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OP/ED: FORMER POLICE DETECTIVE ON THE PROBLEMS OF POLICING IN PGH VOL. 3 ISSUE 34

Oct. 6, 2020 - Oct. 12, 2020

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WORDS OF REMEMBRANCE Pittsburgh writers Remember tree of life tragedy in new Anthology


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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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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.

PITTSBURGH CURRENT | OCTOBER 6, 2020 | 3


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

contents

Advisory Board Chairman: Robert Malkin Robert@pittsburghcurrent.com

Vol. III Iss. XXXIV Oct. 6, 2020

EDITORIAL

NEWS 6 | What's at Stake? 8 | Tree of Life 11 | Rob Rogers Award

Music Editor: Margaret Welsh Margaret@pittsburghcurrent.com Visuals Editor: Jake Mysliwczyk Jake@pittsburghcurrent.com

OPINION 12 | Policing in Pittsburgh 14 | Jessica Semler 16 | Caitlyn Hunter 18 | Larry Schweiger

Sr. Contributing Writer: Jody DiPerna Jody@pittsburghcurrent.com

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT 20 | Stephen Chbosky 21 | Record Reviews

Social Justice Columnist: Jessica Semler jessica@pittsburghcurrent.com

EXTRA

Contributing Photographer: Ed Thompson

22 | Dan Savage 23 | Matthew Wallenstein 24 | Parting Shot

info@pittsburghcurrent.com Contributing Writers: Jody DiPerna, Atiya Irvin Mitchell, Dan Savage, Larry Schweiger, Brittany Hailer, Matthew Wallenstein, Caitlyn Junter, Aryanna Hunter, Nick Eustis, Jessie Sage, Mary Niederberger info@pittsburghcurrent.com

COVER PHOTO: JAKE MYSLIWCZYK

Logo Design: Mark Addison TO ADVERTISE :

Senior Account Executive: Andrea James andrea@pittsburghcurrent.com Charlie Deitch charlie@pittsburghcurrent.com

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.

4 | OCTOBER 6, 2020 | PITTSBURGH CURRENT


PITTSBURGH CURRENT | OCTOBER 6, 2020 | 5


ELECTIO DOWNBALLOT IMPORTANCE

'THE LOCAL LEVEL SHOULD REPRESENT THE IDEAS AND ISSUES THAT I CARE ABOUT. '

T

he past few years have been honestly overwhelming with almost weekly policy changes impacting the ways we live our everyday lives. Despite Covid-19 being a wake up call to many Americans, for Black people the last few years has revealed a truth we already knew: this system does not care about you and will always choose profit over people. This is why I don't believe in voter shaming. I don't believe in sounding the alarm to force people to vote in a system that was not created for them and is actively working against them. The reality of the situation is this election is a reflection of decades worth of bigotry, erasure, and government malfeasance that has brought us to this point. If one election is going to decide our access to healthcare, our access to reproductive justice, access to housing, our access to food, our access to education,and access the freedom, then we have been failing long before 2020. This one election is not going to save us, but it can definitely create way more harm than many of us ever thought imaginable. In the city of Pittsburgh, we have a ballot initiative that would create a better investigation tool to review police misconduct and brutality and make it harder for officers to

BY MIRACLE JONES - SPECIAL TO THE PITTSBURGH CURRENT

INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM

WHAT'S AT STAKE? Miracle Jones

escape punishment and reprimand. That's a policy that I care about and that's one of the reasons why I'm going to vote in this upcoming election. However, there are so many more things that need to be on the ballot in the legislature such as Medicare for all, the legalization of marijuana, reparations, the forgiveness of student debt, and the expansion of Medicare and Medicaid so most vulnerable populations have access to their basic needs. The heartbreaking thing is that so many politicians really do not understand what people are going through every single day in order to survive, support themselves and live. . I firmly believe that people need to vote when they are given the choice, when there

