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FAMILIES OF ALLEGHENY COUNTY JAIL INMATES SAY TREATMENT IS 'INHUMANE' VOL. 3 ISSUE 22

July 14, 2020 - July 20, 2020

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Publisher, Pittsburgh Current charlie@pittsburghcurrent.com PITTSBURGH CURRENT | JULY 14, 2020 | 3


STAFF Publisher/Editor: Charlie Deitch Charlie@pittsburghcurrent.com Associate Publisher: Bethany Ruhe Bethany@pittsburghcurrent.com Advisory Board Chairman: Robert Malkin Robert@pittsburghcurrent.com EDITORIAL

Art Director: Larissa Mallon Larissa@pittsburghcurrent.com Music Editor: Margaret Welsh Margaret@pittsburghcurrent.com Visuals Editor: Jake Mysliwczyk Jake@pittsburghcurrent.com Social Justice Columnist: Jessica Semler jessica@pittsburghcurrent.com Contributing Writers: Jody DiPerna, Justin Vellucci, Atiya Irvin Mitchell, Dan Savage, Larry Schweiger, Brittany Hailer, Brian Conway, Matt Wallenstein, Emerson Andrews, Eric Boyd info@pittsburghcurrent.com

contents

Vol. III Iss. XXII July 14, 2020

NEWS 5 | From the Editor 6 | Information Lockdown 9 | COVID-19 10 | School openings 12 | Kennywood's Open OPINION 14 | Justice for JB 16 | Larry Schweiger 18 | Brewed on Grant ARTs & ENTERTAINMENT 19 | Mendelssohn Choir 20 | Endangered Venues EXTRA 22 | Savage Love 23 | Over the Bridge 24 | Parting Shot

COVER CREDITS: PHOTO: JAKE MYSLIWCZYK

Logo Design: Mark Addison FOR ADVERTISING RATES :

Bethany Ruhe Bethany@pittsburghcurrent.com Charlie Deitch Charlie@pittsburghcurrent.com 4 | JULY 14, 2020 | PITTSBURGH CURRENT

The Fine Print The contents of the Pittsburgh Current are © 2020 by Pittsburgh Current, LLC. All Rights Reserved. No portion of this publication shall be duplicated or reprinted without the express-written consent of Pittsburgh Current LLC. One copy per person. The Pittsburgh Current is published twice monthly beginning August 2018. 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. Email us or don’t: info@pittsburghcurrent.com.


FROM THE EDITOR

THE TERRIBLE TWOS

THE PITTSBURGH CURRENT IS STILL HERE BUT ONLY BECAUSE OF YOU

L

BY CHARLIE DEITCH - PITTSBURGH CURRENT EDITOR

CHARLIE@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM

ast year when Pittsburgh Current celebrated our first anniversary, we celebrated ourselves with a party and a special issue, even a big-ass cake. But things are different this year. We wanted to mark our second year in the business in some way, so Jake Mysliwczyk put together a cover with moments that he's found memorable. I think I realized that I wanted to make this second anniversary about the people who have made this all possible. There are obviously too many to name, so I limited myself to two. The first is Jake. The second is you, our readers. To be clear, this project never lasts as long as it has without Jake's savage work ethic and loyalty to this publication and what we have tried to accomplish here. I brought Jake in here to take pictures and over the past two year that has been the least of what he's done. He developed our podcast network and worked endless hours producing, filming and editing our broadcasts. He literally built our fucking set because he saw that the product could be better, more professional. Jake does so much for this company that half the stuff I never even had to ask for, he just did it. He has become a spot reporter, a producer, a videographer, a sound guy, and a true partner in this venture with Bethany Ruhe and me. This is as much his as it is ours. Secondly, I can't say enough about our readers, our friends and our benefactors. You folks have been there with us every step of the way. This town needs a product that is solely focused on the readers and I honestly believe that we are it. I truly do. Our readers are some of the most loyal passionate people I have ever met. When I was dumped by City Paper on March 15, 2018, the support I received from people I'd never met was overwhelming. I lost a lot that day, but believe me, I have gained even more. You read us every week but you not only have given us your time, but you've given us your money (we still need some if you've got some to spare: www.tinyurl.com/pcsurvivalfund). YOu gave to our kickstarters and this year you have given even more to keep us open and operating. Because of that, I believe we have been able to do our best work. And please know that without you, we would not be here right now. I don't know what the future brings. Things are still really hard for us and others. With the re-emergence of COVID-19 cases (300 new in Allegheny County today), survival may be an impossibility. Regardless of what happens, please know that I will continue this publication for as long as I can, even though as I sit here today, I don't know how long that will be. I haven't received a paycheck in more than two years now . I say that only so I can say this: I am only able to do this because my wife has selflessly supported our family and by extension this paper. She is an incredible partner and a person with patience like I've never seen. But, out of fairness to my family, I have to carefully consider the future. We have a couple cards to play still and we will be back next week (presumably with another story about the Allegheny County Jail). But it's important that you know that we are still alive because of you. That's something I'll never forget.

PITTSBURGH CURRENT | JULY 14, 2020 | 5


NEWS

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INFORMATION LOCKDOWN

NEWS

FAMILIES OF ALLEGHENY COUNTY JAIL INMATES SAY THE FACILITY’S PANDEMIC COMMUNICATIONS MUST IMPROVE

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or any parent, having your child exposed to the coronavirus is one of the most frightening things that could happen right now. Lori Laber and Amy Jacobs are no different except in one very distinct way. Regardless of how hard they try, there’s nothing they can do to help protect their children. Their sons are just two of 1,776 incarcerated persons who woke up this morning (July 14) in the Allegheny County Jail in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a place that has been harshly criticized for its handling of the coronavirus, specifically it's almost militant refusal to enact universal testing of employees and inmates at the facility, and most importantly the lack of information that it has shared not only with the public, but also some elected officials. The most stark example of this occurred last week. For roughly six to eight weeks, coronavirus cases amongst inmates were down. Then in the past two to three weeks, the jail’s daily virus update showed an incredible uptick in the number of pending coronavirus tests. The Pittsburgh Current began asking questions about the numbers. Through anonymous sources and a leaked email, it was dis-

BY CHARLIE DEITCH - PITTSBURGH CURRENT EDITOR

CHARLIE@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM

Lori Laber (left) says her son and others aren't receving proper treatment at the Allegheny County Jail. (Current Photos: Jake Mysliwczyk)

covered that an inmate worker in the jail’s kitchen had tested positive for COVID-19 and every inmate in his unit had been quarantined. The inmate, who was asymptomatic, was only found to have the virus because he was being transferred to another facility and that location required all transfers to be tested. Today two things are true: Three inmates at the Al-

legheny County Jail currently have COVID-19 Neither the jail nor the county have ever officially said one thing about it. The Current story is the only public document that indicates that it ever happened. That, says Laber and Jacobs, is a huge problem. Her son was put in quarantine because he worked with the infected inmate in the kitch-

en. She finally heard from her son on July12 that his test was negative. “The worst part about this is the lack of communication from the jail,” says Laber, a Pittsburgh native, currently living in Alabama, although she has returned to the city to try and help her son. I understand it’s a jail, but in this pandemic, we should be able to get information that our

