outside, preparing to leave, Councilman Ricky Burgess arrived. His staffer Marita Bradley, who was attending the meeting, had called him.

 


 

After Councilman Burgess heard Mr. Stewart's story, and after some discussion about where Mr. Henderson would likely be in custody, the group decided to go to Zone 5, and to let Councilman Burgess represent us there in speaking with police. A cameraman from KDKA arrived just in time to go over to Zone 5 with us, and did a preliminary interview with Mr. Stewart there.

 


 

At Zone 5, Councilman Burgess spoke to the desk officer about why we were there, which was first of all, to show our concern for Mr. Henderson, and second to have some sort of conversation with someone in charge.

 

Phone calls were made, and the conversation turned out to be primarily between the Councilman and public safety director Michael Huss, who left a Squirrel Hill community meeting on gun violence to come over to Zone 5. Around 9:15, 9:20, the councilman and Mr. Huss emerged to face us and the TV cameras.

 

Burgess did most of the talking. He said that Mr. Henderson was being arraigned and would be released. The next step in the legal process is a hearing before a judge, which will be in 7 - 10 days. In the meantime, he, Mr. Huss and Rashad Byrdsong would arrange for a meeting - and here is where he had to speak carefully to the crowd - between us and the police.

 

I say he had to speak carefully because some people wanted to have an open community meeting. Burgess made the case for first having a meeting with those of us who had been part of this evening's event; then, if we so choose, having a larger community meeting.

 

I asked how we will know when Mr. Henderson's hearing is held so that we can support him. Councilman Burgess said he would let Mr. Byrdsong know so that he could inform us.


I watched KDKA's coverage at 11 pm. First comment - I'm glad that they came out at all. Second comment - they referred to us as a group of protestors. Which is accurate as far as it goes. But people really need to understand that we weren't a group of protestors at 6:00 - or at 6:30 or 7:00. All evening long we had just been a group of people having a meeting. We became a group of protestors at approximately 7:50 pm, when we went outside and saw two of our own on the ground in handcuffs - one of whom had spoken in the meeting minutes before, the other of whom had been taking photos minutes before. Only then did we become a group of protestors.


I'm going to ask every civic-minded person who is reading this - every person who has ever attended a meeting about how to improve their neighborhood or their community.


If you attended a community meeting and heard a school teacher speak eloquently about the need to prepare your community's young people for the future; if you saw a newspaper reporter whom you knew from their previous coverage of community events, taking notes and shooting photos; and then you went outside minutes later and saw them both on the ground in handcuffs, surrounded by a fleet of police cars...


What would you do?


UPDATED COMMENTARY: On reviewing KDKA's story, there's no mention of "protestors." I think I heard the term as part of a teaser. The question remains, for everyone - if this happened in your neighborhood, what would you do?


The video clip of Mr. Stewart is part of a longer clip that I started shooting right after I took the photo. It runs about 9 1/2 minutes and is now on Homewood Nation's YouTube channel. This clip includes the moment at which I felt the deepest emotion - at 5:14, as CEA head Rashad Byrdsong is speaking, you hear a little girl crying, because the experience of walking down the street has become terrifying for her.


RELATED STORIES

ARRESTED - a first-person account   Teacher Dennis Henderson reflects on his arrest.

Categories: Citizenship and Governance, Public Safety

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14 Comments

Reply Genie Beckom
9:19 AM on June 27, 2013 
I would do what I did. I was at the meeting, and for me, the bottom line is that the Educator should have been released just ast the REPORTER was released. We must speak out because this is an example of what our young people are going through each and every day. How an over zealous police offier, makes bad decisions to the detriment of my people. SIck, of it. We must not going to allow this to continue. And for me, if it was an educator, or a young man walking down the street, we do have rights, and we are aloud to ask questions.
Reply brian funk
9:21 AM on June 27, 2013 
I will participate in whatever action is taken, to show support for those who act to lift up their neighborhood/community and find themselves at odds with THE LAW or "powers that be." the fear and reactionary stupor that this nation finds itself functioning (?) in has got be called out and put on exhibit, for the farce that it is.
bf
Reply Brandi White
11:51 AM on June 27, 2013 
This is a to often occurence with PGH POLICE they are always rude to bystanders. I would have done just about the same, here in this city that would be your only recourse! i am a mother of 10 boys and 2 girls all of whom are doing well socialy and acadimicley and to preserve that my husband has decided to relocate to the west coast for more diversity. Having so many young black males to raise in a city that prodomenitly white with open racisim can be really scairy, case and point JORDAN MILES!!!!!!!!!!
Reply Rachel Kudrick
12:20 PM on June 27, 2013 
This is an outrage. I am in zone 5, and the police have always been kind and helpful. But, of course, I am a white woman, and that is a very different thing in our society. While I can understand that, once a call went out on the radio, other cars showed up, once it was clear that this was not a violent event, those other officers should have left. Does it really take 14 cars to handle a school teacher and a reporter, both of whom are non-violent?

