Pittsburgh Current. Volume 3, Issue 27. Aug. 18, 2020

Page 1




Aug. 18, 2020 - Aug. 25, 2020




COUNTERFEIT BILL T we n t y ye a r s a g o , a p r o t e s t e r g r a b b e d o f f t h e s t r e e t b y a ga n g o f u n d e r c o ve r c o p s w o u l d h ave e n r a ge d B i l l Pe d u t o . To d ay, t h o u g h , o n e t h i n g i s p a i n f u l ly c l e a r, t h i s i s n o t t h e m a y o r y o u v o t e d fo r.


We are an influence-free, Independent alternative print and online news company in Pittsburgh Pa. As we’ve been reporting on the COVID-19 outbreak, we’ve seen firsthand the dramatic effect it’s having on businesses around southwestern Pennsylvania. This is especially true for small businesses like ours. While we remain steadfastly committed to reporting on the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak through the latest information and features, we need your help. Support independent journalism through a sustaining or one-time donation to the Pittsburgh Current. 80% of all donations go toward paying our staff and content creators, 20% will help keep the lights on. And 100 percent of it will ensure this city continues to have an alternative, independent voice. Even before canceling events and staying at home became the new normal, media companies like ours were struggling to keep things going. But we, like others, have found a way because people depend on our product, they like what they do and we feel that appreciation every day. We announced last week that we were temporarily halting our twice-monthly print publication and focusing on our online digital edition because people aren’t going outside, and the businesses where we distribute are all closed. The good news in all of this is that our digital edition will now be coming out weekly instead of bi-monthly. So beginning March 24, you’ll be able to get the Current every Tuesday (to make sure you get it delivered to your inbox, fill out our email signup on our homepage). We are a small team with a big mission and we’re stubborn enough to know that with your help we will get through this. The Current, like many small businesses, is at a crossroads. We plan on doing our part to get you the information you need to make it through this crisis, but we need your support to make sure we’re also able to report on the next one. You can donate by clicking the popup on our homepage or clicking donate below.

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PA Coronavirus Small Business Assistance Program Round two is now open! Could your small business use some extra funds to cover COVID-19 related expenses and losses? Grants are available for small businesses that meet certain criteria and are being administered by the Northside Community Development Fund and other local CDFIs. The second round of funding closes August 28. All applications submitted before the close of this round will be considered for funding. See if this program could help you at NSCDFund.org/PABusinessGrants


STAFF Publisher/Editor: Charlie Deitch Charlie@pittsburghcurrent.com


Associate Publisher: Bethany Ruhe Bethany@pittsburghcurrent.com

Vol. III Iss. XXVII Aug. 18, 2020

Advisory Board Chairman: Robert Malkin Robert@pittsburghcurrent.com

NEWS 6 | Counterfeit Bill 8 | Death Sentence


OPINION 14 | Larry Schweiger Music Editor: Margaret Welsh Margaret@pittsburghcurrent.com Visuals Editor: Jake Mysliwczyk Jake@pittsburghcurrent.com Social Justice Columnist: Jessica Semler jessica@pittsburghcurrent.com

ARTs & ENTERTAINMENT 16 | Flowers 18 | Praise Songs EXTRA 20 | Savage Love 21 | Loop Road 22 | Parting Shot

Contributing Photographer: Ed Thompson info@pittsburghcurrent.com Contributing Writers: Jody DiPerna, Justin Vellucci, Atiya Irvin Mitchell, Dan Savage, Larry Schweiger, Brittany Hailer, Brian Conway, Matthew Wallenstein, Emerson Andrews, Eric Boyd info@pittsburghcurrent.com Logo Design: Mark Addison TO ADVERTISE :

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The Fine Print

Bethany Ruhe Bethany@pittsburghcurrent.com

The opinions contained in columns and letters to the editors represent the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Pittsburgh Current ownership, management and staff. The Pittsburgh Current is an independently owned and operated print and online media company produced in the heart of Pittsburgh’s Beechview neighborhood, 1665 Broadway Ave., Pittsburgh, PA., 15216. 412-204-7248.


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Climate Crisis and Corrupt Politics By: Larry J. Schweiger Free Shipping Paperback $29.95 or purchase an eBook for $19.00 (Read the first 25 pages for free) There is only one earth and our world is undergoing dramatic changes brought on by the climate crisis and other human-induced ecological disruptions. The world's top scientists studying these threats and the forces behind them have been warning us for decades to end the use of fossil fuels or face catastrophic consequences. Their long-ignored warnings have become more dire. Larry Schweiger has long been on the front line of efforts to enact rational clean energy and climate policies and has witnessed efforts to undermine our democratic system that has been rigged leaving America hoodwinked and held hostage to dirty fuels. Climate Crisis and Corrupt Politics pulls back the curtain on the central role of big oil, coal, and gas interests in American politics through the flow of money to fabricated entities for independent SuperPAC expenditures for mass deception through distorted advertising. Larry wrote this urgent message aimed at parents, grandparents and young adults who care about their children forced to live on the ragged edge of an unprecedented climate crisis. This book is especially for leaders who understand that we must act now with a "Green New Deal" scale response. Together, we must confront and overcome the many toxic money influences, reverse a failing democracy and retake the reins of government to enact policies that secure our shared future and the future of life on earth.






wenty years ago, if Pittsburgh City Councilor Bill Peduto was hanging out with a bunch of other politicians, chances are he was the most progressive guy in the room. He led the way with progressive policies, he was never afraid to mix it up with colleagues, the mayor’s office or the police. He was a fervent champion of free speech and the right to assemble. In 2009, he fought against legislation that gave police broad powers to arrest protesters at the G-20 summit simply for wearing a mask. That’s a stark difference to what happened over the weekend when a protest marshal on a bike was kidnapped off the street-there’s just no other word for it -- by heavily armed cops and tossed into an unmarked white van. I will guarantee you that if that happened in 2002 or 2005, Bill Peduto would have lost his mind. In fact, he’d still be sitting at a council table demanding answers about what happened.

