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The Henderson-Stewart Incident: Followup Meeting #1

Posted by Elwin Green on July 1, 2013 at 10:30 PM


Councilman Ricky V. Burgess addresses a closed meeting for people who witnessed any part of the detainment of Dennis Henderson and Rossano Stewart on June 26 by Officer Jonathan Gromek. Beside him sit acting police chief Regina McDonald, operations chief Commander Maurita Bryant, Urban League of Pittsburgh president and CEO Esther Bush and Community Empowerment Association CEO Rashad Byrdsong

When teacher Dennis Henderson was arrested outside of a community meeting in Homewood last week, in an incident that also saw photojournalist Rossano Stewart being handcuffed and released, the group of citizens who went down to Zone 5 headquarters to inquire after Mr. Henderson ended the evening with an agreement to have two meetings in the wake of the incident - first, a closed meeting with ourselves and government and police officials; then an open community meeting.


The first meeting was held tonight. At the front of the room sat 2nd District Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith (who is also public safety chair), Councilman Ricky V. Burgess, acting police chief McDonald, operations chief Maurita Bryant, Urban League president Esther Bush and Community Empowerment Association CEO Rashad Byrdsong. District 8 Councilman Bill Peduto was also present for part of the meeting.


Because it was a closed meeting, news teams from KDKA (Channel 2), WTAE (Channel 4) and WPXI (Channel 11) all had to wait outside and get comments from Councilman Ricky V. Burgess after the meeting. Tune in to any of those stations' late news for his remarks.


And because it was a closed meeting, I won't quote anyone. But I'll tell you the basic structure of the meeting, which was in three parts:


I. Comments from people who attended last Wednesday's meeting, to say what they saw, felt and thought.


II. Comments from the panel, in particular the public safety officials.


III. Recommendations by Councilman Burgess.


There were slight divergences, but we mostly stuck to that.


No major commitments were made, but there was consensus on at least a couple of points: that the charges against Mr. Henderson should be dropped; and that the community should show up in force at his hearing.


The open community meeting is at 6 pm tomorrow, Tuesday July 2, at Community Empowerment Association, 7120 Kelly Street.


While I won't quote anyone else from tonight, I give myself permission to share what I said.


Addressing Chief McDonald and Commander Bryant, I told them that in Mr. Henderson's cell phone video, we hear Officer Gromek saying, "Stop playing with your phone," and that when Mr. Henderson asserts his right to record video, Officer Gromek denies that. I asked if a citizen does have the right to visually record an encounter with an officer. They acknowledged that that right exists.

