PPT’s Statement on the Killing of Bruce Kelley, Jr.

Feb 11, 2016

Contact: Molly Nichols, 412-216-9659, molly@pittsburghforpublictransit.org

Pittsburghers for Public Transit is deeply concerned and upset about the killing of Bruce Kelley, Jr. by Port Authority police. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this difficult time. We are also deeply concerned about the use of the police dog on a person, both in this instance and in all instances.

We understand the District Attorney, Steven Zappala, is leading an investigation into whether or not the use of deadly force was justified. We also think the investigation should include whether or not the use of the police dog was justified. We agree with the hundreds of residents, including some journalists, who contend that the Port Authority police should have taken different steps to handle this situation. And each of these officers should be better trained to interact with individuals who suffer from mental illness.

Using police dogs to attack people, given the history of the practice—particularly against African Americans—and unpredictability of the outcomes, should never be an option for the police.  The practice is inhumane for both the dog and the person being attacked. It is illogical to expect a person not to defend oneself when being mauled by a dog. Releasing the dog puts both the dog and the person in harm’s way.

The death of Bruce Kelley, Jr is part of a national pattern where individuals, and disproportionately African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans, are killed in encounters with the police, where their death was clearly avoidable. We expect the Port Authority police to undergo training that addresses the impact of implicit bias on police behavior. This concern also came up in response to the Wood St T station arrests on December 16, 2015.

Much of the Port Authority’s actions to date, along with the media coverage, has been focused on the death of Aren, the police dog. The Port Authority closed bus stops and conducted a procession and funeral for the dog. While we too mourn this dog’s death, we are very concerned about the Port Authority’s silence on the death of a human being. The family found out about Bruce Kelley, Jr’s death on the television. We are very concerned that his name was not withheld until his family was notified.

Finally, PPT believes that the Port Authority should convene an open public hearing to seek residents’ comments regarding the training and tactics of the Port Authority police.