But that’s not what Mayor Bill Peduto does. I’d like to say Mayor Peduto is more measured but still firm in a quest for accountability. But that’s not the case. Bill Peduto is not the leader he once was. He acts as if he’s looking for a solution that is palpable for all parties involved, a task that is impossible when the people on the other side (police) are the ones you’re protesting. There was a time that Bill Peduto didn't worry about appeasement. He fought for what was just and right. The situation that we’re dealing with in this city -excessive force and unnecessary violence and escalation of protest situations by police -- does have a side that is clearly in the right. It’s the protesters who march with their hands up only to be hit in the chest with tear gas canisters and other projectiles, peaceful protesters told to disperse but not given a clear exit from the area. The protester who had his goddamned lips shot off y a rubber bullet in yet another peaceful protest. When Peduto became mayor, many people be-


lieved that the reign of terror by Pittsburgh Police would cease. Police reform was a lock, we all thought. But there were trouble signs from the beginning. Peduto made big promises relating to public safety. In 2014 he hired Madison, Wisconsin’s Cameron McLay as chief of police. McLay was the real deal. He met with the public, he held officers accountable. He very publicly vowed to end white silence. But a funny thing happened on the way to police reform. The police union got bent out of shape because, well accountability was the last thing they wanted. They took an overwhelming vote of no confidence in McLay and he left a short time later because he believed at that point, he had done all he would be able to do. Scott Schubert was named chief, an internal hire, and things were Ok for a bit. But the protests of recent months have shown what his department’s feelings are toward protesters (see above) and Peduto has fallen in lock-

Protesters took to the streets this weekend to s rent Photos by Ed Thompson)

step. Schubert told Peduto that tear gas wasn’t used on protesters in East Liberty and Peduto backed him up de-


show their displeasure with the recent actions of the Pittsburgh Police (Pittsburgh Cur-

spite eyewitnesses that said it was gas. He had to back walk that and now after this weekend’s protest abduc-

tion, why should anyone not in a blue uniform think he was hearing their complaints.

Bottom line: this is not the guy that most people voted for -- the badass outsider who moved up the ranks despite not ever receiving traditional political support, like the Allegheny County Democratic Committee. Shortly after he was elected I and some colleagues thought Peduto was already backing down on some campaign promises he made regarding police reform. We heard from a lot of people who had similar fears. But at the time, nobody, literally nobody would go on the record with their concerns. Why? Because Bill Peduto was different. He earned the leeway to get established and then make big changes. But that goodwill is now long gone. In fact, the

young and actively engaged protesters have no idea who Bill Peduto once was. They look at him the same way many of us once looked at Tom Murphy or Luke Ravenstahl: political animals who weren’t willing to take on a fight because it wasn’t politically advantageous. They find it hard to believe that anyone would call him a progressive and a defender of free speech. The Bill Peduto that people supported and elected mayor didn’t take calculated risks. He took risks and didn’t care who they pissed off. But the Bill Peduto sitting in the mayor’s office right now? He gets harder and harder to recognize with each civil right that his cops violate.



PA G E 7






n the first six hours of starvation, glucose--the enzyme that feeds the brain--depletes in the body. In the first 72 hours the body enters into ketosis, a state where the brain instead converts fatty acids into glucose, cognitive function becomes impaired, the breath begins to smell rancid, and approximately one and a half pounds of body fat is consumed by the body. After 72 hours the brain breaks down protein from amino acids where the body begins to atrophy, an internalized cannibalism where bone density diminishes. In the first two weeks the body’s immune system is weakened, hair loss occurs, and the body can die without proper vitamins and minerals where tissues in the heart and major organs depletes with each passing hour, and severe organ failure occurs. By three weeks, dependent on hydration and body fat, the body is determined to die. In opposition to British rule, Mahatma Gandhi survived 21 days before he ended his hunger strike. In opposition to the poor labor treatment of Chicano workers, César Chavez survived 24 days before he ended his hunger strike. Determined to finally get answers surrounding her son’s


Dannielle Brown's hunger strike seeking answers in the death of her son is nearing 50 days. (Pittsburgh Current Photos by Ed Thompson)

2018 death on the campus of Duquesne University, Dannielle Brown’s hunger strike has so far lasted 46 days. But at this point, the number of days don’t really matter. Each day takes her one step closer to death.


first met Dannielle Brown a month ago on day nine of her hunger strike. It was a humid Saturday evening. A friend and I decided to march in support of her demands to Duquesne regarding her late son, Marquis Jaylen “JB”

Brown. At the time, I had known the story only peripherally. I was a student on campus when JB fell sixteen stories out of a window in Brottier Hall. I remember walking to class and looking at the window. I remember



PA G E 7 the email that the University administrators sent out in response to his death. Then, a week later, it was released that “drugs” were found in JB’s system. Something never sat right with me about this story, but I accepted the narrative that Duquesne sold. Most of us did. Here was a student who was an active member in school athletics, was in his junior year, and was simply reduced to a statistic of black death who “smoked marijuana” while celebrating his birthday. It never added up but who was I to question it? My complicity in this narrative has continued to haunt me. A year and a half later, when I found out that his mother, Dannielle Brown was on Freedom Corner starving herself for answers, that she was from my second home of Washington DC, that she was a fellow soror of my mother, that she was a mother and simply a woman who needed support, I showed up without question. Freedom Corner is the gateway to the Hill District from Downtown. It is the physical marker where Black Pittsburghers refused to allow further urban construction eating into their once-vibrant community. It is a place where, after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, people marched demanding their humanity be seen as having equal value. Now it is a monument where a Black woman in a gold and white gown stretches out her

tion of meeting her demands which would include a full independent investigation without any stipulations, equipping all police on campus with body cameras, and training all Duquesne campus police to respond appropriately to mental health crises of students on campus. I continued to follow Dannielle Brown’s story on social media. She became a thread in Instagram stories, the occasional post on Facebook group feeds, and stories shared on Twitter. I sat, day by day and watched from the comfort of my apartment a woman continue to die.


