Duquesne residents voice their frustrations during January's city council meeting. (Cami DiBattista photo, special to Tube City Almanac)
Read More: Duquesne Mayor Nickole Nesby had additional thoughts following this meeting
The first Duquesne City Council meeting of the year was emotionally charged, as a roomful of residents vented their frustrations with Mayor Nickole Nesby and other officials.
Several representatives of the Duquesne Youth Football Association questioned city officials about allegations that the organization is being dissolved.
They alleged that the Duquesne Police Department had “spread rumors of drug money being funneled through the organization.”
One spokesperson for the youth football association said the organization is unhappy with Police Chief Tom Dunlevy and the department, and said he feels the city’s black population is being unfairly targeted.
A former youth football coach was arrested in November after police obtained a search warrant for his home and found 14 pounds of marijuana inside.
But that coach had been kicked out of the program because of a previous arrest.
Dunlevy denied allegations of discrimination, and said that statistics indicate that arrests of African-Americans in Duquesne have actually dropped from 76.2 percent of total arrests to 68.5 percent over the past five years.
“In a city with a Black population of 70 percent, it’s logical that more Black residents are being arrested than whites,” he said.
Dunlevy said the department is hoping to purchase body cameras for officers so there will be no dispute as to what happens during a traffic stop or other incident --- for the protection of both residents and officers.
“The city of Duquesne police are dedicated to reducing crime in Duquesne and making it a safer community,” he said.
Dunlevy's answers did not satisfy some people at the meeting, who said the police department is mostly comprised of white officers. Some residents said the department is “dividing and conquering” the city, and is not a good representative of the community.
Nesby said that while the majority of the officers in the department are white, she and council have made efforts to have equal representation by doing away with the requirement that officers live in the city. The most qualified people who have applied for jobs as police officers have all been white males, she said.
“The problem is we, as African-Americans, do not encourage our children to go into law enforcement,” she said.
As for the youth football association, Nesby said, “the football association is not run by the city and there is no way we could ‘shut it down.’ We fully support the children and any activities they do.”
Nesby added that she has repeatedly asked residents to come forward and join the newly established Duquesne Citizen Police Review Board --- along with a variety of other new groups focused on various city improvements --- but that few residents have participated.
Programs such as Black Women for Positive Change and a meeting with Allegheny County Council were attended by few people, she said.
Residents countered that the events were not adequately publicized.
The meeting was first since Nesby, the first African-American woman to serve as the city's mayor, held a press conference on Jan. 3 to publicly announce that she has been harassed and threatened.
Nesby alleged that photos of her home have been shared on social media and that feces have been smeared in the bathroom near her office.
Increased police patrols have been occurring throughout the city and near Nesby's home, Dunlevy said.
Several residents raised concerns about the divisions in the community. Some said they fully support Nesby and council, but other said they question many of the moves that have been made recently.
“We can’t keep fighting amongst ourselves,” resident Calvina Harris told council. “We need to work together for the benefit of our community.”
Another resident, Quallan Hawkins, said he was pleased to see so many people at the meeting, sharing their concerns.
“I do believe it’s a step in the right direction, but there’s definitely more work that needs to be done,” he said. “After hearing public comments from citizens, it’s safe to say we all have the same goal in mind: making Duquesne a better place, a place where people are healthy, safe and cared for.
“I love Duquesne, this is my home and I’m proud of it,” Hawkins said. “I’m definitely willing to work with the current administration, and I’d hope to have a few followers with me to assist in improving the quality of life here for all residents.”
Nesby thanked residents for attending the council meeting and for holding their elected officials accountable.
“I hope people continue to come out and represent their city and hope to have some of them head the new committees that were put in place for the betterment of Duquesne,” she said.
Cami DiBattista is a freelance writer who covers municipal news from Duquesne, White Oak and other subjects for Tube City Almanac. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published January 17, 2019.