LETTER: Use of photo ignores York's racially charged past


My comments that follow are not meant to be disrespectful to former York City police officer, Ron Heist, who was murdered on March 20 during an attempted robbery on the PA Turnpike. Mr. Heist loved dogs, but I am concerned about the photo that was chosen by the York Dispatch of the York City canine corps from 1969 to show that he loved dogs. The photo is an affront to the African-American community and the historic memory of the use of the canine corps in York City in 1969.

York City Police Officer Ron Heist (third from left) joined the department's K-9 corps in the late 1960s. Friends say his love of dogs began at that time.
(Photo courtesy of Dennis Smith)

The book "Charrette at York, Pa.," which occurred from April 19-27, 1970, explains the occurrences leading up to the Charrette which included "the use of dogs by police against blacks."

"Six categories of problems were chosen for Charrette to focus upon." During the "first arena session," an additional area of concern of "police relations and canine problems" arose spontaneously, mostly from the black youth, and for this, a sub-committee was created which met for another two days. This concern was described as "the hottest topic of all." Despite recommendations to disband the canine corps, the issue was not resolved by the end of the Charrette. This did not happen until early 1973, when the York City Public Safety Director quietly "announced the abolition of the city's K-9 corps."

The publishing of a past photo, without the historical context in which it was taken, leads to a "dis-remembering" of York's troubled racial past and of the hurtful meaning of the canine corps to York's black community, and it leads to their pain being devalued.