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NEWS

C O N T I N U E D F R O M PA G E 7

Ploved A G Eones, 7 our children are safe. There are fewer phone calls and visitation is suspended. How do you not get scared about what your kid is going through. “I have called everyone at the jail, the warden’s office, the chaplain, counselors. I’ve left messages but no one calls back. It’s infuriating, but I’m not going to stop. I’m not leaving until things change.” Jacobs says she hasn’t heard from her son since March 25. He was in solitary confinement for a time, but even when he was released, he was not allowed phone privileges. However, Jacobs has managed to get some information about him from other sources and what she’s heard isn’t good. “He’s not feeling well,” Jacobs says. “He’s got a fever, sore throat, diarrhea, headaches, he’s sweating all the time and he’s exhausted. I don’t know if it’s COVID-19, but neither does he. He put in a request for a medical exam, but he hasn't seen anyone yet. We found out a nurse took pity on him and gave him a Tylenol, but that’s it. “He’s extremely depressed and not doing well. He needs to be tested. It’s inhumane what they’re doing to these people.” Jacobs’ son has been incarcerated since June 2019, but the pandemic has continually pushed his trial and hearing dates back. His trial was slated for March, but was postponed due to the pandemic. He was then scheduled for

trial July 1, but that date was postponed because the judge in his non-jury trial was sick. And while some may have the reaction that “these inmates are adults, why should their parents be notified?” It’s not just family that is unable to get information. Joe Pometto is the attorney for Lori Laber’s son. Pometto showed up for her son’s trial and he wasn’t there. It was only then that he was told his client was in quarantine. “They don’t give us any information either,” Pometto said. “I called his councilor, the warden's secretary, I sent an email for a week straight and I didn’t get a response. “The lack of transparency and communication from the jail is troubling.” At the start of the pandemic after much prodding by advocates and some elected officials, an effort was undertaken to release, presumably, as many inmates as possible to protect them from getting sick and to lessen any outbreak that might occur within the jail. And although the jail and judicial system spent a few weeks touting their release numbers, the fact is the reduction in actual population was never that significant. It’s important to remember that the majority of inmates at the ACJ are pretrial inmates, meaning they aren’t guilty of anything. The plan was to release as many of these people as possible, especially those accused of nonviolent crimes. However, a lot of inmates

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couldn’t be released because in addition to their charges, they were on a judicial detainer. A detainer or hold can be placed for any number of reasons, failure to appear for a hearing or a probation violation. During the initial release phase, attorneys filed motions for both Laber’s and Jacobs’ son to be released. For their original charges, both received bail and could have been released, but the retainers prevented that and judges refused to remove the detainers. “They’re using these detainers for whatever reason not to release these people,” Pometto says. “Were it not for that, they’d be home and not worried about being caught in the middle of a pandemic.” Both Jacobs and Laber say this treatment shows a pattern of disregard that the county and jail management have for incarcerated individuals. On July 2, the Current reported that the county will make $4.3 million in kickbacks from a telecom company that was granted a contract to provide phone and communication services to the county jail. Wanda Bertram of the national, Prison Policy Initiative, says county jails have for years been reaping profits off of inmates even as other facilities across the country have moved toward inexpensive or free calls. “These profits come at the expense of people who, in a lot of cases, make very low

wages to begin with, and their families,” Bertrand says. “If a county would just refuse to take a profit, the price of calls could be minimal or even free.” At the July 14 Allegheny County Council meeting, Councilor-at-Large Bethany Hallam is introducing legislation to prevent the county from making a profit off of jail inmates and county employees. The question now, becomes what can families of the incarcerated individuals do to change the system? Thus far, jail management has seemed impervious to calls for help, transparency and improved communication. Laber and Jacobs aren’t exactly sure, but they say the situation needs to change. “I think it’s time we start protesting and getting our message out so people know what’s going on here,” Laber says. “They must think that by not answering us and by not talking to us that they can make us go away. But I’m not going anywhere. I will be here until I know my son, Amy’s son and all the others are being taken care of. Concludes Jacobs: “These people haven’t been found guilty of doing anything yet and they're not being treated that way. These are people that we love and I think we deserve some level of communication. Their voices need to be heard.”


NEWS LEVINE: YOUNGER ADULTS NOW MAKE UP 45 PERCENT OF PA.'S COVID-19 CASES BY JOHN L. MICEK - SPECIAL TO THE PITTSBURGH CURRENT

Mirroring trends in other states, adults aged 19 to 49 now make up an increasing share of Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 cases, state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said Monday, as she issued an urgent warning for residents to remain vigilant and to wear a mask when they’re out in public. “If you’re in a situation where you think you need a mask, then the answer is “Yes,” you need a mask,” Levine said during a news conference. “If you’re uncomfortable with how close people are, such as in a restaurant, make the choice to leave. If you’re in a store where people are failing to observe mask orders, then leave. As much as our effort [to contain the virus] are about laws and mandates and requirements, they’re mostly about your choices.” As of midday Monday, health officials had confirmed 328 cases of COVID-19 in all 67 counties, for a total of 95,742 cases statewide. Officials confirmed seven, new fatalities, bringing the statewide death count to 6,911 people statewide. Speaking to journalists Monday, Levine said the state had seen the recurrence of a trend prevalent during the early days of the pandemic where young people were the first to get sick, often seriously, which required hospitalization. Where Pennsylvanians

INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM

Dr. Rachel Levine gives a COVID-19 update on July 13 (Screen Capture)

aged 65 and older once constituted the bulk of cases, that percentage has now evened out, with adults aged 19-49 comprising 45 percent of the state’s caseload, Levine said. While the virus rages in other states, especially in such states as Arizona, Florida, South Carolina, Texas and elsewhere, Levine said Pennsylvania has no immediate plans to return to the color-coded reopening zones

that have since allowed residents in all 67 counties to return to work. But “our actions will continue to impact whether we can stay at work,” Levine said. “Clearly, we are seeing cases across the U.S. skyrocket. Other states are seeing an even more dramatic surge that we were able to avoid. Levine credited what she called the “targeted actions”

taken by health officials in Allegheny County, which has seen an increase in case counts. Last week, acting in response, Allegheny County put a two-week halt on indoor dining. The county reported 71 new cases on Monday and no new deaths, according to WESA-FM journalist Chris Potter. But the county “also only reported getting 741 test results in all. Positives date back to tests taken from July 1-12, so a week-and-a-half wait for some,” Potter noted on Twitter on Monday. And while those targeted measures are important, Levine continued to stress Monday that it’s up to state residents to act as their own enforcement agents to help halt the spread of the coronavirus, which causes the illness COVID-19. “What’s most important for Pennsylvanians to know right now, as they go about their routines is to make the important choices to lower risk,” she said. ” … Go for a hike, but take your mask, just like you take your sunscreen. Think about your family, your community, and make those choices, those smart, daily habits.” John L. Micek is the editor of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star where this story first appeared.

PITTSBURGH CURRENT | JULY 14, 2020 | 9


NEWS HOW WILL PENNSYLVANIA SCHOOLS REOPEN THIS FALL? YOUR QUESTIONS, ANSWERED BY ELIZABETH HARDISON - FOR THE PITTSBURGH CURRENT

After a historic shutdown that kept 1.7 million school children at home for three months, schools across Pennsylvania are racing against the clock to safely open their doors this fall. Administrators are stockpiling hand sanitizer, masks and infrared thermometers. Teachers are plowing through professional development programs to improve online instruction. And local school boards are logging marathon meetings as they try to balance budgets and adopt safety plans for the upcoming school year. Schools in Pennsylvania are technically allowed to open their doors this month. But with barely eight weeks until Labor Day marks the end of summer, and messages from state and federal leaders changing every day, many schools still have not completed their plans for how they’ll operate during the 20202021 school year. There’s a lot we still don’t know about what school in Pennsylvania will look like this fall. The Capital-Star has reviewed news reports, read research published by state agencies and educators, and spoke with experts to answer some of the biggest questions about school reopening across the state. Are children vulnerable to COVID-19? Children are less vulnerable to COVID-19 than adults – but they’re not immune to it, either. A growing number of global studies show that kids simply don’t seem to contract the virus that easily. Even when they do get infected, children don’t tend to manifest a lot of symptoms, said Dr. William

INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM

Keough, president of the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. We know now that it is possible for asymptomatic patients, including children, to spread the coronavirus. But symptomatic patients pose a bigger risk, Keough said, since they can spread more respiratory droplets when they cough or sneeze. Since they just aren’t that likely to contract COVID-19, and they aren’t that likely to show symptoms when they do, “children are really not the biggest contributors to community spread,” Keough told the Capital-Star. That said, it’s not impossible for them to spread it, either. A child who’s infected with COVID-19 could spread it to a teacher, family members, or anyone else who’s in close contact with them throughout the day. “This is a respiratory virus, so like all respiratory viruses … it just goes person to person, trying to make copies of itself,” Keough

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said. A small number of children with COVID-19 have developed a rare, but serious, condition called multisystem inflammatory syndrome, or MIS-C. Researchers are still working to determine the link between COVID-19 and MIS-C. Preliminary data show that children who develop MIS-C recover, but it can make them seriously ill. What about educators? It seems unlikely that educators will catch COVID-19 from students. A study in the Journal of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society found that just 13 percent of pediatric COVID-19 cases resulted in transmission from a child to an adult, Keough said. But adults in any workplace still pose risks to one another. Teachers and support staff will have to share bathrooms, equipment, and facilities when they go back to work. Schools can limit interactions among staff by staggering schedules, limiting capacity in break rooms and administrative offices,

and requiring staff to wear masks and gloves when social distancing is impossible. Those precautions have kept schools safe in other countries. Preliminary data reviewed by researchers at Brown University found that schools in Ireland, Australia and Denmark accounted for very few new cases of COVID-19 once they reopened, though schools in Israel and South Korea have seen outbreaks that led to new school shutdowns. But some educators are concerned that those efforts won’t be effective in Pennsylvania. Thousands of Philadelphia teachers said in a survey that they were “very concerned” about the ability of Pennsylvania’s biggest school district to provide soap, cleaning supplies, masks and gloves if students return to the classroom in the fall. At a suburban district in York County, teachers expressed worry that their classrooms wouldn’t be disinfected frequently enough. Right now, it’s unclear if Pennsylvania teachers will decide to leave the workforce because they fear unsafe work environments. Roughly 12 percent of the state’s teachers were at or near the age of retirement in 2018-2019, state data show, putting them in the age bracket that’s most vulnerable to COVID-19. A report published by groups representing educators, including the Pennsylvania State Education Association, recommends that districts offer virtual work options for staff to prevent a teacher drain this fall, and that the state consider relaxing certain certification re-


NEWS quirements to give educators more flexibility in staffing. What’s the safest way to reopen schools? Technically speaking, keeping kids at home and transitioning all schools to online learning is the surest way to prevent new cases of COVID-19. That’s what the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended, though it’s facing growing pushback from child welfare advocates and parents, who say that in-person learning and socializing is best for children. The American Academy of Pediatrics has urged schools to make in-person instruction a priority for the upcoming school year. Early data from the 2019-2020 school year indicates that kids regressed in their learning during the school shutdowns. And as Keough told the Capital-Star, remote instruction also makes it hard for schools to protect children from neglect, abuse, and malnutrition. “In whole, as pediatricians, we think that children do develop best when they’re in an in-person, classroom environment,” Keough said. The Pennsylvania Department of Education is strongly encouraging schools to offer children some classroom time this fall, even if it’s only for part of the week. State officials have been touting the findings of a report by the analytics firm Mathematica, which analyzed six scenarios for school reopening in Pennsylvania. It found that a staggered school week – one where students are split into two groups, which alternate days in a classroom and days learning at home – offered the best balance of safety and educational quality for students and staff. What will my child’s school look like if it reopens? That depends largely on the decisions of your local school officials and the severity of COVID-19

outbreaks in your community. Right now, we know that masks will be mandatory for teachers and students in all school buildings because of an executive order the Wolf administration issued earlier this month. The Pennsylvania State Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, and the Pennsylvania Department of Education have issued dozens of guidelines that schools should consider for this fall. They include requiring daily temperature checks for students and staff; rearranging classrooms to create more space between students; and creating new hand washing stations to promote hygiene during the school day. But those guidelines aren’t mandatory. The only real requirement schools are facing this fall is that they have to submit health and safety plans to the Department of Education before they reopen for in-person classes. To date, fewer than 100 school districts and charter schools have completed their plans, according to Department of Education data. A review of those plans shows that some districts intend to offer a hybrid educational model that allows students to split the school week between their homes and their classrooms. Many schools also have contingency plans that will allow them to shift to online learning if their communities see upticks in new COVID-19 cases. Why do children have to wear masks? The Department of Education originally told schools that it would be difficult to require students to wear masks all day. But the Wolf administration confirmed last week that face coverings would be mandatory in all of Pennsylvania’s public schools, effective July 1. A growing body of research suggests that face masks are one of the most effective ways of reducing COVID-19 transmission in crowded spaces.

Schools are no exception. Though federal guidelines don’t recommend masks for kids under the age of 2, the Pennsylvania Association of Pediatrics recommends face coverings for school children as a key component of disease control in schools, along with hand washing and social distancing. “Broadly speaking, children are capable of wearing masks and face coverings, and it will help decrease transmission,” Keough said. Some children may be reluctant to wear face masks during the day, and some parents have said that universal masking could be upsetting or uncomfortable for kids. David Lillenstein, president of the Association of School Psychologists of Pennsylvania, said those concerns are normal. Many children and adults may not like being forced to wear masks all day, he said, but added it’s up to educators and parents to set good examples for children in their care. He said it’s important for adults to acknowledge their fear and discomfort in order to encourage children to do the same. He also recommends educating kids on how masks can keep people around them safe. “How we respond to this virus impacts how children respond,” Lillenstein said. “Whatever our reaction is to COVID-19, it’s important that we normalize it a bit.” How much is all this going to cost? COVID-19 has dealt a double whammy to school budgets. Business shutdowns and job losses are expected to cause a combined $1 billion shortfall in local revenue sources, the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Administrators estimates. At the same time, schools are on the hook for a dizzying number of new expenses, from laptops and Wi-Fi hotspots for students to masks, gloves, hand sanitizer for teachers. Some schools have to hire new personnel to provide day care for their employees’ children; others

are retrofitting their facilities to allow for social distancing between students. One of the biggest headaches of all will be the increased cost of transportation as schools coordinate staggered schedules to try to prevent crowding on buses. Many schools may choose to extend the 2020-2021 school year to make up for learning losses this spring. That brings additional costs for school meals. All told, the upcoming school year could bring as much as $365 million in new costs for Pennsylvania school districts, according to a calculator from the Learning Policy Institute, a Washington, DCbased research firm. Taking into account revenue losses, the total damage to schools could surpass $10 billion over the next two years. State lawmakers have allocated some federal funds to help schools cover new costs for the upcoming school year. But many advocates and education leaders say it won’t be nearly enough to keep students and teachers safe, and are calling on Congress to pass another stimulus package this summer to avert financial catastrophe in the nation’s schools this fall. The U.S. House has already passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, which provides nearly $1 trillion in federal aid to local governments. Even though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said last week that America “can’t get back to normal if the kids are not back in school,” he has allowed the HEROES Act to languish in the Senate, and says the chamber will develop its own plan for another stimulus package. Elizabeth Hardison is a reporter for the the Pennsylvania Capital-Star where this story first appeared

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NEWS

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NEWS

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OPINION PUSHING BACK THE PLATE: A HUNGER FOR JUSTICE IN THE DEATH OF JB BROWN