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is policy that caters to their needs and when they don't have to worry about voter suppression denying them the right to participate in a free and fair election. This pandemic has exposed what so many of us black queer folks already knew about this country, the society this government. Yet, one tool that we have to ensure that it doesn't all implode immediately is our vote when there are policies and people who put forth ideas which improve the quality of our lives. That is why I am supporting down-ballot races. The local level should represent the ideas and issues that I care about. I firmly believe that the path to equity and Liberation is not going to come through voting but through assembling people together to consolidate power and fight together through mutual support and community. I still view voting as a means

of harm reduction to ensure that we will be able to have the opportunity, resources and abilities to build power together as a people. It's important that politicians, elected officials and the other people in power use this time to actually listen to the people who are voting for them, but they also must listen to people who are disenfranchised and the people who feel left out of the system. Listening and understanding the stories of those marginalized, those often ignored makes for policy proposals and initiatives that will help vastly improve the quality of life for all Americans. Miracle Jones is a community organizer and queer activist who works in the Pittsburgh area to advocate for equity along the intersections of gender, race, and class. She currently serves as the director of policy and advocacy at 1Hood Media.


ON 2020 PRE-EXISTING INDIFFERENCE PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES DESERVE A LEADER WHO ACTUALLY CARES WHETHER THEY LIVE OR DIE BY JESSICA BENHAM - SPECIAL TO THE PITTSBURGH CURRENT

I

INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM

have a pre-existing condition. I’m a disabled, bisexual woman. In many ways, my life is on the ballot this fall. Following the lead of President Trump, many Republicans in the Pennsylvania State House have refused to wear masks and blame pre-existing conditions, rather than COVID, for the deaths of people like me. I’m sorry, but if I get hit and killed by a bus, it wasn’t the pre-existing condition that killed me, it was the bus. People like me are dying, and many people, including our president and many of my potential future colleagues in the PA house, don’t seem to care. And let’s not forget: Black and brown people with disabilities are dying at even higher rates than white disabled people like me. Do you care? Where COVID does not kill, it has the potential to maim, leaving so-called long haulers with the lasting consequences of the disease. Those who would have us only focus on the death rates forget that the mishandling of the pandemic is causing more and more people to join the ranks of disabled people. COVID is going to be a pre-existing condition for so many, including, because of his own negligence, President Trump. As Imani Barbarin tweeted, “Blaming disabled people for their disabilities is ableist. Blaming a president who exacerbated an airborne pandemic for political reasons when he gets the virus is not ableist.” The president, I’m sure, will have the best of medical care, unlike many in this country. If only having COVID would also give him empathy for those of us, like me, whose access to healthcare is constrained. His financial resources, position of power, and arrogance mean that, even though he now has a pre-existing condition, he does not live with or even seek to

WHAT'S AT STAKE?

Jessica Benham

understand the fears that the rest of us have. Vice President Joe Biden is a complicated and imperfect candidate – all of us who run are. Unlike many of the other candidates, Vice President Biden did not release a disability policy platform during the Democratic primary, only doing so after he had secured the nomination. It was a historic year for the inclusion of the concerns of people with disabilities in policy conversations in the primary, and I was saddened that our eventual nominee was slow to acknowledge our unique concerns. Yet, unlike the president, Biden has listened to disabled people, not mocked them, and has now included us in his campaign and policy proposals. That’s part of why he has been endorsed by a broad coalition of leaders with disabilities, including Mia Ives-Rublee, Maysoon Zayid, Matthew Cortland, Judy Heumann, Rebecca Cokley, Liz Weintraub, Anna Perng, and Claudia Gordon. I very rarely see people like me, a working-class, bi, disabled young woman, represented in policy discussions, and I know there are so many other communities who feel poorly represented too. It’s part of why I’ve helped others run for office and why I’m running

for office myself. We deserve elected officials who come from our communities and who care if we live or die. And because of what’s at stake for people like me, I’m voting for Joe Biden. I do not have space to name every way in which the Trump presidency has been a disaster for the marginalized communities of which I am a part, but I want to focus on disability and two issues at the top of my mind. Building on his attempts to weaken Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act, the president is fighting in the courts to overturn protections for people with pre-existing conditions. He signed a largely symbolic executive order claiming to protect people with pre-existing conditions, which, in reality, offered little hope for people like us. I would have health insurance under a Biden presidency – I’d likely be unable to afford it if the ACA’s protections are eliminated under a Trump second term. President Trump and Secretary Betsy Devos have made it more difficult, in every way, for kids with disabilities to receive an equitable public education, a situation exacerbated under the pandemic conditions which have necessitated, for many, remote schooling. By contrast, Vice President Biden has promised to fully fund IDEA and ensure that kids with disabilities get the education to which they are legally entitled. Because people with disabilities exist within every other group in society, all policy issues, including healthcare and education as previously men-

