Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay thought he was practicing an important tenet of community policing when he obliged an activist’s request to take a picture holding an anti-racism sign at the city’s New Year’s Eve parade, MSNBC reports. The sign read, “I resolve to challenge racism @ work #EndWhiteSilence.”
Instead of winning praise for addressing the deep-seated issue that continues to divide the nation in the form of deadly and explosive confrontations between police and some communities, the chief has sparked outrage among some critics, including Pittsburgh police union President Howard McQuillan, the report says.
“The chief is calling us racists,” he told KDKA. “He believes the Pittsburgh Police Department is racist. This has angered a lot of officers.”
While issuing an apology Friday for offending anyone, McLay did not back down, MSNBC reports. “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 said, the news station writes. “In my heart, I believe we all must come together as [a] community to address real world problems, and I am willing to be a voice to bring community together.”
In a letter Friday to the rank and file, McLay explained that the sign belonged to an activist at the event, the report says. During the parade, he explained in the statement that he stopped at a coffee shop, where he encountered a group and spoke with them “about how implicit or unconscious bias results in misunderstanding on all sides, and how the need is for dialogue to clear up misunderstanding.”
The police chief, who was hired in September by Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto, has his boss’s support. “Chief McLay has been talking about ways the community and the police can come together to address racial issues from the very beginning of his time here in Pittsburgh, and Mayor Peduto completely supports him—that’s why he hired him,” spokesman Timothy McNulty wrote in an email to MSNBC.
McLay advised officers in his letter to “simply approach your job mindfully, with a continued motivation to protect and serve,” and he said the department would provide further training on issues of racial sensitivity, the report says.
“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,” McLay added.
Read more at MSNBC.