I

don’t know what the interview that I am witnessing is about, but I can see it has taken something from her. She pauses, tenses her shoulders, and holds her hand over her face mask that reads “Jaylen Brown.” I watch as two women console her as her hands now become fists at her side, and the tears of her grief continue to flow. This is not the first march I’ve been to where I’ve witnessed this level of grief from an African American mother and felt uncomfortable, yet inspired by her grief. Somehow, though, this time feels different. I watch the reporter, a blonde woman in a vibrant floral patterned dress, text on her phone as the cameraman continues to film. When Dannielle Brown walks by me, our eyes meet as she looks at the Duquesne insignia on my shirt. I want to tell her I remember her son’s accident as a student and teaching fellow there, how I, too, am from the DC area, how my mother is a fellow Soror, how her son’s death has validated my own feelings of unsafety, but instead I freeze. All I can do is tell her that I’m so sorry for her loss. As she walks away, I know my verbal condolence is not enough. A black mother’s grief is visceral. This grief is so profound because it validates the fear that most of them have every time their children leave the house--that they may not come back safely. We are gut-punched when black women publicly mourn because we are helpless because black children are unjustly dying in this country in droves and it has been that way even before the founding of the Republic. Even worse, these children’s bodies are vilified as if to imply that they are responsible for their own unjust death.

BY CAITLYN HUNTER - SPECIAL TO THE PITTSBURGH CURRENT

INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM

Plates used in the march for Maurice "Jaylen" Brown (Photo by Nick Eustis)

Historically, it was the stories of slave women being stripped from their children at slave auctions that supported arguments around abolition. When Emmett Till’s body was returned to his family after his lynching, his mother Mamie Till Mobely made the conscious decision to allow media to photograph her son’s battered body in the coffin and funeral as an attempt to put a face on lynching, thus solidifying advocacy for Civil Rights. What we remember most about the eight

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minutes and forty-six seconds of George Floyd’s fleeting breaths is that he called out for his mother. Marquis Jaylen Brown’s mother is no different. Her ongoing hunger strike at Freedom Corner will only be satiated by answers and justice for the untimely death of her son, known by family and friends as JB. On October 4, 2018 football player and senior Duquesne University student JB Brown celebrated his 21st birthday by hanging with friends on campus. One of those

friends offered him marijuana to which he took two puffs, and played video games. Between the time he left and returned to his room he told others that his stomach hurt. Video cameras in the elevator and in his dorm room hall show signs of him being physically distressed as the footage shows him dancing, moving erratically, skipping up and down the hallway, and coming in and out of his dorm room. Despite his roommate’s best efforts to calm JB down, one of Brottier Hall’s RA, a


OPINION security guard, and two Duquesne Police officers were called to help with JB’s abnormal behavior. What transpired next ended with JB falling sixteen flights out of a dorm window. Dannielle Brown was told by Duquesne authorities that her son took a chair and smashed a window before jumping. When she recovered his body she noted that JB’s face was perfectly preserved despite plummeting over 173 feet where only a small contusion on his forehead showed. She put her trust in an institution to keep her son safe, and yet he was returned to her in a casket. Something told her that something wasn’t right. She packed her things, called her family, and drove to Pittsburgh in search of answers hungry for the truth. In a rocking chair she has sat on Freedom Corner, refusing to eat until a proper private investigation was conducted. Her hunger for justice is unnerving so much so that the Pittsburgh community decided enough was enough. And so, on July 11th at 4:30pm we marched. There is something undeniably powerful about the Black mother. Her unwavering ferocity knows no bounds because she is the pillar that holds her children up and tries to protect them, as best she can, from the evilness of this world. When I asked my mother why she named me Caitlyn, she told me it was because she wanted me to have a chance. At the time I didn’t understand what those words meant, but I continued to reap its benefits that allowed me access into predominantly white spaces, provided me with job interviews where my black friends with “ethnic” names had none. That name somehow made me appear less intimidating to white allies. But despite my name, my black body will always read as something as a threat, something that doesn’t belong. In September 2019, the Pittsburgh Gender Equity Commission issued a report stating that Pittsburgh was the most unliveable city for black women. The report showed that Black women were most likely to

be the least-paid in many fields, were more likely to be arrested for truancy in schools, accounted for two percent of the student body in both undergraduate and graduate programs in colleges and universities and if pregnant, have the highest infant-mortality rate, one that is unparalleled nationally. I am born from generations of Pittsburgh women. Women who had to leave this city to ensure their survival. Black women who are more likely to die here, than anywhere else in the country. I think about this as Dannielle Brown is resolved to the fact that she may die here looking for answers about what happened to her son just before he fell out of a dormitory window. In my six years of living in Pittsburgh I have attended two institutions where the racial demographic of the student body is roughly 80 percent white. I have been one of two students of color in my department during graduate school and these experiences were often very lonely. I’ve had people challenge my authenticity of Black experience. I have been in classes where racial slurs were used unapologetically. I have had programs try to use me as a poster minority student or a success story despite my middle-class, second-generation college student background. I have had classmates make jokes about slavery in front of me, joke about my proximity to “whiteness,” or how I’m being “too loud.” I have had both students and professors ask me to “Blacksplain” material or look for my approval when appropriating Black culture. These are just a few of the ills that white students in my cohort will never have to suffer from; their complicity in allowing these microaggressions to happen is a choice that I’m never afforded. Being Black and educated is often an isolated space for students of color where our performance and functionality are constantly under the microscope. We are expected to be excellent. We are expected to be silent, and when we are not, we are often dismissed as a problem.

It is often a long and lonely dance trying to figure out the right steps to ensure our survival and success. While I did not personally know JB, I knew and taught some of his teammates who expressed a similar exhaustion. I wonder if JB suffered from this isolated dance too. In October 2018, a release from the president of the university distinctly claimed that a student had “jumped” from the 16th floor of Brottier Hall and there would be a vigil on campus sometime later that week. Out of respect for the family, this vigil would be closed to both the media and the public. I remember when JB died, I looked at the window from which he fell. I was walking to teach a class on James Baldwin’s “Notes from a Native Son” and gazed at the window, where something about the vacancy of space haunted me. I had been in Brottier Hall countless times before, and knew the thickness of those windows. I took a picture of the window and sent it to my mother and told her the story. At the time we discussed the stigma surrounding black mental health. She told me that in law school, a Black classmate of hers opened a window at the university and just jumped. But, here there was no window to open. It had to be shattered. It took force, strength, and determination. I am told constantly that my strength is admirable but this strength is always tethered to my being both Black and a woman. Black men more often than not, are not held to this same standard. Weeks after his death, rumors circulated that “drugs” were found in Brown’s autopsy report which could have explained his erratic behavior. At the time, I questioned how any of that mattered in the grander scheme of a death snuffed out far too soon. I also wondered why mental health wasn't the central focus, and why de-escalation tactics weren’t used to help this student who clearly was struggling so much that authorities on campus needed to intervene. Little

did I know that his mother had the same questions. Almost two years have passed since his death, and yet so much remains unknown. Black stories are often either amended or entirely eradicated from history. It is through oral traditions so deeply ingrained within Black culture that these stories become solidified. Through our voices, Black existence is made real and continues to thrive. As I sat in the crowd of supporters I listened to Dannielle tell us about her son. I allowed her words to breathe life and resuscitate JB’s existence and demonstrate why his life and so many countless others mattered. No mother should have to starve herself to find out what happened to her son. No mother should have to fear that sending her child to school could mean sending him to his death. For us to rally in support of the value of Black life, should additionally mean that we protect Black mothers who simply want to keep their children alive. Claudia Rankine said that the “condition of Black life is one of mourning.” I am tired of mourning. I am tired of being a silent witness to Black death and being reminded that at any point it could be a family member, a friend, or myself that could be next. At the march, Dannielle Brown and those who supported her, handed out decorated plates, each one with its own provocative message. As we marched towards Duquesne University with a battle cry in our hearts, we held those plates high above our heads in hopes that at least one mother would get her just desserts. Caitlyn Hunter is a doctoral student at Duquesne University. She is an adjunct professor of English at the Community College of Allegheny County. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Chatham and resides in the Pittsburgh area.

