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An Open Letter to Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay

In Articles on December 26, 2014 at 1:07 am

“Understandably, our appreciation and respect become challenged when we collectively put too much pressure on ‘the community’ to change its ways without calling for and overseeing appropriate, holistic, and long-term actions of accountability by those with the capabilities to enforce laws, ensure ethics, and commit traumatic and life-ending acts within the blink of an eye. ” – – – Lenny McAllister, “An Open Letter to Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay” (Christmas Day, 2014)

Christmas Day, 2014

Dear Chief McLay,

Belated congratulations on your new role here in our community. As you will quickly find out, Pittsburgh, PA is a very unique place, full of both wonderful characteristics and noteworthy challenges. It is truly a place worth living in, working for, and improving upon as we head into 2015 and beyond together.

I commend you on your willingness to write an open letter to us within “the community” to address race relations between police departments and communities of color throughout the nation as well as here in our hometown of Pittsburgh. The necessary of your letter and the nature of these tenuous times churned my spirit to reply to your letter immediately as a member of “the community”, even on this blessed holiday of Christmas. Perhaps it is most appropriate that on a day of celebration of the gifts of life and redemption, this conversation sprouts forth a new hope.

It is unfortunate that this latest invitation for dialogue and partnership comes on the heels of the horrific and deplorable killings of two officers in New York and anonymous threats against officers in several cities including Pittsburgh. Yet, over the history of America, incidents and patterns of violence and violations against African-Americans are initially and responsively met with calls for patience and calm, while reactions to inexcusable acts of violence against selective others due to social unrest and imbalances are met with calls to action. One could view the transition of Mr. Derbish from in-uniform duty to plain clothes duty (akin to the tragic situation involving Pittsburgh’s Jordan Miles and Philadelphia’s Darrin Manning – incidents where police misconduct was alleged against law-abiding African-American young men by plain-clothes officers) to desk duty in such a vein; (his removal from “the community” and public interaction coming after multiple Zone 5 protests and the ghastly shooting of members of the NYPD.) Despite this repetitive pattern re-emerging – engagement as a result of violence against a particular portion of our community after years of overlooking the lingering injustice hampering us all – a genuine step in the right direction is a welcomed step towards overarching peace nonetheless.

I also thank you for your understanding that, indeed, we face a “…crisis of confidence…” between Black citizens of this nation (particularly those living in urban America) and police forces (and, therein, the criminal justice system overall). After die-ins and protests in places such as downtown Pittsburgh and Ross Park Mall here in our region along with the circumstances playing out in Mall of America, the Brooklyn Bridge, and Ferguson (among others), it is good that the nation is facing collectively what Black America has dealt with for generations: a jaundiced view of the American ethos “…liberty and justice for all…” and that “…all men are created equal…” – resounding sentiments that we are all taught as children but we regularly do not apply or experience as we come of age in this country.

Chief McLay, the re-focus on accountability is respectable yet incomplete. I caution us all against the comfort of civic conversation when the courage for community enhancement is required. Demonstrating “…to our communities of color that we hear and understand the pain…” may be devoid of meaning if a kinetic understanding of the structural, cultural, and functional problems that keep us at this point of general tension and mistrust lacks 360-degree progress.

You ask several questions in your open letter. They include:

(W)hat are we going to do, Pittsburgh? Police work is often not pretty.

Officers must arrest violators. Violators often resist, sometimes violently.

When the next ugly incident happens, will we be willing to withhold judgment and control our emotions long enough to give each other the benefit of the doubt? Are we going to work together toward reconciliation? Are we going to work on listening to one another with the intention of compassionate understanding?”

Yet, your questions – regrettably – permeate the problems with community perceptions that must be addressed, affected, and aligned with the true spirit of the aforementioned American ethos if we are to succeed as one big team.

To be fair, African-Americans in Pittsburgh – much like the rest of Pittsburgh and our region – appreciate and respect our police bureau, especially as we concur that “…police work is often not pretty.”

