Audio Diary: A Bradford College Student Spoke Out Against The Police Chief In His Small Town
In a presidential election year, voting may be the most visible way to try to create change.
But it's not the only way. In a three-part series from America Amplified, residents of McKean County share how they are making a difference, where they live, and beyond the ballot box.
Jake Mott, 23, has always felt like he’s not a part of his hometown, Bradford, Pennsylvania.
“There’s definitely a Bradford culture, but I've always just observed it,” Mott said. He grew up in the city of 8,770 and is a student of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford.
In June, when protests against police brutality and for racial justice took place nationwide, Mott planned to show his support for the movement by taking part in a protest locally, which was at the same time and same location as a local Blue Lives Matter rally.
“That's where I found out that there was a petition from the Blue Lives Matter people to have Bartlett reinstated,” he said, referring to the Bradford Police Chief at the time, Hiel Bartlett.
In May, Bartlett and another police officer were placed on administrative leave because a misconduct complaint was filed, after two residents filmed the officers making an arrest and allegedly used excessive force.
Mott said, having researched about the incident after the rally, he decided to speak out against it.
“I didn't think it was right that they were kind of just trying to get signatures from people, like, ‘Hey, do you support blue lives in Bradford?’ Yeah, that's a really strong sentiment that we have, so obviously a lot of people would sign it, but they didn't realize it was for Bartlett and, like me, they probably didn't even know the situation that was going on,” he said.
Mott made a petition online to have Bartlett removed from his position. The police chief, who had been with the Bradford Police Department for more than 20 years, has a reputation “of just being a bully and being aggressive and kind of just generally abusing his power,” Mott said.
The community responded with overwhelming support for the petition. More than 2,300 people signed it.
“Relative to how big Bradford is, it kind of just exploded,” Mott said. “That's an insane amount of signatures for a town that has a population of like 8,000.”
He believed he tapped into a sentiment widely shared by residents. With a national conversation about police brutality as the backdrop, Mott said the petition helped people of Bradford find a way to speak up.
“I remember reading so many of the comments on the petition of people that have had, like, horrible experiences with him, but this could have just ended up like one of those -- just a story -- if this attention wasn't brought to it, it probably would have just ended up like that, just another rumor or story or something like that,” he said.
The Bradford City Council accepted Bartlett’s resignation in August. An investigation into his alleged misconduct by the McKean County District Attorney’s office is ongoing.
Mott said the step he took from being an observer to taking part in the community was a surprising one.
“I definitely understand that it's possible to make changes now, and I hope that have shown the people of Bradford that if something is going on and you speak out about it, it doesn't have to go unnoticed. You can make a difference by just one person speaking out. That's all it takes,” he said.
Min Xian produced this story for StateImpact as part of the America Amplified: Election 2020 initiative, using community engagement to inform and strengthen local, regional and national journalism. America Amplified is a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. You can follow America Amplified on Twitter @amplified2020.