PITTSBURGH CURRENT | JULY 14, 2020 | 15


OPINION

REDISCOVERING THE INCHCAPE ROCK: A CLIMATE CHANGE LESSON FOR THE AGE OF TRUMP BY LARRY J. SCHWEIGER - PITTSBURGH CURRENT COLUMNIST

INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM

English poet Robert Southey wrote about a 14th-century Abbot of Aberbrothok who mounted a bell on Inchcape Rock-a treacherous sandstone reef eleven miles off the east coast of Scotland to warn mariners during severe weather. As the story goes, a notorious pirate Ralph the Rover vandalized the bell and dumped it into the sea on his way to plunder merchant's vessels. On his journey back, a severe storm struck Ralph the Rover’s ship. Without warning, the ship laden with booty struck the reef and sank. Southey writes of the Rover’s final moments: “But even in his dying fear, One dreadful sound could the Rover hear; A sound as if with the Inchcape Bell, The Devil below was ringing his knell.” For generations, "The Inchcape Rock" was taught as a cautionary tale to dissuade those who might destroy critical warning bells. Long forgotten, Southey's poem has renewed relevance with Trump, who is the modern-day equivalent of Ralph the Rover. Trump has destroyed warning bells at the CDC, EPA, Justice, Education, Energy, State and at the National Security Agencies by appointing special interest lobbyists and ideologues who are subverting the agencies’ purposes. He has fired inspector generals, forced out some of our best public servants, and Trump even dumps his ap-

pointees who refuse to play his corrupt game. The Jagged Rocks of Climate Change: The World Meteorological Organization reported that the global temperature in 2016 climbed to about 1.2C above pre-industrial levels, dangerously close to the 1.5C threshold that the Paris climate agreement aimed at avoiding. The planet is setting new heat records. Not surprisingly, the earth is also setting new records for severe and devastating weather, including heatwaves and drought-driven wildfires, unprecedented storms, extensive flooding, and other climate emergencies. Despite the many compelling warming signals across the planet, Trump has assembled an administration of lobbyists and special interests at EPA and other key resource agencies to accomplish his reckless ambitions against climate and environmental protections. Trump and the Republican-led Congress were unrestrained for two years. They destroyed many vital warning bells through crippling budget cuts and by defunding vital programs, including much NASA climate research efforts to purge what the deniers call "politicized science." By kneecapping NASA’s climate change research and shifting the funding to a “deep space” program in a blatant move to eliminate the warning bells of climate science. We will have lost

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four years in dealing with the climate crisis. Things can only worsen if the Trump administration gets another four years to ignore the growing threats from storms, sea-level rise, droughts, and forest fires. They will continue to ignore the consequences of heat-trapping pollution, and the carbonic acid acidifying the oceans. Regardless of

political ideology, religion, or worldview, there will be a severe price to be paid for silencing climate science bells. Environmental Protection Agency: Once the warning bells of NASA were largely silenced, the Trump administration went about undoing EPA’s Clean Power Rules that


OPINION would have cut emissions by 30%. He abandoned other vital carbon pollution regulations, including efficiency standards, auto rules, mercury controls, and hazardous air mission rules. Trump will fulfill his promise of abandoning the Paris Accord if reelected in 2020. His EPA gutted the Waters of the U.S. Rules that protected most of the headwaters and wetlands in the Nation. These were not idle campaign promises by the Twitterer-in-Chief when he mocked the very notion of climate change in 2016 and promised to end environmental regulations. Department of Energy: At the Department of Energy, Trump replaced a brilliant physicist Ernest Moniz with a former Texas Governor. Rick Perry is best known for dancing with the stars and his promise to eliminate several federal agencies as a presidential candidate five years ago. When asked to name the agencies, Rick Perry forgot the Energy Department's name and ended by saying "oops." Perry's time at the Energy Department was checkered with giveaways to the coal industry. It ended when we learned Perry was vying for an appointment to a Ukrainian Gas Corporation board. State Department: Trump’s failed international diplomacy is having disastrous consequences. His constant display of resentment to other leaders, profound ignorance, and egotistical behavior has offended our best friends. He and Mike Pompeo, his Secretary of State, are undermining NATO

by pulling U.S. troops from Germany and fomenting disunity among our best democratic allies. NATO is a vital security structure drawn from lessons learned during the First and Second World War. It is a successful joint defense agreement between the U.S. and the democratic countries in the European Union and England to protect and defend each other. Meanwhile, Trump ingratiates himself with the world's worst tyrants and right-wing dictators and has repeatedly failed to address Russia's many misdeeds. Most troubling, Trump has failed to defend American soldiers in Afghanistan against Taliban bounty hunters funded by Putin. Instead, Trump attempts to reward Putin by getting him back into the G-7. Ignoring 367,000 new infections in a single week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggested at a recent press conference "of course the U.S remains the world leader in the pandemic." Pompeo claimed the "world turns its eyes" to American scientists and researchers and to U.S. aid to assist the developing world in fighting their outbreaks." He said this with a straight face as Trump has fractured our relationship with the World Health Organization. The U.S. has become a pariah Nation. Americans are banned from travel to the E.U. and Canada because of our raging pandemic setting new records for each of the past three weeks. Trump’s former Secretary of State and ExxonMobil’s CEO Rex Tillerson reportedly called

Trump “a moron” in private. Tillerson never denied saying that and summed Trump as "pretty undisciplined, doesn't like to read," and repeatedly attempted to do illegal things. The National Institute for Health and CDC: Trump has made it clear that he takes no responsibility for the mismanagement of the deadly virus even though he failed to ramp up testing, and contact tracing. He ignored the best available science and encouraged Governors to reopen prematurely. He has been setting bad examples with maskless rallies. Trump repeatedly cut the Center for Disease Control's (CDC) budget, froze the CDC's hiring, shut down the international pandemic response team, and fractured relationships with Governors trying to do the right thing for their constituents. Unbelievably, Trump is still asking Congress to cut the CDC's budget in his pending budget proposal. Before the Supreme Court, the Attorney General's office is seeking to kill the Affordable Health Care Act, stripping vital insurance from millions and ending protections against preexisting conditions, etc. during a rapidly expanding pandemic. Trump blamed Obama and the CDC for the failures that occurred on his watch. He accused China of unleashing the pandemic then he blamed the World Health Organization. Now he has smearing Dr. Fauci. Trump shuts out the truth when it conflicts with his fantasies of infinite success and control. He particularly resents Fauci's conviction for truth and science and fears Fauci’s frank com-

munications harm Trump's many mythical pronouncements about the COVID-19 virus. Trump is again putting on full display his oppressive interpersonal behavior with the CDC over schools reopening. He is especially targeting Fauci, who has a penchant for truth in the face of political pressure. We are captives on Trump’s failing ship of state. We are dealing with a pandemic amplified by Trump, who once called the coronavirus a "Democratic hoax." Encouraging governors to prematurely reopen worked so well that Trump plans to send international students back home unless Universities resume normal classes. Using racial slurs to describe the virus in a recent rally, Trump issued one of his many threats promising to cut off funding if public schools do not fully reopen this fall. Jails are too dangerous for Trump’s friends but classrooms are apparently safe for children and teachers. It turns out that people who watch Fox News and trust Trump’s judgment are more likely to get sick. Florida has set a new daily record with over 15,000 cases, and other red states are not far behind. Pittsburgh is spiking too. Many Americans feeding on fake news are still making dangerous decisions that are increasing the spread. America is in a violent storm, and the Inchcape Rock is nearby. Trump is our modern-day Ralph the Rover. He has assembled a dangerously corrupt crew and has torn down the warning bells that could have avoided his many failures and sinking poll numbers.