tioned, are disability policy issues. Joe Biden’s Plan for Full Participation and Equality for People with Disabilities recognizes the breadth of our interests. He recognizes that climate, COVID-19 relief, ending mass incarceration, immigration, workers’ rights, housing, reproductive justice, transportation and so much more are disability policy issues too. I hold a relatively privileged position as a white, cis woman who had access to higher education. Yet, my future is still so, so bleak under a second Trump term: lack of access to healthcare, ongoing loss of economic opportunity, breathing in worsening air, more people like me dying from COVID, and the continued emboldening of eugenists. For others who are more marginalized than I am, that potential future is even worse. Biden may not fully represent me, but he has listened to our communities. Our work doesn’t end on Nov. 3. If Biden wins, we have to push him and hold him accountable for the promises that he has made to us. And more than that, we can run for local office, elect people like us, and fight for justice locally by organizing our communities. We all have a role to play, and it will take a movement that goes beyond electoral politics for us to create a society and a system that works for all of us, not just the select few. Jessica Benham is the Democratic nominee in PA House District 36. She is the co-founder of the Pittsburgh Center for Autistic Advocacy, where she has fought for the rights of people with disabilities and those with pre-existing conditions.

PITTSBURGH CURRENT | OCTOBER 6, 2020 | 7


NEWS

PA G E 7

IN NEW ANTHOLOGY, PITTSBURGH WRITERS REFLECT ON THE 2018 TREE OF LIFE TRAGEDY BY JODY DIPERNA - PITTSBURGH CURRENT SENIOR CONTRIBUTOR JODY@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM

"It is something that affected all of us. It's really important to acknowledge that. It's important to allow people to acknowledge that," Beth Kissileff said about the Tree of Life tragedy. This spirit was part of the mission and driving force behind the anthology of writing that Kissileff and Eric Lidji collected and curated. Bound in the Bond of Life: Pittsburgh Writers Reflect on the Tree of Life Tragedy (University of Pittsburgh Press) will be released on October 27th, the two year anniversary of the mass shooting in Squirrel Hill. When Kissileff partnered with Lidji, the director of the Rauh Jewish History Program and Archives at the Heinz History Center, she knew she wanted the book to be both local and inclusive. "The circles of trauma, they are far reaching. It's a terrifying thing to have your community invaded. If it can happen in a synagogue, it can happen elsewhere," she said. Lidji brings his unique perspective as an archivist to the project and his own essay about processing all of the documents, objects,

totems and ephemera left behind, is revelatory. "One of the things that I have found to be really profound in working with the archives is that the dynamics of local history are very different than national history. Local history is much more about the fact that it exists. Is there enough material there to be able to tell it? It doesn't need to alter our understanding of reality. It's simply a celebration of an individual or a family or a small organization," he said. There is a need for understanding and conversation at the epicenter of the event, as Lidji further explained. "One of the reasons we decided to do this was -when something like this happens, there is a tension between the meaning of the event on a national and international level, and the meaning of the event to the people who are closest to it. It's not always in conflict, but it's not always unified either. It's actually never unified, even if it's not in conflict." There are contributions from journalists Tony Norman, Andrew Goldstein, Peter Smith and from Ann

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contributed Hebrew Poetry. Kissileff's own essay is a search for joy and hope in the worst moments; she navigates the disorientation of trauma by leaning hard into a Torah reading in which a swarm of bees inhabit a carcass, creating sweetness inside a dead lion. Even during times of great tragedy and injustice,

NEWS

there can remain some sweetness to life. "This idea -- the carcass won't go away, but it can be transformed. Other things can occupy that space. Even though the bones and the carcass are there, it's possible for new things to inhabit it as well. It was important for me, Continued On Page 10

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A mourner outside the site of the October 2018 Synagouge shooting. (Current Photo by Jake Mysliwczyk)