Dannielle Brown is comforted by a mother and her daughter. (Pittsburgh Current Photo by Kate Hagerty)

arms as if to protect the Black community behind, underneath, and around her. It is a symbol of Black strength and resilience, of tested faith, and of perseverance. When we gathered on the steps of this corner we signed dinner plates in honor of JB, we marched, we listened to Dannielle Brown’s three demands and to the story about her son’s passing. But then after the protest, most of us moved on. Days later, Duquesne University issued a release stating that in the interest of transparency, they would share the details of JB Brown’s death


as an attempt to bring closure to this unfortunate event. First, they said they conducted a “thorough” independent investigation and interviewed all parties involved in the situation including the two officers who, as the release states, were Black. Second, they mention that Pittsburgh Police also conducted an investigation, where it is still unknown what other drugs were in JB’s system outside of marijuana. Third, they mentioned that the University has reached out to Ms. Brown numerous times to agree to let her review the entire file the university has compiled. There is no men-

n day 40 of her hunger strike, I was collecting my things from the graduate student office on campus. I frantically looked for my student ID and couldn’t find it. I remembered how last year there were a series of robberies on campus and knew that the color of my skin reflected the alleged culprits of these thefts. Nina Simone famously said that freedom means no fear, but the fear still exists. It’s real and it festers in the most unlikely places. Even though I have been a member of Duquesne’s community for years both as a student and former employee, I know that at any point my presence on that campus can be questioned at any time and I hoped my driver’s license would be enough. Duquesne was a ghost town as vacant lots and the quasi-empty building of College

NEWS Hall reminded me of the impending doom of a new fall semester where the Coronavirus has forced us all to reconsider our proximity to one another. While boxing up my books I received an email from the Senior Vice President of Student Affairs where the subject line refers to “information concerning a campus situation.” I read the email and the language staring back at me was disturbing. It refers to JB “propelling” himself through a window. It paints Dannielle Brown as a menacing threat who “records without your permission if you engage in answering any questions or sharing your position in this matter.” It links to multiple releases the University has issued including a new one where Ms. Brown has now, apparently, requested a newly fourth demand in “ a substantial monetary value.” In the span of one email, a Black woman was reduced to a money-hungry and intrusive threat. In reading this email, a fear washed over me. When I collected my belongings, bags of books, random toiletries and papers, there was the fear that I could be stopped and accused of stealing at any point. It was the fear that one wrong utterance or misstep down the halls could derail my excellence. These are not fears that I should be having at an institution I have called my community for years. Was I, another Black woman, equally as threatening? That same evening I

Dannielle Brown stands outside Duquesne University. (Pittsburgh Current Photo by Kate Hagerty)

watched a press conference held by representatives of Duquesne University's legal team. At the Q&A, a reporter questioned the fourth demand. Duquesne’s legal counsel replied, “you’ll have to ask Ms. Brown about that.” And, so, on Day 44 of Dannielle Brown’s starvation for justice, I intended to do just that.


t was a cool day for August. As gray skies and clouds covered any chance of warmth the sun provides I entered the camp on Freedom Corner and was immediately greeted by Dannielle Brown with a hug, before I could even introduce myself. It had

been months since I last made physical contact with anyone outside of my immediate social circle and her warm embrace was everything I didn’t know I needed. Despite a weakened immune system, despite her debilitating health where she had been confined to a wheelchair days before and got so bad she had to take temporary respite in someone’s home, Dannielle Brown embraced me as if I were her own and this mother’s love felt unconditional. She held me the way she would hold a son, a son, whose life was taken far too soon. In the minutes of our warm hug she was my own mother, my own god-

mother, my sisters, my aunt, my grandmother, and every woman in my life who ever loved me. As we talked about how I too was from the DC/ Maryland area she joked that the only thing that would end her hunger strike would be some blue crabs. I promised if that day ever comes that I will make her crabcakes knowing full well she may die before I’m ever afforded that honor. More supporters arrive and she plays chess, urging me to sit beside her and get to know me better. As the previous shift leaves, she scolds them about not properly wearing masks, to be careful getting home, and how she cares because she doesn’t want to


NEWS put anyone in harm’s way. As she plays, taking pawn after pawn, decimating knights and bishops across her battlefield I watch her field phone calls, say hello to passersby, and wave at honking cars in support of her mission. For someone whose brain and heart are slowly being eaten away with each fleeting minute, I am in awe of her resolve. In his speech, “What Does the Fourth of July Mean to a Slave,” Frederick Douglass said, “What to the American slave is your Fourth of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.” Dannielle Brown has been starving herself since Independence Day. Let that sink in a second. On a day where we commemorate independence and liberty by celebrating with picnics and cookouts, one mother pushed back her plate in pursuit of a life lost, liberty of the truth, and justice. “My faith and spirituality have been tested beyond words,” she tells me, “and it has been tested to the core. I have to find inspiration outside of my prayers in just the common good of people because I am up against giants.” And like David, her slingshot is the community standing behind her. These are the people who bring her ice, water, fresh-squeezed juice,

Protesters march in support of Dannielle Brown. Opposite Page: A mock funeral held for Dannielle Brown(Pittsburgh Current Photos by Ed Thompson)

non dairy milkshakes, or just simply just a lawn chair to sit with her and get schooled in a game of chess. Day after day she continues to fight against an institution that has turned a blind eye to her tragedy. The 40th day of her hunger strike meant something to Brown. Her son proudly wore the number forty on his football jersey in both high school and college. Jesus only drank water for 40 days and nights and this fact affirmed her in her daily struggle. It should not have been a day where Duquesne issued any commentary regarding her son’s death.