PITTSBURGH CURRENT | JULY 14, 2020 | 17


OPINION

ADVERTISE WITH US TODAY! WWW.PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM 18 | JULY 14, 2020 | PITTSBURGH CURRENT


A&E AS PART OF AN ONLINE DISCUSSION SERIES, THE MENDELSSOHN CHOIR AND CHORAL CONDUCTOR TESFA WONDEMAGEGNEHU TEAM UP FOR A CONVERSATION ABOUT RACE IN CHORAL MUSIC BY MARGARET WELSH - PITTSBURGH CURRENT MUSIC EDITOR MARGARET@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM

In 2017, the Seattle Opera launched a production of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. Despite the inimitable beauty of the opera, the work -- which tells the story of a teenage Japanese geisha who is impregnated and ultimately abandoned by an American naval officer -- is rife with racism and sexism. But rather than downplaying or softening those elements (or “canceling” Puccini all together) the Seattle Opera faced them head-on, putting up a lobby exhibit dealing with orientalism on Broadway and in popular film. The company also hosted public discussions between Asian artists and community leaders, as well as a series of plays by Asian-American women. This, says Tesfa Wondemagegnehu -- conductor of the Viking Chorus and the Chapel Choir at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota -- may be a helpful model for how to deal with some of the canon’s uglier bits. In a phone conversation from his Minnesota home, he references a New York Times Op-Ed by Katherine Hu from December of last year. He reads aloud: “[O]pera audiences tend to be made up of majority-white audiences who may be less aware of the offensive caricatures they’re seeing onstage. The lobby exhibition presented ‘Madama Butterfly’ as the historical artifact that it is, allowing the opera’s racism and sexism to serve in a productive educational project.” On Wednesday, July 15th, Wondemagegnehu will facilitate a discussion about whiteness in choral music. The online event is a part of the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh’s Candid Conversations series.

Tesfa Wondemagegnehu Each installment of the live weekly series, which runs through August 5, features a short singing lesson (this week led by opera singer Kiera Duffy) followed by a discussion led by a different member of the national and international choral community. (For added context, Wondemagegnehu suggests that attendees read the first two chapters of Robin Diangelo’s best-seller White Fragility, a text that he uses in a class he teaches called Music and Social Justice.) For Wondemagegnehu, the Seattle Opera’s interrogation of the canon serves as a potential jumping-off point, which will hopefully lead others in the music world to ask similar questions. “How are we having a conversation with music, with choral music specifically, and creating those environments where we can unpack the racism that exists?” Wondemagegnehu asks. “Does it stop with performing the pieces [by non-white composers] and patting [ourselves] on othe back … or is there some-

thing else I can do? How can i be anti-racist?” In contrast to Seattle Opera’s Madama Butterfly, Hu’s Op-Ed mentions the Canadian Opera Company’s 2019 production of Puccini’s Turnadot. There, some elements were adjusted to be less blatantly offensive -- changing the names of characters, for example. But these tweaks did little to address the deeper issues of orientalism embedded in the opera. As with the Seattle Opera, Wondemagegnehu wants to dig below the cosmetic. Important as representation might be -- for example -- it’s not enough to simply program more work by non-white composers. “Instead of just saying, ‘I'm going to perform music by black, brown, indiginous people,’” Wondemagegnehu says, we must “perform that music and create a space for those artists to share their truth and share their stories and allow them to interact with our audience members. And those [audience members] can be impacted by those stories and know that there is work to be done.” For Wondemagegnehu, choral music was a life-changer. Growing up in the inner city of Memphis, he was, he says, “a wannabe hard kid” who got expelled from 9th grade for selling stolen pagers. But around that time he was accepted into a choral program, on a probationary basis. The teacher was a tough old Black lady who “didn’t play,” Wondemagegnehu recalls with a laugh. She also instilled in him the belief that excellence was never an accident. When she died of a heart attack, Wondemagegnehu had a kind of

awakening. “I need to do more,” he thought, “I need to be better, i need to do these things that my parents have been telling me all my life. “But it was from being in this women’s program, this choral music program in Memphis, Tennessee, that I truly started to get to the work that needed to be done.” Wondemagegnehu knows firsthand the transformative power of music, and wants BIPOC to have the chance to participate in and benefit from it the way he has. “I do that work from the lens of, here I am, no longer living in the city streets of Memphis, but also understanding that I came from there and need to do everything in my power to make sure those voices get heard. And I’m doing everything I can to leverage my privilege and platform to amplify the people in that situation.” It’s a big conversation, he admits. For the purposes of his Mendelssohn Choir talk, he’ll provide an outline, “to just basically get people interested in the topic and figure out ways that they can get involved,” he says. “Using this extraordinary platform of choral music to have bigger, community-changing conversations, I think, is mandatory.” Interrogating the Tradition: Upholding Whiteness in Choral Music. 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 15. Watch the discussion live on Mendelssohn’s Facebook page or YouTube channel. Free. www. themendelssohn.org

PITTSBURGH CURRENT | JULY 14, 2020 | 19


A&E

BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE?

A LACK OF LIVE SHOWS DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC HAS MUSIC VENUE OPERATORS WONDERING WHEN OR IF THE CURTAIN WILL RISE AGAIN

L

ocated on the edge of Friendship and Garfield, Pittsburgh’s Mr. Roboto Project is the area’s oldest DIY music venue. Over its 20-plus year history, Roboto has become a place for everyone, from bands who are putting on their first show to breakout indie groups touring the nation. In fact, with the approval of Roboto’s board of directors, anyone can put on a show. For the small bands of Pittsburgh, the simplicity of the space is what makes it perfect. After four months of closure, spaces like Roboto have been hurting. The harmful economic effects of COVID-19 won’t slow down for anything, even the city’s greatest spots to see a show. Even though venues initially looked at reopening in June, it doesn’t seem like that’ll be happening anytime soon. Pittsburgh has a strong infrastructure for small and new bands, but the shutdown could easily change that. It leads to a fair question: will those venues, festivals, and booking agents survive the pandemic? “I think we’ll do everything we can to keep [Roboto] afloat, and I think we have a nice community backing. I think we’ll survive,” says Brett Shumaker, Mr. Roboto Project’s booking coordinator and founder of the local booking company, Don't Let the Scene Go Down on Me! Collective. “It’s been rough, since no one’s having shows right now, so no one’s

BY ETHAN GORDON - PITTSBURGH CURRENT CONTRIBUTING WRITER INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM

really bringing in money, and everyone’s trying to do their own fundraisers and things like that.” While Mr. Roboto already runs on the tiniest budget possible, the current lack of shows really hinders its ability to make ends meet. When Roboto is open, larger touring groups usually bring the most people and money to the space. To supplement the lack of

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income, Shumaker put together a community compilation album. With contributions from nationally renowned groups like Dogleg, Screaming Females and Katie Ellen, and Pittsburgh artists like String Machine, Portrait People, Short Fictions and Baseball Dad, the two albums are easily worth your time. The Mr. Roboto Project Benefit Compi-

lation Volume 1 and Volume 2 are out now. For many musicians in the community, Roboto represents a comfortable location for new bands to give live music a shot. It’s even where many of those bands featured on the compilation played their first shows. “DIY venues were incredibly important