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Reply PDavis
4:06 AM on July 2, 2013 
Thanks for this account
Reply Queen Lucille
11:44 PM on July 7, 2013 
Please do not ever photograph the back of my flat head again! Lol!
If there is no written agenda for a meeting, then it is very likely that there is a "hidden" agenda. If there are no goals set for a meeting, then it is very likely that nothing will be accomplished, as is what happened at both the so called "community meetings". The door was flung wide open for more political grandstanding and media attention. There was no showing of emotions, no outrage, nothing but more talk. Councilman Burgess' "plan" is to have ongoing training for the police, an annual participation process with the community, people standing up and saying crime is unacceptable, a community structure that teaches the rights of individuals, Blah, Blah, Blah......and, of course, WRITING MORE LEGISLATION, again, for police sensitivity training. Hmm.....seems like we've been here before. Oh, that's right! Jonnie Gammage was murdered by the police because they had not been trained in how not to murder someone. Jordan Miles was beaten by the police because they weren't trained on how not to beat someone to a bloody pulp. So, yes, the taxpayers should shovel out more money to pay to train the police on how to treat people with dignity and respect, which is called "sensitivity training". Let's get real here! Treating people with dignity and respect is a social skill learned from childhood, so let's not fool ourselves into believing that Officer Gromek did not know what he was doing. If Councilman Burgess had any guts he would have, at the very least, confronted the situation head on, instead of tap dancing around the real issue, which is AN ONGOING PATTERN OF POLICE BRUTALITY IN HOMEWOOD!
Reply Queen Lucille
11:45 PM on July 7, 2013 
(continued, part 2)
When questioned about the Jordan Miles legislation that B-PEP worked on for 2 years before submitting it to Councilman Burgess, and which, according to Tim Stevens, has been sitting downtown for OVER A YEAR, Mr. Byrdsong answered for the Councilman yelling that "he would have to check to see what is going on with it"! Tell me again why Mr. Byrdsong is answering for Councilman Burgess? Oh, that's right. I saw CEA on the sign on the new Senior building along with the developers and other folks involved, so that's pretty self explanatory.
Councilman Burgess isn't really interested in seeing any changes because if he were, and being that the meeting was held to discuss Police and Community relations, he would have been PREPARED with a COMPLETE UPDATE on the legislation instead of reading from some notes that he had just jotted down, and proposing to re-invent the wheel....again, and showing his disinterest by taking his shoe off under the table in plain view of everyone and playing with it with his big toe!
As usual, Councilman Burgess made proposals that were not decided upon by the community but by himself, and which were designed to push his political agenda. And all this after we, as a community, sat down together to organize an "Urban Agenda" whereby we, as a community, would begin designing ways of addressing problems in Homewood and not continuing to let people come in and tell us what to do. No sooner than that decision was made, we turn right around and let the exact same thing happen!
Reply Queen Lucille
11:45 PM on July 7, 2013 
(continued, part 3)
The entire meeting, in my opinion, was just another dog and pony show to give Councilman Burgess a platform for media attention and to give the community the impression that he really cares about Homewood so that he can begin earning brownie points for votes in the upcoming 2014 Primary election. If Councilman Burgess really cared, why did B-PEP have to recommend legislation to him in the first place, since he is a "Legislator", as he informed me after his awful "Land Banking" meeting a couple of weeks ago held in the Homewood Library in the room on the second floor which has no air conditioning? What did he do when Jordan Miles, an innocent child with no criminal record, good grades in school, from a good, proud, upstanding Homewood family, was BRUTALLY BEATEN by the Pittsburgh Police? What did he do when 7 people, including a Pgh. police officer, WHO IS NOW PARALYZED, were shot within a 24 hour period in April of this year? What did he do when a baby was shot in East Hills last month? What did he do when Ka'Sandra Wade was shot to death by her boyfriend on January 1, 2013, and what did he do when her boyfriend shot himself to death just blocks from the Councilman's home a day later? NOTHING!!! As usual! Oh, correction! His bright idea is to install cameras to watch over us slaves on the Homewood Plantation so that he doesn't have to take the time to come to the community and interact with us AT ALL! Now there's an idea! More money that taxpayers will have to shell out!
Mr. Byrdsong proposed holding a Public Hearing in City Council and filing a Class Action Lawsuit. I don't think the Acting Police Chief was too excited to hear about that. Neither of these proposals were discussed with the community either!
So we have the Burgess-Byrdsong plans for the community, also known as the B & B Plan. Hmm........that sounds familiar. B&B, B&B.........Was it Bed & Bath? Oh! I remember now! Beavis and Butthead were sometimes referred to as B&B! How appropriate! Lol!
Let me remind you that Councilman Burgess WAS NOT AT THE COMMUNITY MEETING being held when the incident happened. His Assistant Marita Bradley, or whatever her title is because she never introduces herself or speaks to anyone when she comes into the community, but just sits there usually playing with her phone and/or looking very uninterested, was at the meeting and I was informed, by a very reliable source, that someone called her and told her to call the Councilman, who showed up after everything was over.
Councilman Burgess claimed that he has "direct access" to Public Safety Director Michael Huss, Acting Chief McDonald, and other public safety officials. What good is direct access if he does not have the power to ensure some type of IMMEDIATE ACTION in cases such as this, such as having the charges dropped so that Dennis Henderson would not have to shell out money to an attorney from his teacher's salary, jeopardizing his ability to make a living for himself and his family because of a frivolous criminal charge that could prevent him from teaching, and suffering through a long, exhaustive court process. And please don't think that it can't happen! Truly powerful people have charges dropped all of the time, but obviously Councilman Burgess isn't one of them.
Myself and some other folks do want to see Immediate action taken to restore Mr. Henderson and make him whole again, which is why we held an "Independence Day" action at the Zone 5 police station on July 4th, declaring Independence from Police Brutality, with the GOAL of having the charges dropped against Mr. Henderson and having officer Gromek placed on Administrative Leave until a complete investigation into the incident is conducted. Our requests may not be honored, but at least we did something immediate, concrete and specific to bring attention to the urgency of the matter!
No one is saying all police officers are bad, but the ones that are need to be held accountable for their actions, and if our elected officials are afraid to do it, then we, as a community, have to step up. If we don't, there will be other victims, and one of them might be YOU!
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