While Ford is suing the officers in federal court for violating his civil rights (they are denying the charges) and claims the city didn't properly train them, he's also started advocating for reform beyond Pittsburgh. Perhaps the biggest problem, as he sees it, is not being able to effectively discipline or fire problem officers."My case is still pending, and the officers involved in my shooting are still working," says Ford, who acknowledges that Derbish, the officer who shot him, was moved to desk duty. "When an officer shoots somebody and goes on paid leave then gets his job back, I don't think that's good for the department. It's showing these officers even when you do a bad thing, you're still accepted, you're still loved, you're still one of us."
When an officer shoots somebody and goes on paid leave then gets his job back, I don't think that's good for the department. It's showing these officers even when you do a bad thing, you're still accepted, you're still loved, you're still one of us. –Leon Ford Jr.
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He's started speaking about what happened to him through an organization called Leon Ford Speaks, sometimes making four appearances a week in cities mostly along the east coast. He talks about everything from voting to how to deal with police, and argues the best strategy is to avoid confrontation. "If an officer comes up on you and you smile and you're polite, hopefully it will play out differently," Ford says.But one of the interesting features of Ford's rhetoric is that he often talks about police reform as one of many intersectional problems. "A lot of people protest and that's step one," Ford says. "I think we've been at step one for a long time. Police officers are first responders [but] it's a whole system protecting these officers. That's why you have to fight to reform the system at large."And while the path forward on criminal justice reform is less obvious to Ford—who points to everything from education to mass incarceration—that's not the only reason he talks about what happened."Believe it or not [it's] fun to me, it's healing," he says through a smile. "Every time I speak, I feel some of my pain go away."Alex Zimmerman is a Brooklyn-based journalist covering everything from cops to trains. His work has appeared in the Village Voice, Pittsburgh City Paper, and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Follow him on Twitter.