“It was very disappointing to the mothers, the Black community, the Pittsburgh community, the alumni, the students, and the parents and to have them hijack this day with sentiments of disgrace and devaluing claims I never made, is heartbreaking,” she says. What is most heartbreaking is the image of this grieving mother. A mother should never have to bury her son, and yet, here she is becoming a martyr for answers. There is no amount of monetary value that can be placed on her son’s life. While we sit in the comfort of air condition-

ing, indoor plumbing, and the freedom to eat to our heart’s content day after day, Dannielle Brown sits outside in a rocking chair under a flimsy canopy, tethered together by duct tape and tarps. While we lay on our memory foam mattresses and rest our heads down on pillows and cover ourselves with plush blankets, she has slept in a tent on Freedom Corner in rain, 90-degree days and chilly nights for the past seven weeks. The question is one of intention. Why must we, as Black people, become the martyrs for our communities?


Why are Black people only heroic under certain conditions that threaten our daily lives? There is a long history in this country in which we use the violence of Black bodies to articulate the injustices in this world. We must kill ourselves to be made visible. As we put Black Lives Matter signs in our front yards, don shirts, buy from Black-owned businesses, and donate money in support of Black , here is a Black woman that needs our attention, support, and protection unconditionally. What Dannielle Brown wants to remind you is there is a mother here. A mother whose child once walked the steps and sidewalks of Pittsburgh, who played on Duquesne’s field, sat in the classrooms, wore the Duquesne insignia proudly, and whose life was taken in the comfort of his home away from home. Her fight is colorless. She is a mom who is laying down her life for the sake and safety of incoming freshmen, for sophomores and juniors like her son. For their mothers and mothers everywhere. The Black Lives Matter movement has visually demonstrated the ways in which we as Black people are suffering from the generational trauma of systemic racism. We have a dark history of mothers being ripped away from their children in slavery, in lynchings, and now, in events surrounding police brutality. This, first

and foremost must be a time of acknowledging our pain and refocusing this attention towards healing. Here is a mother who demands a seat at the table and wants to work with her son’s school, not against it. Brown’s phone rings and she excuses herself as the call is from Antwon Rose’s mother. As she continues the conversation, I watch her from afar and I think about the pictures I saw a few weeks ago in a Facebook group post. In response to the painting over a mural of Romir Talley, a man who was shot by police in Wilkinsburg in December 2019, a demonstration was organized. In one candid photo Dannielle Brown covers her face, fighting back the tears of another woman’s story of losing her son. In another, she is shown embracing Talley’s mother, the two women’s grief pulsating between their

bodies. This is the image that I want to leave with you with. The ways in which Black women mourn is communal and that narrative of suffering is a narrative we all know and understand implicitly because it happens too frequently. “Life,” as Brown says, “matters more than reputation. There is a crisis throughout our homes and in our neighborhoods that affect college students. For a grieving mother to be at the gates starving and to know that your life can be on the line and you can’t bring your son back to life, knowing that the University doesn’t care, you hope that the mothers care. ” On my way home I called my mother to check in and let her know that I am safe. She is fearful every day that is not spent in her home, in her arms, where there is the real fear that one day I may not come home. I tell her

about my day, my time with Ms. Brown, and tell her how Ms. Brown reminds me of her sister, my Aunt Carole. “I’m so proud of you Cait,” she assures me. “I know Mom,” I respond, “I know.” “I just…” she pauses. “I just did my best.” I allow her words to sit in silence between us. I allow the silence to reverberate and wash over, embracing me the ways in which a mother’s love can only fulfill. I allow her to love me with her language because not all mothers are afforded this daily chance. I tell her I love her because not every child has the chance to tell their mother these words. Our love is what protects us. It is what gets us through each day, makes us stronger, and urges us to keep going. At this point, it should be frighteningly obvious to everyone that Dannielle Brown’s hunger strike reaches one of two conclusions -- Duquesne University acquiesces to her demands or she dies. At its press conference a week ago, Duquesne let its attorney wash its hands of Dannielle Brown. And if the public doesn’t apply pressure on the university, it will continue to ignore Ms. Brown’s hunger strike until she is dead. JB Brown isn’t here to stand up and protect his mother. So, I have to ask, will we be the ones to protect Dannielle Brown? Because if we don’t, then we will be complicit in her death.






s a teenager, I once stood stunned and disheartened on a Lake Erie beach, blackened by slime, littered with decaying fishes, broken bottles, and heaps of driftwood. The air reeked of the stench of raw sewage as each churning breaker released its anoxic cargo. Flies and mosquitoes hovered over the rotting remains. I witnessed the near-death of one of the world's great lakes, and the extinction of Lake Erie's famed blue pike as they rotted in the surf. Lake Erie was rife with oxygen-depleting algae from raw sewage from lakeside cities, and towns. Cleveland's Cuyahoga River flowing into Lake Erie had so much petroleum and other flammable liquids that it caught on fire on eight separate occasions. The last fire was so hot that it warped the steel undercarriage on a bridge. Mark Twain once observed, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born, and the day you find out why.� That was my day to find out why, as I made a vow to spend my life defending our environment. I went to work as a volunteer and later as legislative staff pushing for a National Clean Water Law. The public responded to this threat by enabling the passage of the 1972 Clean Water Act that included $18-billion to build new sewage treatment plants. I have a love of nature and I am deeply troubled by the projected rates and magnitude of species extinction and the planetary-scale human agency of this loss. Many factors are involved including

