Community speaks out against hate

A picnic promoting love and unity was held at Avalon Park on Sunday.

With criminal charges still pending against six people associated with a “White Nationalist” hate group for the assault of a local black man in an Avalon bar last month, two events have been scheduled to express the community’s intolerance of racism and hate crimes, and to question the way the case was handled by Avalon Police.

Paul Morris Sr. said that he was attacked July 7 by a group of people, some of whom identified themselves as being associated with the statewide hate group “Keystone United,” formerly known as the “Keystone State Skinheads.”A number of bar patrons and employees confirmed Morris’s report that members of the group used racial slurs and stated their intention to eradicate black people.

Although Avalon Police apprehended and identified six people -- four males and two females -- that night, all were released and criminal charges were not filed until after The Citizen broke the story on Aug. 13, and it was picked up by Pittsburgh area and national media.

Due to the fact that only one of the six people charged is from the North Boroughs, police chose to file charges of simple assault, ethnic intimidation, and criminal conspiracy by summons. A summons is a court order requiring a defendant to appear before the court at a specific date and time, at which time bail is set. Failure to appear at the hearing will result in the issuance of arrests warrants that will require the defendant to be held without bail and transported to the issuing court.

Community response was swift and several groups and many individuals began discussing ways of sending the message that their community would not tolerate hate crimes or racism in any form.

Two Pittsburgh area organizations held a “Unity Picnic” at Avalon Park and pool on Sunday, Aug. 12, 2-5 p.m. The event to promote “love and unity” was sponsored by BLaQK OPS -- a group of community activists that has lent its support to a number of issues impacting the black community in Pittsburgh -- and the Steel City John Brown Gun Club -- part of the “Redneck Revolt” movement that has arisen to fight the spread of “White Nationalist” hate groups, and describes itself as an “anti-racist, anti-capitalist” group.

The picnic, which promised food, drinks and music, was held on the one-year anniversary of the death of Heather Heyer during a rally in Charlottesville, VA. Heyer died and a number of people were injured when a reported Neo-Nazi backed his vehicle into a group of people protesting against the message of White Nationalists.

The second event will occur on Tuesday, Aug. 21, as a group of local pastors leads a march from the Bellevue borough building to the Avalon borough hall, where Avalon Council will meet later that evening.

According to a statement issued by the group, “These pastors and other members of the faith community want to publicly denounce racism, hate, violence, and inaction and expose them as unbiblical. We strongly believe that when something like this happens in our community, there must be a clear response. In these circumstances, apathetic silence is complicity, so we are making a statement that racial violence will not be tolerated.”

The group has submitted questions regarding how the local incident was handled by police, and hope to receive answers from officials in both Avalon and Bellevue.

“We view this unfortunate situation as an opportunity to examine the policies and procedures of local law enforcement and to ensure that all of our citizens are protected by the law. We have joined forces with community members, both within and outside of our churches, to assemble for this cause. We are asking questions of our borough leadership to determine the source of delayed and inadequate justice: whether the problem was insufficient policies or a failure to enforce existing policies. We want to call for accountability in our policing. Inaction from the authorities and the community disenfranchises people. This leads to mistrust, alienation, increased tensions, and may even cause some to take matters into their own hands. We don't want anyone in the North Boroughs to be terrorized and left vulnerable by those sworn to protect them. By speaking up now, we hope to create a better community dialogue and prevent further violence. We are not protesting against the police, but we are refusing to be complicit in injustice and calling for honesty and accountability.”

Although led by Christian pastors, the march is open to and welcomes people of all faiths and beliefs. Participants will meet at the Bellevue borough hall at 5:30 p.m. to hear speakers and make signs, then will peacefully march to the Avalon borough hall in time for the 7 p.m. council meeting.

“Our march is called 'Protect us North Boros' because we want everyone in the North Boroughs to be protected from intimidation and violence. When justice is not equally administered, we believe it is our civic and Christian duty to hold people accountable and call for change.”

Those interested can visit the facebook page “Protect us North Boros.”