Jail inmate activist disrupts Martin Luther King Jr. Day event |

Jail inmate activist disrupts Martin Luther King Jr. Day event

Natasha Lindstrom
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Protesters voice their grievances with the conditions inmates are held in at the Allegheny County Jail during Mayor Peduto's remarks at an event honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at August Wilson Center of African American Culture on Monday, Jan. 16, 2017.

A protester interrupted Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald’s remarks Monday afternoon during a Martin Luther King Jr. event at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture in Downtown Pittsburgh.

“People are dying!” Teonna Ross, 27, a Morningside resident and activist in the inmate advocacy group Allegheny County Jail Health Justice Project, shouted at Fitzgerald while he was speaking on a stage while flanked by Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto.

“We are dying of not getting proper medication, we’re dying of seizures … in Allegheny County Jail,” Ross called out, disrupting for a few minutes the celebration attended by dozens of community members and dignitaries.

The event included spoken and sung performances and brief presentations by public officials and community leaders centered on finding ways to cultivate a more “welcoming” Pittsburgh — ensuring that low-income, immigrant and minority residents share in the region’s economic growth.

“We’re going to continue to work together as a community and welcome all people, and let me just say this,” said Fitzgerald, looking toward Ross as she continued to shout. “Our jail population is the lowest it’s been since the jail was opened.”

Ross retorted, “Fire the warden!”

Security officials escorted Ross out of the building without further incident.

Peduto then took the podium.

“One of the things that we learned through the civil rights movement is there is a need to be able to speak up, like we just heard … in order to be able make sure that all voices are heard,” Peduto said.

Allegheny County spokeswoman Amie Downs declined to comment on the incident.

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at [email protected]

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