The Untold Story of Black Pittsburgh's Alternative to Police
February marks Black History Month, an opportunity to celebrate the contributions Black Americans have made to society. And today, we're going to be celebrating that. But before that. Given the themes of this episode, we want to acknowledge the brutal murder of Tyree Nichols and the violence towards high schooler Tauris Sledge, both by police.
This horrific violence only adds to the urgent call for alternatives to policing in America. And this conversation today is about imagining and realizing those alternatives. As it turns out, it's been done before, and Black Americans have always led the way. This conversation was recorded before recent events, so we don't address them directly, but we do dive into the possibility of a better vision for our country. Advocates are rightly calling for communities to slash police budgets and reinvest that funding into community health services.
These calls have been met with varying degrees of buy in, with some claiming that they are too idealistic or even naive. But all we need to do is to look to Black history to prove that these naysayers are wrong. This has been done before. This is the story of our country's first ambulance service, an alternative to policing that became a model used across the country.
Freedom House was founded in Pittsburgh's historically Black neighborhood, The Hill, in 1967. Back then, police were responding to all health emergencies, a service they were not effectively providing, particularly to Black communities at a time when the US was deeply segregated and reeling from the civil rights movement. Freedom House provided both life saving health care and career advancement for Hill residents who are both underserved and often overlooked by society.
Here to talk with us about the Freedom House, its ongoing legacy, the importance of community based emergency response, and why alternatives to policing are both so important and so possible, are John Moon, former Freedom House EMT and retired assistant chief of Pittsburgh's Emergency Medical Service, and Brandon Buskey, director of the ACLU's Criminal Law Reform Project.