Lake Erie Algae Blooms

pollution, habitat loss, invasive species, toxics, and overharvesting, but the linkage to the climate crisis is unmistakable. No matter where I look in the world, fish, and wildlife are in retreat in the face of human population expansion. Climate change is the trump card. The 2004 IPCC report cited published science from a team of leading ecological scientists warned that up to 70 percent of all species could be extinct if the climate crisis is not addressed. Fifty-nine of the world's fore-


most wildlife experts warned that the annihilation of wildlife is now an emergency threatening civilization. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment warned that the climate crisis is likely to become one of the most significant drivers of biodiversity loss by the end of the century. The total number of mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles have declined by 60% since 1970. The climate crisis is also putting additional pressure on already vulnerable amphibians, including most frog species. Sex selection

among turtles is temperature driven. A two-degree rise in egg temperature turns all newborn turtles female. Studies show 40% of the insect species may be on the road to extinction. With their demise, a long list of fish, and wildlife that depend on protein from insects. Human life is dependent upon insects like pollinators, so this biodiversity collapse should earn our attention. Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services recently

OPINION issued an urgent report entitled: Nature’s Dangerous Decline ‘Unprecedented’ Species Extinction Rates ‘Accelerating’ compiled by 145 expert authors from 50 countries over three years, with inputs from another 310 contributing authors. Based on the systematic review of about 15,000 scientific and government sources and local indigenous knowledge, the study found a million species are threatened with extinction. “Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history, and the rate of species extinction is accelerating, with grave impacts on people around the world now likely. More than 40% of amphibian species, almost 33% of reef-forming corals, and more than a third of all marine mammals are threatened. Coral reefs occupy one percent of the ocean, yet they are critical habitat for twenty-five percent of the world’s marine fishery. Warming and acidifying waters, destructive fishing practices, and agricultural and urban runoff are destroying reefs all over the world.” “The IPCC report issued on October 8, 2018 does not mince words about the state of our planet: we must act now to achieve global change at a scale that has “no documented historical precedent” in order to avoid the climate catastrophe that would result from a 20 C. rise in average global temperature.” Our politicians have heard from the world's top climate scientists and yet collectively ignored or failed to heed compelling scientific warnings. While under the influence of Fossil fuel money, Congress has been unable to enact carbon pollution controls at a scale that will save life on Earth. Current CO2 levels of about 414 parts per million were last seen on Earth over three million

years ago according to the most detailed reconstruction of the Earth's climate by researchers at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research published in Science Advances. We are rolling back to the Mid-Pliocene when the average global temperatures were between 2 and 3 degrees C. warmer than present levels. The Arctic Sea was free of ice, and much of the Greenland ice sheet melted. Sea levels were higher by between 13, and 37 meters. The Arctic is experiencing radical changes with widespread fires in Alaska tundra, Canada's boral forests, and unprecedented fires in the Siberian tundra. Ice melt in Greenland may be unstoppable now. Every coastal city, mega-delta, low-lying coastal land, and every island are at impending danger as sea levels climb, and storm winds amplify wave heights. The climate crisis has been increasing linearly, but as the cryosphere deteriorates, and releases its long-frozen methane, and carbon dioxide, and burns we will experience more dramatic change. As the Earth's albedo (light reflection) declines, we should prepare abrupt changes that will make life miserable. We are failing to respect the magnifying risks of the ice-albedo feedbacks that are pushing the Arctic to an ice-free tipping point. Life as we know it would become unbearable if the Arctic permafrost gives up its stores of CO2 and methane. Daniel Rothman, professor of geophysics and co-director of the Lorenz Center in MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, warned of the sixth mass extinction in 2017. He has found that when the rate at which carbon dioxide enters the oceans pushes past a certain threshold—whether as the result

of a sudden burst or a slow, steady influx—the Earth may respond with a runaway cascade of chemical feedbacks, leading to extreme ocean acidification that dramatically amplifies the effects of the original trigger."9 With hubris towards nature, humanity is failing to act. We are trashing oceans with heat, plastics, sediments, toxics, and pharmaceuticals. Mussels from Puget Sound, for example, harbor estrogen, oxycodone, and a chemotherapy drug Melphalan, and even illegal opioids. Ninety-three percent of total global warming heat is absorbed into the oceans where it spawns bigger storms. Trillions of tons of carbon in its various forms have been spewed into the biosphere where CO2 disrupts the climate system causing more violent weather conditions including floods, droughts, and fires. Carbonic acid from excess CO2 is acidifying the oceans, harming all life in the oceans. Things on planet earth are bad now as we set new records for heat again this year. They will only get much worse if we fail to grasp the truth that we are fast approaching a climate cliff. We have been too distracted by Trump's many threats to our democracy and his failure to have a robust national strategy to address the pandemic to let alone to respond with rational climate policy. In the face of particular danger ahead, there is good news. While Trump thinks the climate crisis is a hoax and has systematically dismantled EPA's ongoing climate efforts, Joe Biden has come up with a solid climate platform that will launch an energy revolution in America. With the right National leadership and public policies, we can create up to 25 million new jobs and cut our emissions by 85% in 15 years, according to Rewiring

America. Through careful and rigorous analysis, Rewiring America started with the question of "what is technologically necessary?” to avoid a climate crisis. They have concluded that decarbonization through the rapid electrification of the economy is not only possible but economically desirable. The average American household with available technologies can save $1,000 to $2,000 per year while reducing our nation's greenhouse emissions by 85% in 15 years. In the process, 25 million net new jobs will be created in the near term, and 5 million net new jobs in the long run. Given the fuel savings, these new jobs will be good-paying and life-enriching. They will necessarily be local, as much of the work will be replacing the infrastructure of homes and buildings. Society has collectively ignored climate science for decades. Now we need to decarbonize our lives at an unprecedented speed and scale. It is not enough to lament our failures and senseless acts; we must find a new way to move forward rapidly. Albert Einstein once warned, “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it. Our continued failure to confront the climate crisis is a betrayal of our children and grandchildren as they will experience more melting glaciers, severe ocean acidification, and dramatic sea-level rise. They will surely witness more powerful storms, floods, devastating fires, and mass extinctions and live in a world with a more hostile climate system from our past failures. For their sake, we must act now by voting for change in November.