As well, we agree: “…officers must arrest violators.” However, we also believe that violators maintain their constitutional rights – notably that of “innocent until proven guilty.” Sadly, our appreciation and respect are challenged when these constitutional rights are bruised during police interactions. They become bruised when police abuse of suspects (citizens that are presumed innocent until proven guilty) occur in places such as Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Chicago, and elsewhere – often with no “…punitive reasons…” or actions towards reassignment or firings afterward (such as the case here in Pittsburgh) despite life-altering breaches of training, procedures, or laws.

We agree: “…Violators often resist, sometimes violently…” However, we wonder why Eric Frein, Dominic Adesanya, and Omar Gonzales can be taken alive to have their days in court – enjoying their presumptions of “innocent until proven guilty” – while a Black man “armed” with a toy gun (in a toy section of Wal-mart) and a 12-year-old Black youth – both living in an “open carry” state – were cut down by officers that acted as “…judge, jury, and executioner…” The pain felt by “the community” runs deeper with the reality that often times, these incidents include officers that have prior questionable incidents in their backgrounds. Disturbingly, our appreciation and respect are challenged when these inconsistencies between incidents involving fellow citizens highlight dual and disjointed tracks of police-public interactions and expectations in our United States.

We agree: we must be willing to “… withhold judgment…control our emotions…give each other the benefit of the doubt… work together toward reconciliation…listening to one another with the intention of compassionate understanding.” We must all be “…extremely concerned about the potential for similar violence and for the safety of our officers…”

However, we must also focus on results that are tangible, holistic and historic – not merely reactionary, targeted, and cursory.

Withholding judgment must include “the community” processing all of the facts on a case-by-case basis just as it must include Pittsburgh police and others within law enforcement pushing aside racial profiling to deal with members of the community individually – thus discontinuing indignities such as the one that I (again) endured as a law-abiding citizen in the city just this month. Withholding judgment against all cops cannot be met with the continuation or condoning of “stop-and-frisk”, “driving while Black”, and “jump-out squads” tactics and philosophies.

Controlling our emotions must include eradicating vitriolic rhetoric against all police officers just as it must erode the knee-jerk public stances to protect officers involved in police misconduct or the indiscriminate rejection of protests denouncing said behavior.

Working together towards reconciliation must include making sure that all citizens are appropriately safe during all interactions between police and the public – most notably “the community” – not just citizens that wear a badge.

Being “…extremely concerned about the potential for similar violence…” must hold the same resonance and importance for citizens’ safety within “the community” as it does “…for the safety of our officers” – especially when execution-style murders of brave police officers by suicidal gunmen are rarer than the once-every-28-hours tragedies that befall communities of color in America in recent years from Charlotte to Milwaukee.

Understandably, our appreciation and respect become challenged when we collectively put too much pressure on “the community” to change its ways without calling for and overseeing appropriate, holistic, and long-term actions of accountability by those with the capabilities to enforce laws, ensure ethics, and commit traumatic and life-ending acts within the blink of an eye.

Compassionate understanding comes from the acknowledgment that pain forecasts an issue that must be remedied immediately and properly so that discomfort can subside and dysfunction can cease. Sir, it is of the utmost importance that the discomfort currently felt throughout America (particularly within police bureaus such as ours here in Pittsburgh) is remedied alongside the underlying dysfunction simultaneously lest the pain continue and the problems remain. Sadly, the issues between police and “the community” that are highlighted during times of police misconduct and controversial interactions with us are symptomatic of the greater societal conundrum regarding the modern-day disjointedness, disparities, and frustrations based on race in America. These are hardly issues that exclusively burden police forces. We all as Americans own them. Yet, the burdens involved in police-community interactions uniquely entail irreversible consequences that occur in lightning-quick moments – thus prompting immediate remedy.

