As Allegheny Co. Council forms police review board, one member shares story of being racially profiled

By: - April 30, 2021 1:56 pm

Allegheny Co. Councilmmber DeWitt Walton (Pittsburgh City Paper photo)

By Ryan Deto

PITTSBURGH — On Tuesday, Allegheny County Council voted to create an Independent Police Review Board for the county police department after a two-year effort to create a commission that would provide oversight and accountability to the region’s second largest police force.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said he supports the measure and will sign the ordinance, which passed by a vote of 9-5.

The review board will be established in 2022, with nine members and will have jurisdiction over the Allegheny County Police Department. Other municipal departments throughout the county can opt-in to the review board. The bill was supported by nine of the 12 Democrats on council, and was opposed by three Democrats and two Republicans.

As WESA-FM reported, opponents criticized the measure, saying it would not accomplish what supporters wanted, and instead said funds should be spent on body cameras for police officers. But before the vote, Allegheny County Councilor DeWitt Walton, who represents the city’s Hill District, shared two personal stories about being racially profiled by police.

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Walton is one of two Black councilors on the 15-member body and has worked in the Civil Rights division of the United Steelworkers union for more than 25 years. He was raised in Gary, Ind., and in an impassioned speech, shares two incidents of police encounters he had in Northern Indiana. The full audio of the short speech was shared by WESA-FM journalist Chris Potter.

Pittsburgh City Paper transcribed the full speech below. Warning: This transcript includes a racial epithet.

Walton: I have been a battler all of my life. In 1978, on a September morning at 5 o’clock a.m., I was driving down a road on my way home. And I was pulled over by a Munster Police Officer. And when I asked him, what did he pull me over for, he said, “You’re running too close to the yellow line.”

And I said, “Running too close to the yellow line?” And then he said, “[N-word], what the hell are you doing out here at 5 o’clock in the morning?! If I catch you out here again, I am going to blow your damn head off.”

I was terrified. I thought there was a good chance of me dying. And he let me go, and I got in my car and drove home and I never went to Munster again, and I won’t go there when I go back home to visit. [Chokes up].

In 1985, at Portage, Indiana. Brand new car. I got pulled over again, by the Portage Police. I had my girlfriend in the car. He wouldn’t let my girlfriend drive my car home. We left it on the side of the road.

She walked to a gas station, he put me in a squad car in the front seat and handcuffed me. Drove a mile down the road, pulled off to the side of the road and told me to get out.

I told him, “I am not getting out. If you kill me, you are going to kill me in this front seat.”

My girlfriend had walked to a gas station and called my brother, who was a sergeant in the Gary, Indiana Police Department and told him what happened. [Chokes up] My brother rallied a bunch of police officers and came to Portage, Indiana and got me.

We need this! We cannot do this any longer. It happened to me. If it happened to me, it happens to too many! We gotta do what’s right.

Ryan Deto is a reporter for Pittsburgh City Paper, where this story first appeared

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