Clockwise from top left: Jacquea Mae, Jasmine Green and Naomi Allen are the three artists taking part in "Flowers While We're still Living," a virtual webinar/public arts exhibition curated by Green. The event will feature spoken word, song and visual art. More information can be found ar pittsburghartscouncil.com 16 | AUGUST 18, 2020 | PITTSBURGH CURRENT



t the beginning of 2020, poet and visual artist Jasmine Green came upon an event that she wasn’t expecting. It was hosted by the Women in the Arts network, a group specifically for female-identifying and gender non-conforming artists, hosted by the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council. Going in, Green was unsure of what to expect, but coming out, she knew she had to be a part of it. “I went to my first event, it was a meetup with different women in Pittsburgh’s local art scene,” said Green. “After that, I was like, ‘I have to know everybody in this group.’” Pre-pandemic, the Women in the Arts network would meet quarterly to encourage collaboration and networking between artists and organizers. With COVID-19 in the mix, the network, like many other artistic organizations, is shifting to the digital sphere. As part of this shift, Green is curating her first public art exhibition in partnership with the Women in the Arts network, a Zoom webinar titled “Flowers While We’re Still Living.” The two-hour event will feature the work of Green, singer Jacquea Mae, and singer-songwriter Naomi Allen, blending spoken word, song, and visual art. The


title is drawn from Green’s own poetry, questioning why society only pays attention to Black people after tragedy strikes. “The main question we’re asking is, ‘Why do we only talk about Black lives once they’re lost?’” said Green. “We don’t only exist as people to remember, as hashtags, as people lost. We also live, and have both struggles while we’re living, but also things to celebrate.” The performance will be one hour long, followed by a Q&A session with the artists. Jacquea Mae will be delivering a singing performance, and Naomi Allen is going to combine song and spoken word. For her part. Green will deliver a spoken word performance, which she will overlay with a video of her painting a work called “Safe and Sound.” The painting honors Breonna Taylor and Aiyana Stanley-Jones, who both lost their lives to police violence. “It’s going to tie in the themes of ‘Safe and Sound,’ which is both in honor of Breonna Taylor and Aiyana Stanley-Jones, but also the idea that Black women and Black people deserve rest and healing,” said Green. Part of Green’s motivation to curate this event stems from the lack of representation of Black women in media, particularly

locally in Pittsburgh. Having grown up in the city, it’s a trend Green has been aware of for some time. “It was something that I always felt since graduating high school, that there wasn’t a lot of positive images, beliefs, overall support for Black women,” said Green. “I had this need of figuring out how I could contribute something that counteracts that,” said Green. This need drove Green into the visual art world, and she began formally studying painting and other visual art techniques. She found herself driven to participate even further after a 2019 study by the city of Pittsburgh’s Gender Equity Commission showing that black women have worse outcomes on average in several metrics of livability. “I’ve spent the last nine or ten years that I’ve been drawing and painting...learning how to paint things that both bring awareness to things that aren’t bearable, but also to celebrate, and not focus purely on the negatives of the Black Woman experience,” said Green. With the help of the Women in the Arts network, Green has been able to take the active role she was looking to, leading the conversation on the issues that impact her community. It’s work she’s enjoyed putting together, and something she hopes she

can do again very soon. “One topic that I would love to focus on in the future is black mental health,” said Green. “I’d like to see if we could take it through the lens of art and activism.” “Flowers While We’re Still Living” will take place on Zoom August 19 at 6 p.m. Registration for audience members costs $10. More information can be found at pittsburghartscouncil. org.




atricia Jabbeh Wesley has survived a civil war that killed a quarter of a million people and lasted nearly eight years. She's lived through cancer. She's thrived while emigrating from Liberia, making a life in small-town northern Appalachia, and navigating in America as a Black woman. All these moments were mined to make Praise Song for My Children (Autumn House Press), a stunning collection of new and selected poems. "It starts with experience. It always starts with experience. And place, wherever I am and what situation is happening around me -- triggers an imaginative reaction that ends up being a poem. Almost all of my poems are inspired by the moment," she said. Given some of the circumstances (civil war, cancer), you might think Wesley's poetry would be bleak and hard. Some pieces do sear the reader with precision and rare humanity, but there is also joy and humor. This collection can break you. It can also make you laugh out loud. Wesley wouldn't have it


Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

any other way. With an easy laugh, she recalled the moment in an airport when she just kept beeping and threatened to get completely naked


in order to navigate security. That moment turned into 'TSA,' a hilarious take on the steps and leaps we take and have come to take for grant-

ed. Let's face it -- we've all been there. It is hard to not talk about the pandemic these days. We don't know how long it will last, who will be left

A&E standing, and what our world will look like when this is over. Wesley's equanimity is hard-earned. "There is so much similarity between the pandemic and what I went through in war. We were in quarantine. We were in quarantine," she said. "I look at people demonstrating and saying that they want to open up ‌ When you are quarantined by war? The bombs and the missiles falling on your neighbors homes and you have to evacuate and go into the bushes? That is putting your life on hold. I've gone through it before. I've been able to be quarantined." Born and raised in Liberia, Wesley has taught English and creative writing in Western Pennsylvania for 18 years (a year at IUP and the past 17 at Penn State Altoona.) She writes about this corner of the world -- her neighbors and her neighborhood and the region where she now lives. And she writes about her childhood, her ancestors, her life as a poet and a person trying to survive a civil war. The collection leads off with 'Some of Us Are Made of Steel,' where it feels like Liberia and Western Pennsylvania are folded together in her capable hands: "But in our tears, salt, healing, salty, and forever, / we are forever. Yes, some of us are forever." There is strength in pain,

the rivers are forever, and the women endure. From the moment she shirked her childhood chores in Monrovia and instead picked up a pencil to craft a poem for her father, Wesley carved out her own space, a place where she can endure and witness and shape her world. 'They Killed a Black Man in Brooklyn Today,' is a gift. It is Wesley rushing into a riptide to save a life; it is de-

