Racial Profiling: Whole Sale “Criminals”

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[Tales From The Blue Side]

In the fall of 1990, I visited my mother in North View Heights, a public housing community on the North side of Pittsburgh, accompanied by my then husband and our two children.

When my youngest brother explained to me that he was running late and asked me if I would drive him and his friend to work, I told him no problem.  I asked my mother to keep an eye on the children while I drove Rance and his friend to work. We left my mother’s house in good spirits, laughing as we climbed into my car. We drove one block and I paused at the stop sign before proceeding up Mount Pleasant Road.

Seemingly, out of nowhere, three unmarked vehicles surrounded my car and blocked me from moving. The car doors flew open, and what looked like seven men all dressed in black with weapons in their hands jumped out.

“Put your fucking hands where we can see them,” one of them yelled. I turned to my brother in the passenger seat and he reassured me that I had not missed the stop sign.

The men with guns continued screaming at me to surrender the “fucking drugs.” I turned to my brother and his friend and they assured me that neither of them had drugs.

I’ll never forget the sickening sound of shotguns being pumped and readied to blow our heads off. “Get the fuck out of the car now!” I heard. The men continued screaming obscenities and shouting orders while aiming their weapons at us.

I carefully stepped out of the car with my shaking hands visible. I quietly cautioned my brother and his friend to play it cool; to stay calm. 

We had seven masked individuals, each one of them armed and dangerous, holding us at gunpoint. My brother and his friend were pulled out of my car. My brother’s head was banged against the car door as he was pulled from the vehicle. The armed men screamed for the two young men to get on the ground.

Once they were down, the cops quickly handcuffed them. “Why are you stopping me?” I demanded. “What’s going on?”
“Shut the fuck up and give us the drugs,” one man shouted at me. A Black-clad female reached into the car and grabbed my purse off the front seat. She looked through and triumphantly pulled out a roll of cash and held it up.

“What the fuck is this?”  She began to verbally abuse me, insisting that I was a “drug dealer’s bitch” and that I had better turn over the drugs.

I looked at her like she had lost her mind. “That’s me and my husband’s pay. I can tell you exactly how much is there,” I insisted.

I was handcuffed and taken to an unmarked car. My brother and his friend were placed in another vehicle. I was then transported to a holding area. There were at least 30 people already there. I recognized quite a few of them. They were as surprised to see me as I was to see them. After talking to a few people, I finally understood what was going on.  I was caught up in a drug sweep. The DEA, Pittsburgh Police and Housing Authority Police were conducting an undercover “Sting” in North View Heights. 

I was being processed and fingerprinted as I protested my innocence. To pass the time, I talked to the other hostages. Many of them were regular working folks who had no idea why they were arrested. I attempted to explain to anyone in authority that a mistake had been made, but no one listened. As bad as things were, it was about to get worse.

The police called the local media so that they could film the perp walk. Before the media arrived, the police placed the money that they had taken out of my purse on a table and spread it out like a fan. They then put a small amount of crack cocaine, that I assume they confiscated from another location during their raid, on one side and a small caliber gun on the other side of the money.

The police invited the media in to film the money, drugs and the gun. We were forced to get in a single file line so that the media could get their pictures. The story broke the 6:00 News as a successful "Sting Operation” in North View Heights. I still remember the bright lights from the cameras shining in my face.

My family saw me on the 6:00 PM News.

In 1990, I worked with children and other protected populations and I knew a pending drug charge would prevent me from passing any of the required state clearances. I had young children of my own who watched television.

When I went before the judge, I learned I had been charged with “Refusing to Disperse,” “Inciting a Riot” and “Disorderly Conduct.” Every one before me had simply pled guilty to the charges so that they would be released. I protested the charges and told the judge that there had been a mistake. I told the judge that the DEA, Housing Authority and Pittsburgh Police had taken a community hostage under the pretense of a “Sting Operation.”

The female police officer, who had called me names, shouted to the judge that I had threatened her life. The judge added “Terroristic Threats” to my charges. I remember my mother’s shock as I was handcuffed in the courtroom and escorted back to a jail cell. I couldn't help but notice the triumphant smirk on the cop’s face as I was led away.

I spent the night in jail, but eventually, I was released. I was able to provide pay stubs and all my money was returned. My brother’s $150 was never recovered. My car was at the City Towing Pound in Pittsburgh's Strip District with the steering column busted open, damaged by the police when they were searching for drugs.

I tried to find someone or an organization that could prevent something like this from happening again.  I ran into nothing but brick walls. No one gave a damn. I was traumatized and disillusioned by my experience, but I had a family to look after.
Soon after my encounter with the Pittsburgh Police, my husband and I gathered our small family and we moved out of the City of Pittsburgh.  

The Black Star News invites submissions from readers about their encounters with the Police in their respective communities or cities. Be very specific and provide names of the officers and their precincts whenever possible.

Submit them to Milton@blackstarnews.com

“Speaking Truth To Empower.”

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