I think that, because of the recent shootings in Homewood, the police (and others) are more hyper-sensitive to any "event." But subduing someone for standing in the street is ridiculous. My uncle was the chief of police in the town where I grew up (in the Midwest), so I am generally very supportive of the police, and believe that, most of the time, they are truly doing what they believe is right and trying to keep the community and themselves safe. I'd like to know: when did two black men standing in the street and talking become dangerous?
Reply Linda D
12:52 PM on June 27, 2013 
Democracy is thwarted when meetings of citizens, who have come together to discuss, plan, and solve problems, are dismantled with nuisance arrests. Question to ask is why do the powers that be not want democracy to take place as it is designed to happen through deliberative dialogue? Who benefits and who loses when people do not even feel safe to gather and discuss their community problems? Yes the people at the meeting needed to become witnesses to the nuisance arrests to make sure these did not escalate. But the agenda of a whole group of people was usurped in that move. The conversation shifted to one the community was not in control over. This loss of democracy is another tragic blow.
Reply Liz
1:21 PM on June 27, 2013 
Thank you Elwin for giving us excellent coverage of this event. It saddens me that these community leaders were treated this way. I hope we're able to learn more about the hearing and how Pitt Police will make this right soon.
Reply Vasilios Scoumis
1:56 PM on June 27, 2013 
Mr. Henderson has been a model citizen for Manchester Academic Charter School, a role model to our children, and an innovative educator. I have worked with Dennis for over 10 years. He recieved a National Teacher of the Year Award in 2013. He does more than teach at MACS, he molds and nutures. I am sure somehow, he will figure out a way to use this as a teachable moment for our children and make this very ugly event into a positive because he is a positive person.

Vasilios Scoumis, CEO
Reply Kenya
3:16 PM on June 27, 2013 
This is disgraceful and outrageous! Just what we need. Great neighborhood initiates squelched when what they're trying to do something on behalf of what should be our collective responsibility towards this city's youth and their education.

This needs to be openly and thoroughly investigated, and the Pittsburgh Police need to be ready to discipline these officers, publicly apologize, clear the victims' records, provide better and more training for them, and figure out a better way to use OUR resources (more than 10 police cars to arrest two innocent men standing on the street?) There must be something more important for most of them to do!
Reply Colin Dean
4:19 PM on June 27, 2013 
Record every interaction with police. If you see a cop talking to someone, record it openly. Do not interfere. Do not lie. Do not comment. Simply record. If threatened with violence, stop recording. Your being illegally instructed to stop a legal action is just as interesting as what may happen when TSHTF.

Ask your legislators to pass a resolution stating that recording police is legal in the city, county, and state. Also, ask that they mandate that police also record all interactions with the public.
Reply Bob Hartley
11:04 PM on June 27, 2013 
To arrest this man was idiotic. The role of the police is not to escalate tension within a neighborhood. On the one hand, they're constantly asking for cooperation from citizens, but how can they expect that cooperation when they behave in this manner? Are the police taught any critical thinking and community relations skills or have they just satisfied with their image as a militarized force occupying communities?
Reply Dr. Marge McMackin
10:49 AM on June 28, 2013 
Dennis Henderson is one of the finest teachers among hundreds that I have observed. Dennis is a young professional of intelligence, integrity, sensitivity and commitment. We are, currently, in desperate need of such teachers who relate to young people as they teach, model, motivate, and capture the minds of students. We cannot allow this OUTRAGEOUS incident to negatively impact the positive and productive work of this outstanding teacher! Stand strong, Mr. Henderson! Stand behind him, community!
Reply Bob Hartley
11:17 AM on June 28, 2013 
I sent the following Email to the zone five community relations officer.

In a recent article regarding the arrest of an African American gentleman in Homewood (Homewood arrest stirs complaints by activists/ Pittsburgh Post Gazette / June 28, 2013), Cmdr. O'Connor stated, ?I understand the community is upset about this, but there is nobody targeting them.? To give him the benefit of the doubt, I?m sure he believes what he?s saying is true, but Michelle Alexander?s well researched book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, makes a very good case that African Americans are being unjustly targeted.

One point the book makes is that although the majority of arrests made are for the possession of small amounts of drugs; and drug use and possession is no more prevalent in African American communities than white communities, African Americans represent the vast majority of those arrests and imprisoned.

Another point made by Ms. Alexander is the reason poor African Americans are being targeted is because The War on Drugs has never been about putting violent offenders or drug kingpins in jail. For the most part, the federal government rewards police departments for the bulk of arrests and not the quality of those arrests. Therefore, targeting those with the least ability to defend themselves against prosecution proves to be the most expedient way of making those arrests.

Now, this in no way means that police officers are literally starting their shift everyday with the intent of targeting African Americans, but unfortunately that's what has occurred.

I would urge Cmdr. O'Connor to pick up a copy of Ms. Alexander's book.
Reply Gene
12:47 PM on June 28, 2013 
I would not be surprised if it were discovered that THAT police officer (whatever his name is) / THOSE officers were sent by somebody--somebody(s) who is/are opponents of the aims of the community empowerment effort--as intentional provocateurs to create an incident around which a reputation of infamy can be associated with the community empowerment gatherings. In this country, even in this so-called "post-racial" era in America, especially as it relates to black folk organizing for self-empowerment, these old-school tactics are still being used! They were used in the South by police years ago...wouldn't be surprised if THAT is what THIS incident is really all about. Question: What DO you do about such nefarious tactics backed by institutional power?
Reply Kenneth Aston
7:29 AM on July 1, 2013 
Wow, get a lawyer brotha!

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