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York DA on equality, diversity: 'Without trust, nothing else matters"

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

New mission and commitment-to-diversity statements adopted by the York County District Attorney's Office offer a significant "ray of hope" that people of color will have equal employment opportunities and be treated fairly by the justice system, according to longtime York activist Kerry Kirkland Sr.

Kirkland, who has been fighting for racial equality for more than a half century, said it's been slow going at times. He said there are no other policies like these in York County today.

"I think this is the first domino," he predicted, that will knock down other barriers.

Kirkland said he is hopeful York City and York County will follow suit and adopt similar statements.

A crowd gathers to hear York County District Attorney Dave Sunday present a diversity statement at a press conference in front of the York County Judicial Center Friday, June 12, 2020. Bill Kalina photo

District Attorney Dave Sunday read the new statements during a news conference Friday morning in front of the York County Judicial Center, prompting cheers and applause from a large group of supporters that included beloved community activists, several chiefs and elected officials, the county's coroner and prison warden, York City Police Commissioner Osborne Robinson, U.S. Attorney David Freed, who is a former York prosecutor, and the majority of Sunday's prosecutors.

"Without trust, nothing else matters," Sunday told the crowd.

Both statements can be found on the homepage of yorkda.com.

No tolerance for bias: In them, Sunday pledges to uphold the law equally by "pursuing the truth and safeguarding the fundamental fairness guaranteed to all individuals through the Constitutions and laws of the United States of America and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania."

Sunday said his office won't tolerate "actions, procedures, or decisions based upon invidious discrimination, as such measures are contrary to any notion of justice." Invidious means unjust or discriminatory.

Former York City mayor Kim Bracey elbow greets York County District Attorney Dave Sunday who was speaking with Laquinn Thompson before Sunday presented a diversity statement at a press conference in front of the York County Judicial Center Friday, June 12, 2020. Bill Kalina photo

He also vowed to maintain a diverse staff of employees.

Sunday's commitment-to-diversity statement reads, in part:

"The York County District Attorney’s Office shall serve as a leader in establishing justice system innovations that promote public safety and community well-being. This office will accomplish these measures through collaboration and developing partnerships with the diverse York County community, which include neighborhood leaders and stakeholders, law enforcement, business and professional institutions, service providers, faith-based entities, and other governmental agencies and elected officials."

Because the policies are public, "You may hold me accountable," he said to citizens.

'Historic day': Kirkland spoke to the crowd as well.

"This is truly a historic day in York ... for those of us who have been fighting for so long for public policy that would guarantee equity and justice in hiring and contract policies here in York County," he said. "I want to thank Dave Sunday for having the courage to put forth this type of policy."

Kerry Kirkland Sr. speaks after York County District Attorney Dave Sunday presented a diversity statement at a press conference in front of the York County Judicial Center Friday, June 12, 2020. Bill Kalina photo

Kirkland called the DA's new policies the beginning of a road map for York County to follow to ensure people are never again denied opportunities based on the color of their skin.

"Minorities have been living in a pocket of poverty in York for a long time. It's because of the lack of opportunity, the lack of hope, the brain-drain," Kirkland told the crowd. "It may be a small step for many of you. It's a great step for everyone who had the door shut on them."

Sunday said the collaborations and partnerships he has already forged with community leaders, as well as his new statements, are the foundation for restoring the trust of this "wonderfully diverse" community.

Not just for today: "This commitment must be in writing in order to truly begin the building of trust," the DA said, spurring applause. "Not only for today, but always."

Doing so isn't just the right thing to do, but also will result in a safer community for everyone, he said.

York County District Attorney Dave Sunday presented a diversity statement at a press conference in front of the York County Judicial Center Friday, June 12, 2020. Bill Kalina photo

Sunday thanked a number of people, including first assistant district attorney Tim Barker. He praised Barker's behind-the-scenes contributions over the years, on this issue and many others.

The DA also thanked Kirkland and other community activists, including Laquinn Thompson, Jamiel Alexander and Jose Santiago, as well as former York City mayor Kim Bracey.

— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.

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