Protesters assemble outside the McKees Rocks police station June 28 where demands for an investigation of the department were made.
By Jamie Wiggan
Anger rang out through the streets of McKees Rocks and Stowe as more than 100 protesters marched and chanted through four hours of late June heat.
“Black lives, they matter here.”
“No justice, no peace, no
“Who shut it down? We shut
Organized by leaders affiliated with Pittsburgh, I Can’t Breathe, the protesters spoke out on nationwide racial concerns June 28 but also honed in on local institutions and called for Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala to investigate the McKees Rocks Police Department.
“McKees Rocks isn’t failing because of the people, it’s failing because of the police,” said Lorenzo Rulli, one of the protest leaders. “We want the borough to step up.”
Among his complaints, Rulli criticized the department for having no Black officers and said the department is slow to respond to emergency calls in the predominantly Black-occupied Hays Manor Apartments housing complex.
Although situated in McKees Rocks close to the police station, Hays Manor is owned and operated by the Allegheny County Housing Authority, which oversees law enforcement there through its own police department.
The protesters later gathered around Stowe’s municipal building, where they spoke out against the police department and township administration but did not call for an investigation.
Beginning around 3 p.m., the protesters assembled by the intersection of Linden Street and Chartiers Avenue before weaving through sections of McKees Rocks and Stowe and finishing outside the Sto-Rox High School on Russellwood Avenue.
Protesters had contradictory ideas about media coverage during the event, asking some reporters to leave, physically blocking others and occasionally opening umbrellas to interfere with photo and video coverage.
Several local police departments patrolled the area and blocked off streets while mostly staying out of eyeshot from the protesters.
The group stopped outside Black Forge Coffee House, where owner Ashley Corts was handing out water and iced coffee in support of the marchers.
Organizers said Corts had put Black lives at risk by hosting “Coffee with a Cop” events at her original location in Pittsburgh’s Allentown neighborhood. Handed a megaphone, Corts was asked to apologize for hosting the event and make amends by offering her space to Black-led events and hosting a cookout for the community.
Visibly upset, she apologized and complied with their requests.
The marchers also stopped outside Faithbridge Community Church on Broadway, where several church members were serving hot dogs and water.
Rulli blasted the church for accepting money from “racist” radio host Marty Griffin, and said it did nothing to serve the community. Saying the “cookout” set the wrong tone for the protest, Rulli picked up a tray of hot dogs and threw them on the ground. Several protesters toward the back of the group cleaned up the hot dogs as the leaders marched on.
The donation in question came from Green Tree-based attorney, Julian Gray, who last August held a fundraiser for his 50th birthday and asked Griffin to choose a cause — in this case Faithbridge — to forward the money to.
The march finished up outside the Sto-Rox High School, where protesters decried the conditions of the struggling district.
“Black children matter,” one of the organizers declared. To demonstrate, money collected during the event was later distributed to mothers in need.
Before disbursing, protest leaders called on the crowd to show up to future school board and local government meetings, and criticized local politicians for failing to participate in the protest.
Sto-Rox School Board President Samantha Levitzki-Wright assembled with the marchers at the beginning of the protest but dropped out soon after it began.
Wright said she didn’t recognize many locals among the crowd and was put off by the hostile language she heard.
“I don’t want people to associate me with something I don’t believe in,” she said. “I believe in equality, but I can’t get on board with that.”