Rest assured, Chief McLay, that your job and those of the thousands of officers that serve throughout America are not thankless at all. We commend you all for your service and pray for your safety daily. The core values of “Accountability, Integrity and Respect” are honorable, especially as long the duty to protect and serve all American citizens and Pittsburgh residents – including those in “the community” – remains paramount.

The truth is: we have the ability to shift an oft-ignored national paradigm between Black America and police forces, including the inconsistent one between affected Pittsburghers and the police force in our hometown. My faith as a native of the region, as a father of 3 African-American sons, and as a Believer prompt me to ensure that we, indeed, all choose wisely for better days ahead. Through ongoing appropriate protests, representative engagements of stakeholders, new relationships of trust, and necessary progress, things must improve for citizens on both sides of the badge for Pittsburgh to truly be a most livable city. I believe that they will.

Happy Holidays to you and yours as well as to those throughout our Pittsburgh community.

 – Lenny McAllister, Pittsburgh-born community advocate and urban activist, current Pittsburgh boomerang and resident

Ferguson and the Reflection of the Legacy of Our Original Sin – and Obstacle (August 22 2014)

In Video on September 1, 2014 at 3:11 pm

“Until we come to grips with the current racial disparities in perception, interaction, employment, and societal matters, we’ll meet on the streets once again in the near future…for another rounds of protests over the same resolvable issues.”

PITTSBURGH (August 22, 2014) – (Pittsburgh Cable News Channel)

“One year after the controversial not-guilty verdict freeing George Zimmerman after the shooting death of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin…Ferugson, Missouri exploded after the death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown…Many Americans hit the streets to protest the latest controversial death, just as they did last summer. Sadly, the protests this time echo the concerns not just for one life, but for a startling trend.

“In New York City, Eric Garnder was asphyxiated…in California, a highway patrol man was caught punching a disoriented, older black woman in the face during a pedestrian encounter…there is also the questionable shooting death of Ezell Ford at the hands of the LAPD.

“In Colorado in 2012, a killer with semi-automatic weapons makes it out of a movie theater – alive – after shooting dozens in cold-blood. In Ohio this year, a man dies in the toy section of Wal-mart with a toy gun in his hand – shot in cold blood by an officer that has a questionable past concerning justifiable homicide while on the police force. Cliven Bundy could stand off against the united states government with armed neighbors at his side. Marissa Alexander – a survivor of domestic violence – is in jail right now for arming herself against a man that previously beat her to the point of hospitalization.

“What’s the state of race relations in America, especially when police shootings of Blacks seems to be going in the wrong direction despite crime statistics generally heading in the right direction? Perhaps the questions we should be asking include: how come innocent until proven guilty applies to some citizens, while guilty until proven innocent – repeatedly – is the norm for other citizens? When some loudly proclaim citizens rights against the government, are they also actively defending the civil rights of black youth…when encountering the police? And why do we think that we can devalue each other as American citizens – and then expect Vladmir Putin, kim Jong-un, and ISIS to respect us as the military and moral leader of the world?”

Catch Lenny’s “Starting Point” concerning America’s reflections and reactions to Ferguson and other incidents of racial tension on the Pittsburgh Cable News Channel by clicking the picture above or by clicking HERE

Marching Onward from the Right to Procure “The New Civil Rights”

In Articles on August 28, 2013 at 1:13 pm
I Have a Dream wave

“When we as Republicans can publicly, consistently, and confidently embrace and convince the diversity of Americans just as we convincingly embrace the contrasting colors of the American flag, we will have succeeded in becoming better leaders, historic visionaries, and embraced patriots throughout America.” ~Lenny McAllister


(August 28, 2013) – From the political left (unintentionally or otherwise), we were told about Dr. Martin Luther King’s Dream on Saturday. On Monday, the political right observed the remembrance of this great event from 1963. Now, on Wednesday, August 28, 2013 – 50 years after rounds of speakers joined Dr. King on that stage in Washington, DC in the effort for change – President Obama and others will take their turn to recall the bravery of women and men that were committed to making America better in spite of itself during one of our more troubling eras.