fiant survival in the face of a world that doesn't value you. "When my phone alerts me, / I feel my belly button turning hot. / My legs buckled and I could not feel my own / fingers trembling around / the curves of my phone. / Suddenly, I forget my son's number. / I forget the way to call my own son in Brooklyn. / My mind tells me it cannot recall / how

to push the buttons so my Brooklyn black / son can assure me / that he is not dead." During readings of this poem, the place would fall as silent as a forest in a deep snowfall. "My pastor said, when you read this poem, do white people hate you? I said, I don't know. Some white people like me and some white people hate me. I don't know how much impact the poem has on them, but you see, I don't care. I don't care, because it's exploring something that is true," she remembered. In honesty, this could be said of all of her work: it cuts deep because it has such backbone and authenticity. As people take to the streets to protest police violence and protest the deaths of so many Black men and women, this poem feels like it could have been written last week. It could have been written in 1995. Or 2019. Or yesterday. Or really, just about any day in America. "As an immigrant, from Africa, the issue of racism, I don't have the same experience of someone who was born and raised in America. But, I think this time we are in has changed -- especially with the government we have -- it has changed how I look at race in my poetics. I think I am going to explore more of my experience with racism in my poetry," Wesley said.



Savage Love Love | sex | relationships BY DAN SAVAGE MAIL@SAVAGELOVE.NET

I'm a 35-year-old woman. I recently discovered I'm a size queen. (Is it OK for me to use this term?) This has been brewing for a while as I have dabbled with purchasing larger and larger cucumbers and fucking myself with them after a good wash. I use a condom and tons of lube and it's been amazing. Are there any safety or health concerns I should be aware of? I'm moving away from fucking produce and purchased my first sizeable toy. I see safety tips online for men who like large toys in their butts but I wanted to know if there is anything I should be aware of as a vagina-haver. I mainly partner with men but am expanding to date women and I’ve been fisted only once by a woman and absolutely loved it. Finding I Lately Love Enormous Dildos So long as you’re taking it slow, FILLED, so long as you’re using lots of lube, so long as you’re playing with toys that have flared bases and were designed for insertion play, and so long as those toys are made of body-safe materials like silicone, then you’re doing everything right. And yes, FILLED, you may use the term “size queen” to describe yourself! I'm a longtime fan of your column and your podcast. Recently a discussion came up on Facebook and I was curious as to what your take on the situation was. It was about diaper play: A group of people seem to think that enjoying this kink is the same thing as being a pedo-

phile or engaging in "pedo-lite" behavior. Another group—myself included—believes that it is simply an expression of a kink between two consenting adults, and therefore isn’t the same as pedophilia at all. I was curious as to what your take on the situation was, or if you had any suggestions on how to approach this topic with the first group? Thank you, wishing you all the best! Wandering Ethical Terrain Of Nappies Employed Sexually Does fucking someone who’s wearing a dog collar count as bestiality? Of course not, WETONES, because dog collars no more turn consenting adults into dogs than diapers turn consenting adults into infants. And the disapproval of strangers on the Internet not only won’t stop an adult who wants to wear diapers from wearing diapers, WETONES, that disapproval makes wearing diapers all the more arousing because the transgression and “wrongness” of wearing diapers makes wearing diapers arousing—not for everyone, of course, but for most people who are into wearing diapers. Which means your disapproving friends are playing right into the pervy hands/crinkly rubber shorts of all the diaper lovers out there. And while it’s true that some people who are into age play are also into diapers, WETONES, it’s not true that everyone into diapers is into age play. For most people who get off on diapers it’s the humiliation of being a diapered adult that turns them on, not the


fantasy of being a child. My husband and I recently watched the fantastic 70s porn Alice in Wonderland: An X-rated Musical Fantasy (we got to it by watching Meatballs). It was everything I've ever wanted in a porn. Perhaps you or your readers could recommend something similar to put in our rotation? Likes To Watch Check out Caligula. This intermittently pornographic 1979 film probably isn’t as lighthearted as the version Alice in Wonderland you stumbled over, LTW, but it doubtless has a much more interesting backstory and far bigger stars. A young and sexy Malcolm McDowell as the mad Roman emperor with Peter O’Toole (!), John Gielgud (!!), and Helen Mirren (!!!) in supporting roles. Even better, this amazing train wreck of a movie is based on a screenplay by Gore Vidal. (Got a 70s porn recommendation for LTW? Share it in the comment thread!) Here’s a quickie: If a woman is attracted to cis men and non-binary humans (who can have either a penis or vagina) but that woman is not attracted to cis women… would that woman be bi or pan? Labels are not super important to me, Dan, but I’m calling on my friendly neighborhood sex advice columnist for help just the same! Loves All Bodies Except Ladies While bisexual was once commonly understood to mean, “attracted to both sexes,” the Human Rights Campaign’s online glossary now defines bisexual as, “emotionally, romantically or sexually attracted to more than one sex, gender or gender identity.” That same online glossary defines pansexual as, “the potential for emotional, romantic or sexual attraction to

people of any gender.” While on the first read there doesn’t seem to be much daylight between those two definitions, LABEL, there actually is some difference between being attracted to “more than one [gender]” and being attracted to “people of any gender.” And while a lot of people use bi and pan pretty much interchangeably these days, the bi label is probably a slightly better fit for you, LABEL, seeing as your libido disqualifies all members of one gender—your own—from emotional, romantic or sexual consideration. I'm a queer man who's starting to bottom again after ten years of being on top. I have a butt plug that my anus keeps pushing out, even though I've tried relaxing and lots of lube. It feels great when it's in, and then there it goes! I need tips! But not just the tip please. Exciting XXX Toy Or Projectile? The butt plug you’re using is too small. Like other recovering tops before you, EXTOP, you made the mistake of purchasing a small plug because you didn’t think your ass could handle a medium or large one. But butt plugs are held in place after the widest part slides all the way into your ass, past your anal sphincters, and then your sphincters close around the neck of the plug, aka the narrow part before the flared base. But if the wide part isn’t much wider than the narrow part—if you bought a plug that looks more like a finger than a lava lamp—then the anal sphincters will push the plug back out. Or, even worse, they’ll send the plug flying across the room when your sphincters contract at the moment of orgasm. Do yourself and your wallpaper a favor, EXTOP, and get yourself a bigger plug.




