Local rally to support man shot by Pittsburgh police

ahobbs@theolympian.comApril 30, 2014 

While her classmates prepare for the prom this weekend, one local high school student is organizing a rally in Olympia to support a man who was paralyzed in a police shooting.

So far, there are “Justice for Leon” rallies scheduled in nine cities May 3 to raise awareness of Leon Ford, a 20-year-old Pittsburgh-area man who uses a wheelchair because of injuries suffered in a police shooting two years ago.

The case has raised accusations of police brutality and racial profiling. Lacey resident and River Ridge High School junior Kyla Coleman, 17, found out about Ford’s case through social media and wanted to help his cause.

Coleman has agreed to lead the local rally, which starts at noon Saturday at the pier in downtown Olympia. Rallies are also scheduled Saturday in eight other cities: Pittsburgh, Houston, Atlanta, San Francisco, Brooklyn, Dallas, Philadelphia and even London. Each rally has its own Facebook event page for more information.

Coleman said she was shocked after watching a widely circulated dash-cam video of the November 2012 incident in which Ford was shot five times by a Pittsburgh police officer during a traffic stop that lasted 20 minutes. Police said they mistook Ford for another suspect and thought he was armed, and an officer shot Ford as he drove away from the scene, according to media reports.

“I’m just hoping that it opens people’s eyes,” said Coleman, who expects about 30 people to attend the Olympia rally. “This is something I want people to know about and I don’t want it swept under the rug.”

Ford faces charges of aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and resisting arrest that his family said could put him in prison for 20 years. The investigation into the police officers’ actions is ongoing, but Pittsburgh police have said the officer used force in self-defense. In response, Ford’s family has filed a civil lawsuit against the city and police department, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Houston-based hip-hop artist and activist Raspy Rawls got behind the rally effort after learning about Ford’s case. Rawls represents the organization PAUSE, which stands for Providing Answers Unity and Social Empowerment.

Ford’s case failed to attract national attention because of the high-profile Trayvon Martin shooting death that dominated the media at the same time, Rawls told The Olympian.

“We are giving him the publicity he deserves,” Rawls said.

Ford’s trial was scheduled for May 5, but the trial has been delayed until this summer with a date to be announced. Ford told The Olympian that people worldwide have expressed their support in emails. He hopes this weekend’s rallies can ratchet up the pressure and get his charges dropped.

“My hope for the rally is to make people aware of police brutality,” Ford said. “There are so many cases similar to mine. Unless someone dies, we really don’t get any coverage.”

In addition to Saturday’s rallies, an online petition at change.org has garnered nearly 13,200 signatures, urging the Allegheny County District Attorney to drop criminal charges against Ford.

Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869 ahobbs@theolympian.com

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