Just as the nation stood on the brink some 50 years ago – looking at the obvious need for change and dealing with the ongoing social civil war over Jim Crow – we as a people stand today, looking into the social mirror at our reflection. Today, we ask ourselves as we look at the picture that we see: what must we do in order to ensure that the “pursuit of happiness” that is noted in the Declaration of Independence and the security of “…the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…” noted in the Constitution are fulfilled despite the challenges we face today? What must we do in order to secure the civil rights protected in the Amendments, earned through the blood and sweat equity of our forefathers, and required to maximize the talents and promise found throughout America?


All of us must chase, capture, and champion the new civil rights of the 21st century.


Whether it is as Republicans or as non-political activists, we must be willing to become the brand-building, mold-breaking leaders that we emulate from days long since past. Social success in 21st century America must include embracing the United States Constitution from a “conservative” perspective – namely, that the rights of all citizens are protected without progressive interpretations that expand the role of government, the tint of justice, or the invasive arm of the law. This must be applied to laws impacting the ballot box as well as initiatives that roll back the intent of the Second Amendment.


Initiatives such as voter validation must reflect the essence of the March on Washington 50 years ago, moving the tone and intent of such laws past the stigma and dysfunction of voter suppression to one where the right to vote is protected and promoted for all American citizens. From a conservative standpoint politically, we must relish the opportunity to strengthen the access to the ballot box for all Americans, be it through a modified version of the Voting Rights Act or through initiatives that show Americans across our cities and those pockets of non-traditional voters that voting is an American civil right. With all of the talk that “Martin Luther King was a Republican” – along with other prominent African-Americans including Frederick Douglass and Jackie Robinson – there must be legislative, grassroots, and partisan efforts that we enact that illustrate the commitment to the Republican legacy of civil rights and the willingness to partner with new voters currently. The new civil rights movement for us Republicans must include pursuing new voters, apologizing to them for abandoning them as automatic voters for Democrats for decades, and engaging them as valuable co-authors of a more prosperous nation.


Our pursuit of the new civil rights must articulate school choice not as a condemnation of teachers’ unions and public schools, but as a solution that recalibrates the classroom balance within public, private, and charter schools that benefits the teacher-student ratios throughout our communities. We must show that education is one of those new civil rights in America – one that has a recurring theme over the ages: education is the pathway to knowledge, and knowledge is power. In order to unleash the power that has been systematically contained in urban America through our flaws and oversights, we must use all available avenues to implement strategies that optimize our education dollars and children’s potential concurrently and immediately. Our segue to more school choice opportunities must not be promoted by fellow conservatives as a verdict against public education. Instead, we must articulate the need to pursue and win this new civil rights argument as a mission to protect the promise of the American Dream for all American children, offering this new direction as a national initiative that views improved academic results by our youth as a national security issue and an imperative for true justice to ring true.


The new civil rights pursuit cannot merely reflect upon the successes of the past. Our efforts must learn from the past – of the bravery, the vision, the discipline, and the sacrifices incurred by many. Any misdirection of focus away from what is necessary today only leads to a misapplication of our good intentions.


To win the new civil rights “dream”, we must apply conservative principles in ways that make sense for more Americans. That application will break the mold and definitions of what “conservative” and “Republican” have meant over the recent years – both from a branding standpoint as well as from a political perspective. This will not mean that we will need to move away from our political principles, but to be the leaders that America deserves from us, this trend-setting pivot will require us to show a pathway of prosperity from socioeconomic and educational poverty to the obtainment of the American Dream.