e didn’t go around trying to die but we were just as impartial towards living. We were 16. P was driving. I sat in the passenger seat and N and K were sitting in the back. We were in P’s old Peugeot. It was a bulky sedan built in the ’80s. Its paint was the color of rhino skin. We had what we were calling masks in the trunk but really they were red, white and blue women’s underwear we stole from Walmart and cut eye holes in. We had made some Molotov cocktails which were also in the car. There was no set target for them, we just wanted to burn something down. It didn’t much matter what. It was decided that before going towards downtown to throw them, we would kill some time driving. We went past the private school heading towards the edge of town. The streetlights were fewer and fewer and the stars started showing. It was dark, there was a little curl of moon up there too. It was the weekend and it was something to do, to drive, to break some things, to burn something. P was telling us about the captain of the cheerleading squad. He said she wouldn’t let her look at her butt when they had sex, how they only did it in positions where he couldn’t see it. I was confused. I said something about how when you are naked, you are naked. When you do something you might as well do it. All in or all out. I went on like that for a while with my callow philosophies. “So those exercises I do, they really are starting to work,” K interrupted. “Yeah?” I said. “How much progress you make?” “Like a half inch.”

“What exercises?” N asked. “My penis enlargement exercises. I have been doing them solid and it's working.” “Hmm,” said N. “No, it’s true, he does them. He has been talking about it since I met him. Not really sure why he brags about it like it’s something to brag about though.” “What do you do, use a barbell?” “It’s complicated to explain. It’s this whole thing with baby oil.” “Oh, you mean jerking off?” “What do you do that makes your dick bigger?” “Who cares, my dick is getting bigger, so it works so who cares.” “You’re Ron Jeremy.” “Should we pick up Andy? He lives right over there.” “Let’s pick up his sister instead.” “Yeah, let’s go get Andy.” “Let’s see how fast we can drive down Loop Road without flipping over,” P said. “Yeah, alright.” Andy was a friend of ours. To get to his house you could either drive down the main road and turn off, or you could take the very aptly named Loop Road. It had a few short straightaways broken up by 90 degree turns. It was narrow and dark. The branches of trees hung over it in an arch. P turned right. He stepped on it. The first turn came up and he cut the wheel hard. The tires slid and screamed. The next one we took even faster. Shortly after that we reached the end of the road. “We can do it faster.” “Fuck it.” He turned the car around. The headlights shown in front of us and the car started to speed up. We were really going when we hit the first

turn. The car was headed right at the fat trunk of a tree. He cut the wheel and overcorrected and we were headed towards a house. He cut it again. It slid and we were looking right at another tree. Somehow P stomped the breaks and turned in time. The car flipped. I was hanging upside down in my seatbelt and had glass in my mouth. I spit it out. I don’t remember how, but I was on my hands and knees crawling out the driver’s side window. K was behind me. Everyone was out. “You guys okay?” I asked. They nodded. They said yes. “That was fun.” The tires were facing the sky. There was smoke. There was quiet. There was that thin spine of moon bending over us. “Maybe we can flip it over and drive away,” I said. “Maybe,” P said. “Okay we need to get rid of the Molotov cocktails and the masks in case the cops show up.” We collected the bottles. Surprisingly they were intact. We threw them in the woods. It was completely black behind the first few trees. A couple thudded, the others shattered. I grabbed the bag with the underwear masks and pitched them. “My eye is all fucked up,” P said. “I think I have glass in it.” “You okay?” “Yeah it’s just hard to see.” I walked around the side of the car. There were pieces of a mailbox scattered around it, its post laying half hidden under the Peugeot. I started rocking the car. It really was like a tank. And, actually looking at it for the first time since we rolled, there was a lot of damage to it. The windshield was all smashed, the roof bent into a valley. We were stuck. A light came on outside the house across the street. A man came out. He started walking over. He had his phone in his hand.

The blue lights lit up the street and the wreck. The shadows of trees shifted back and forth. They separated us, asked us the same questions. No we hadn’t been drinking, I don’t use drugs, I don’t know, probably 30 or 35 miles an hour, just dark I guess, sharp turns, no I wasn’t driving, like I said no, like I said, 30 maybe, maybe 40. They searched the car, had us line up, measured the length of the skid marks. One cop said loudly to another that, guessing by the length, we were going well over 60 when it happened. P’s parents came, talked to the cops. N’s parents came, talked to the cops. They were worried. P’s mom was very shaken. I don’t remember how I got home. I may have gotten a ride, I may have walked. It was only a couple miles. A few days later P, N and I were hanging out at the abandoned building that used to house an insurance company. There were weeds reaching out of the parking lot, empty bottles scattered around. The hedges were overgrown and lopsided, they separated us from the street. P was spray painting on the wall. N and I were skateboarding on the curb. Everywhere there were small rocks and bottle caps and pieces of brick that would catch under the wheels and make you skid or fall. P was telling us about the day after the crash, telling us how sobering it all was, telling us how he walked down to Market Basket to see the cheerleader he was dating or sleeping with. To him it all seemed to mean something. N and I gave him a hard time about it and did some more tricks. We threw some rocks through the glass door. When N and I were walking back to his house we both agreed it had been fun, like a ride at a fair. You got out, then it didn’t really matter all that much. are forever. Yes, some of us are forever."




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