A&E to our conception & growth, specifically The Mr. Roboto Project,” says David Beck, the vocalist for the folk group String Machine. “For a place like Roboto to bite the dust, it would require an indifference to it that just simply isn’t there.” Mr. Roboto’s community is a strong one, but Pittsburgh’s DIY scene comes from more than just one spot. In March of 2019, The Government Center, a record store on the North Side, opened its stage for live shows. Owner Josh Cozby explained that the venue isn’t struggling much financially, but the lack of live music changes the space’s entire dynamic. “The biggest difference with not having shows is just kind of an energy difference. There’s just not a bunch of people coming in, excited to see live music,” says Cozby. “[Those things] definitely bring an excitement for music that is tough to replace.” To keep customers engaged, The Government Center has invited several local bands to livestream on the store’s Instagram. Still, nothing can compare to an in-person performance. In terms of shows with a real audience, Cozby says it’s impossible to know, especially given the rising numbers of COVID-19 in Allegheny County. “We're just hoping for some miracle where our government gets its act together, and we have some sort of coordinated response [to the virus] that results in people not having the Coronavirus and people being able to go outside and gather again,” says Cozby. Spaces like Roboto and The Government Center are central to

local bands’ growth, but Pittsburgh’s music festivals are just as crucial. From the Three Rivers Arts Festival, to Art All Night, to the Millvale Music Festival, these events prominently showcase the city’s best bands and artists. The Deutschtown Music Festival -- a yearly project of the Northside Leadership Conference -- is the city's biggest, featuring hundreds of local bands at last year's event. Usually held in July, the festival was one of the first summer events to get cancelled back in April. None of these events are happening this year for obvious reasons, but the Millvale Music Festival was the last summer music festival to hold out hope. After rescheduling the event from May to August, the organizers announced that they’d be pushing the festival to 2021. It didn’t seem like a safe move to let the event happen, says Andrea Pinigis, the organizer of both Deutschtown and Millvale’s Youth Stages. “It seemed in order to make the festival a fun time for everybody, [social distancing] could sort of take away some of that, because people would have to worry about if I’m six feet away from the person next to me, am I this, am I that. For it being such a huge festival, and trying to maintain all of the rules, it honestly really didn’t seem like it was completely possible,” says Pinigis. The Millvale Music Festival hasn’t said anything yet, and time will tell if they follow in the path of other local festivals and announce a 2020 edition that is streaming online. The Three

Rivers Arts Festival had its online edition in early June, with established local bands like Meeting of Important People and Buffalo Rose. But the lineup lacked those small, new groups which benefit from the exposure that comes from these events. While some of the region’s venues are on life support, some hope has emerged in the past few months. The National Independent Venue Association was founded in March, and has since brought together venues from Alaska to Alabama to seek a relief package from Congress. NIVA is focused on getting the RESTART Act passed, which would “ensure the survival of independent venues across the nation.” Take Spirit, an independent venue in Lawrenceville, which joined NIVA as soon as it could in March. Spirit’s co-owner, Leigh Yock, says that her job is currently focused on the survival of the business and supporting their employees as much as possible. “Our business's success was primarily based around our building being filled with humans eating, drinking and dancing,” says Yock. NIVA is a source of hope for Yock, even if it isn’t a sure-fire solution. “I definitely feel it is crucial for us to join together and advocate for support together instead of separately. There is power in numbers and we are all in very similar situations. We are also doing this on a local level,” she says. “We are all vulnerable and angry right now, but also inspired to come out of this pandemic and civil unrest better humans than we were before... I think the music scene will reflect that and do the same.” One of the NIVA’s strongest

Pittsburgh supporters is Adam Valen, the marketing manager and local talent liaison for Drusky Entertainment. The pandemic has forced the booking organization to cancel upwards of 170 shows, and even branch out into drive-in shows. Their first car-based event took place on June 27th with a performance by The Clarks. “[The pandemic has] forced us to become more of a voice and advocate for independent venues and promoters. "While we are just a promoter, we still work with several independent venues and promoters in the Southerwestern PA region and beyond. Many of which are in fear of permanent closure due to the pandemic. "Joining the National Independent Venue Association, in addition to really keeping in touch with all the other independent venues and promoters, has been super prioritized on my list. I don't want any of these venues that have such a unique history and story to close forever,” says Valen. Even with a wide variety of support within the industry, not everyone is expecting for the RESTART Act to pass. If Congress can barely get stimulus to every American, how are they going to get aid for a specific industry? The Mr. Roboto Project is a member of NIVA. But as for actually receiving financial aid? “I think it can’t hurt, but I’m also not holding my breath,” says Shumaker. “I’m hopeful that Congress will do something, but we’ll see. I think for now, we’re kind of, on our own, and hopefully we can help each other out.”

PITTSBURGH CURRENT | JULY 14, 2020 | 21


EXTRA

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

My wife asked me to write to you about our situation. We’ve been married for fifteen years. I am 50 years old and my wife is a decade younger. We are a heterosexual couple with kids. I am a submissive male and I like to play with my ass using different sized dildos. I enormously enjoy being penetrated with sex toys. A few years ago I introduced the idea of a FLR—female led relationship—to my wife and she accepted it. We are a happy couple! My wife is more on the traditional side of sex and I respect that. We have PIV sex twice a week and I try to give her a pleasure as much as I can. Looks like everything is OK, right? But recently she complained that I have stopped ejaculating when we have sex. And it's true: When we engage in vaginal penetration, I no longer ejaculate. I like it this way because I don’t lose my sex drive and I can continue. But she doesn’t like it. For her my ejaculate is the “cherry on top” of the sex and my coming during sex is important for her pleasure and satisfaction. My wife thinks that I stopped ejaculating because I developed the habit of pleasuring myself with dildos and butt plugs in the shower. My wife thinks the toys are distracting me. Do you think it's true? If that’s the case, what should we do? I love my wife but I also love my butt plugs and dildos. Spouse Unpleased By Husband’s Un Blasts You should come in your wife. If your wife is in charge—you proposed a “female-led relationship” and she accepted—then she gets to give the orders and you’re supposed to do what she says. (Within reason, of course.) So when she says, “Come in me,” you should say, “How high up your vaginal canal would you like me to come?” Even if you weren’t in a female-led relationship, SUBHUB, refusing to come in your wife when you know that feeling you come in-

side her is important to her pleasure is a weirdly literal kind of withholding behavior—and considering how GGG your wife has been, SUBHUB, refusing to come in her so you can “continue” presumably without her isn’t something a loving submissive would do. It’s something a selfish asshole does. Your wife doubtless suspects the same thing I do: You aren’t coming in her because you’d rather blow your load in the shower. She sees you when you slip out of bed to go cram sex toys in your ass and blow your load down the down the drain instead of finishing in her. And if that’s what you’re doing—and I’m pretty sure that’s what you’re doing—then you’re treating PIV sex with your wife as foreplay and the time you spend alone with your ass toys as the main event. If I were your wife, SUBHUB, I would find that annoying too. And however much you love your plugs and dildos and I would hope you love your wife more. At any rate, you aren’t submissive to your plugs and dildos—you’re submissive to your wife, who isn’t made of silicone and who has needs and feelings that have to be taken into account. At the very least, SUBHUB, your wife’s pleasure should be your first priority during PIV sex—and it’s not like you can’t combine PIV with a little butt play. You can always shove one of your beloved plugs in your ass before you have PIV sex with the wife. And if you didn’t refrain from ejaculating every single time you had PIV, SUBHUB, if it was something you were allowed to once in a while with your wife’s permission, she might be willing to accommodate your desire every tenth time you have PIV. I am a 53-year-old guy. Since I've been struggling with depression and anxiety all my life, I've never been in a situation where sex was a possi-