Freedom as discussed by conservatives must include the freedom to embrace the disadvantaged American, discard the labels of judgment and scorn, and develop strategies to partner with non-traditional allies to trumpet our principles in the pursuit of common goals. Dr. King’s “dream” must include the ability to partner with the diversity of America where they are right now instead of merely attempting to pull them over to our side with an immediate and uncomfortable nudge. Overcoming the racism that Dr. King and others fought against in the 1960s must include a conservative acknowledgment of where we are today as Americans concerning race relations, understanding both the misunderstandings and intentional missteps that inhibit our leadership from taking full advantage of the talent, resources, and opportunities within the overlooked pockets of America that only make the news when a shooting is reported or a failure is featured. Healing our fractured nation must include a conservative balm that steps the nation through tackling tough problems with a loving, thoughtful, and encompassing approach to leadership, not merely the tough-love rhetoric that blames victims of bad policy, failures in leadership, and a stagnant economy with catchy slogans and oblivious statements.


True conservative leadership that reflects the legacy of 50 years ago in Washington embraces the notion that all corners of America fit into the confines of the Constitution – as voters, as citizens, as potentially productive  members of American society – and pursues that end with a vigor that breaks down the stereotypes of the current GOP, repairs the breakdown of communication with key constituents, and forever abolishes the one-party system that many Americans have been forced to live under for the past 50 years.


We, too, have a dream in 2013. That dream must include celebrating suffrage for all citizens while winning over new voters from all areas in America. That dream must include expanding educational efficiency and success for more Americans to secure our geopolitical and economic standing in the world, much less sure-up our neighborhoods as safer and better communities. That dream must apply conservative principles in the spirit of patriotism and partnership with those that we have dismissed in the past with a wanton broad stroke, not an insightful viewpoint focused on leading in a historic and necessary manner.  That dream must expand our vision in order to expand our influence. That dream must expand our willingness to lead the United States of America, not just the politically red states and areas in America. That dream is required of us today in an urgent way if we are to protect the American Dream for those that have it, evangelize the Dream to those that have never heard of it, and reclaim those that have given up on it. That dream of inclusive, smart, and visionary leadership can no longer be a political fantasy. The time is now to stand on the shoulders of a Dreamer and secure the American Dream – for all.



Political commentator and community advocate Lenny McAllister is the “Working Man’s Conservative” currently working to make his hometown of Chicago and our proud nation better by working together as #OneBigTeam. Featured as one of the “40 Under 40 to Watch in 2012” by the historic newspaper The Chicago Defender, he has been featured in several national and international publications and media outlets, including Essence, Chicago Crusader, and Charlotte Magazine. “The McAllister Minute,” a regular feature of the American Urban Radio Network, runs on more than 300 stations nationwide. 

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WATCH: “What Would MLK Do?” on HuffPost Live (January 21, 2013)

In Lenny for Congress, Video on January 22, 2013 at 9:23 pm
Lenny HuffPost Live Jan 21 2013 #1 (edit)

President Obama begins his second term on Martin Luther King Day. If the legend were alive today, what would he like & dislike about Obama’s leadership & decisions? Lenny McAllister talks with the panel of HuffPost Live on Inauguration Day.

CHICAGO, IL (January 21, 2013) –  (Courtesy HuffPost Live) President Obama begins his second term on Martin Luther King Day. If the legend were alive today, what would he like & dislike about Obama’s leadership & decisions?

Originally aired on January 21, 2013

This segment on HuffPostLive is hosted by Josh Zepps

His guests on the segment include:

  • Clarence B. Jones (Washington, DC) Scholar Writer in Residence at Stanford University’s MLK Jr. Institute
  • Claudette Colvin (New York, NY) Civil Rights Icon
  • Lenny McAllister (Chicago, IL) Candidate for U.S. House of Representatives (Illinois) @Lennymcallister
  • Michael Yaki (San Francisco, CA) U.S. Civil Rights Commissioner @Yakiblog
  • Dr. Robert Moses (Cambridge, MA) President & Founder of The Algebra Project

Click HERE to watch the segment or click on the picture above.

Watch more of Lenny’s previous appearances.

Don’t forget: follow Lenny on Twitter at @lennymcallister, join his Facebook page and spread the word about Lenny for Congress (

Lenny McAllister for Illinois’ 2nd Congressional District: #OneBigTeam