22 | JULY 14, 2020 | PITTSBURGH CURRENT

bility. I'm really dying to know what it's like. I've gotten much better over the years and the women who know me think the world of me. But they aren't in a position to help me out. Other women seem to want someone much more outgoing and confident than I am or ever will be. Confidence comes from experience and I don't have any. My one girlfriend could not hide the fact that my inexperience offended her. Other people on blogs and such have recommended a prostitute. But that's not really what I'm looking for. It's about more than sex. I want someone to care for me as I am. Is there hope for me? Or has the world just left me behind? Very Inexperienced Relationship Guy In Need I know it’s not what you want to hear, VIRGIN, but I agree with other blogs and such: I think you should find a sex worker. Find a nice, patient woman who does sex work and be completely upfront about why you’re seeing her: you’re so painfully self-conscious about your sexual inexperience that you find it hard to date. It may take some searching, VIRGIN, but there are sex workers who want to help their clients grow and heal. "Many people have the stereotypical misconception that all sex workers are disconnected, uncaring, and only there for the money,” said Ruby Ryder, a sex worker and sex educator. “While money is indeed a part of it, many of us understand that human beings need touch, connection, and acceptance. We provide an opportunity for clients to be vulnerable, whether it's fulfilling their kinky fantasies or simply having sex." And while the relationship you have with a sex worker you might see regularly for a year or two is certainly transactional, VIRGIN, it’s still a relationship and about more than sex. I’m not suggesting you see sex workers exclusively for the rest of your life (even if I’m not not suggesting that either), VIRGIN, I’m only suggesting you see a sex worker to find out what sex is like, gain a little self-confidence, and maybe feel a little more hopeful for your future. Ruby Ryder is on Twitter @Ruby_ Ryder and online at www.peggingparadise.com.

I’m a longtime reader

who’s never had a question that your archives couldn’t answer. But there is something I wanted to share with you and your readers! My wife and I have incorporated virtual reality (VR) goggles into our sex life with great success, Dan, and they could be the answer to a range of questions that you get at the column. They’re so useful, in fact, that your failure to mention them is starting to look like a glaring omission! Because let’s say someone writes in who wants to open their relationship or explore a cuckold fantasy (like one of last week’s letter writers!) but they’re worried about the emotions involved, potential STIs, or COVID-19? VR goggles! While the offerings for female POV VR porn is pretty paltry I’ve never seen my wife come harder than she did with me inside her and a pair of goggles on her face giving her the perspective of a man getting fucked by a beautiful trans woman. I love the idea that this turns her on and I actually think she looks hot with goggles on! Besides the cost of a subscription to a VR porn site, the financial barrier is really pretty low—most people can use their smartphone and a $20 headset to get started, which is much cheaper than seeing a sex worker and much less time consuming than engineering a consenting affair. And there’s no risk of STIs or COVID-19! Just wanted you to consider VR as a possibly overlooked tool for your otherwise always-outstanding advice in the future! Very Recent Purchase Optimizes Reality Nicely Thank you for writing in, VRPORN, and you’re right: VR porn sounds like a great way for an adventurous monogamous couple to have a little virtual variety—whether that couple is monogamous by choice or monogamous for the duration of this stupid pandemic. In addition to the technology, of course, you’ll need a partner who not only knows you fantasize about other people (like they do, like everybody does), but who’s also excited about helping you explore those fantasies. Thanks again for sharing, VRPORN! Listen to Dan and comedian Jay Jurden on the Lovecast! www. savagelovecast.com


ESSAY OVER THE BRIDGE BY MATTHEW WALLENSTEIN - PITTSBURGH CURRENT CONTRIBUTING WRITER INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM

We were young, R and me. She was always talking about philosophers. I liked to skateboard and get in fights. I liked to walk around at night when I couldn’t sleep, which was most nights. She would stay up, never sleep at night, crash hard sometimes midday. One night we went to the park by her house. It was the third day in a row I hadn’t slept. The cops came but we hid. I brought her home in the morning and went back to the park to draw the squirrels. She said she was a lesbian when I met her but not long after that we were seeing each other. I never thought she was beautiful, I never even really thought she was pretty, but she had these moments when she could be pretty, this sort of dead rabbit pretty. There were a lot of attempts at gallantry in those days. I was looking for something to save, she was looking for something to save her. It got me into some bad situations where I did some bad things for her. I didn’t love her, though I tried telling myself I did. I didn’t like that she cheated on me. I didn’t like a lot of things. But I was misguided, when it came to her and when it came to anything. We drove over to the other side of the state. My bones hurt, I was tired. I was always tired. R’s ex was pregnant and we were going to check on her. She had a dark blue station wagon. We left it in the lot near the wall with the mural on it and walked across the bridge. I looked down through the metal grate at the water and the boats, the fog floating in dusty clumps. It was raining but not hard, just that

coast rain that always seemed to be there. Not far from the bridge there was a house off to the left. I followed her up the steps on the side of it. There was a door on the second floor. She knocked. We waited. There was some bumping and rustling and the door opened. F looked out at us from the apartment. We went inside. It was dark. There was light coming in from the windows but not much. The apartment was small. R pulled a chair out from the table and sat down, I leaned against the counter, F leaned against the door frame. Everyone always used to say how beautiful she was. That was before all that drink had got to her. She was in her thirties but looked fifty. A hard fifty. R asked how she was, how she’d been. F was not happy to see her, or me for that matter. She was showing. R asked how far along she was and she told us. There was a mini fridge sitting in the corner. R opened it absently. There were five or six beers inside. F told us they were for the father of the child when he came around. A few minutes later she told us they were her emergency beers, for when she really needed one. A few minutes later she asked us to go so she could have some and not feel judged. We walked around town for a little while, went into some stores, tossed rocks into the water, stole some CD’s from the record store, walked the along the brick. We went back and got into the car, pulled out of the spot, and turned onto the street. “That's the place I used to work right over there, the restau-

rant.” “Uh huh.” “I used to drink at a bar over there down that way.” “Which one?” “One down there. Over that way.” “Weren’t you like 15 or something?” “Yeah, but it didn’t matter, they knew me because I was always picking up F there, they knew I was dating her.” “Yeah.” “One night I went to pick her up, they called me to come get her, and I went. I tried over and over but she wouldn’t leave. Finally I left, it was raining, like

really hard and it was really cold. These guys followed me and I told them to leave me alone but they wouldn’t. And they gang raped me, over down that way. They all beat me up and then raped me. Then M—, F’s ex, he just happened to be walking by there and fought them off. Maybe he was on his way back from trying to get F home from the bar. I don’t know. A few days later I went to the spot and spray painted a circle on the ground and wrote ‘I was raped here’.” Out the windshield it was dark. There were all those miles of night in front of us and we drove.

PITTSBURGH CURRENT | JULY 14, 2020 | 23


PA R T I N G S H OT

PITTSBURGH CURRENT PHOTO BY JAKE MYSLIWCZYK PITTSBURGH CURRENT | JULY 14, 2020 | 24

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Pittsburgh Current. Volume 3, Issue 22. July 14, 2020  

Families of Allegheny County Jail Inmates say better communication over COVID-19 is necessary, Dannielle Brown is looking for justice. Music...

Pittsburgh Current. Volume 3, Issue 22. July 14, 2020  

Families of Allegheny County Jail Inmates say better communication over COVID-19 is necessary, Dannielle Brown is looking for justice. Music...

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