Belser, founder of Print, and Toby Tabachnick, editor of the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle. Freelance writer and journalist, Molly Pascal is a member of Tree of Life, and her essay "Here is Squirrel Hill," leads off the collection, setting the tone as a very intimate one, as she moves the reader through the synagogue and the neighborhood from the time before the attack, to a year later. In "I Read Somewhere That Pittsburgh Is Stronger Than Hate," Norman lends his ever-essential voice, examining what the shooting means in context of other shootings, how it reverberated throughout all the city neighborhoods,

as well as what we might learn from it, how we can be a better city for all of our citizens. The voices that animate this collection are varied and stunning. There is poetry from Arlene Weiner and an essay with photos by Laurie Zittrain Eisenberg which investigates the stories told by the items left behind -- flowers, candles and stars of David, a guitar, a pair of Chuck Taylors. There is a blend of oral history, interview and sermon from Rabbi Daniel Yolkut of Congregation Poele Zedeck. Rabbi Jonathan Perlman of New Light Congregation, one of the congregations which uses Tree of Life as their home,

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NEWS Continued From Page 9

for my synagogue, for my congregation," she explained. "We are trying to animate and enliven our synagogue. I don't want New Light just to be associated with this awful event. I want congregational life to be animated with sweetness, as well." So many of the writers address what it feels like when this kind of violence and hatred explode in your neighborhood, in your city, in a place that you drive by or live in. Jane Bernstein, a writer who teaches at CMU and who drives past Tree of Life every day on her way to work (or did before the pandemic), writes about her own response. When she spoke with the Current about it, she said something that all Pittsburghers felt and continue to feel. "It can feel really remote, even if it's just in another city. Suddenly, it's in your neighborhood. It becomes more possible." A man walks into a synagogue loaded with weapons, with hate in his heart, and Nazi propaganda in his mind. He intends to do harm, to kill people and terrorize an entire community. He intends to bring the city and whole groups of people into a grim, endless night. Many contributors address this long hard night of the soul, and the response of the commu-

People gather for rally in October 2018. (Current Photo by Jake Mysliwczyk)

nity, including Campbell Robertson, a New York Times national correspondent living in Pittsburgh. "He talked about being at the shiva for Jerry Rabinowitz and somebody spoke about a midrash ‌ When Adam and Eve were created, at the end of the first day, it was dark and they were terrified and they thought, is this the way it's always going to be? How

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are we going to cope in this new world of darkness? And then morning came, and then dawn came. It will always be morning again. I thought that was a really beautiful image," Kissileff said. The collection balances on pivot points between remembrance and understanding, sounding both a call to action and a call to healing. Two years later

and the event continues to reverberate. "It is a reminder that even after places stop being in the news, emotional circumstances continue and they continue indefinitely," Lidji said. There will be a virtual book launch at City of Asylum on October 20th at 7:00 pm.


NEWS ROB ROGERS WINS NATIONAL AWARD FOR BREWED ON GRANT BY MATT PETRAS - PITTSBURGH CURRENT CONTRIBUTING WRITER

R

ob Rogers’ Pittsburgh-Centric comic “Brewed on Grant” in the Pittsburgh Current has been honored with a national award by the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists. Rogers won the Rex Babin Memorial Award for Excellence in Local Cartooning. “I was shocked and totally, totally blown away by it,” Rogers said. “I was very honored.” The AAEC, a national organization that promotes editorial cartoon work from around the country, gives out three awards every year. The award for local cartooning is named after beloved editorial cartoonist, Rex Babin, who died in 2012 at the age of 50 due to complications from cancer. Marc Murphy, a Kentucky cartoonist, as a finalist for the award. “It’s truly an honor for the Pittsburgh Current to work with Rob and to feature Brewed on Grant,” said Current Editor Charlie Deitch. “Rob has a unique way of talking about what’s going on in Pittsburgh, both the good and the bad, in a humorous and brutally honest way.”

INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM

Rob Rogers. (Current Photo by Jake Mysliwczyk)

Because of the pandemic, the judges awarded Rogers through a virtual event. “For decades, Rob Rogers has been a national leader in our profession, deftly satirizing not just national politicians, but also keeping a close watch on Pittsburgh politics and culture,” according to the AAEC judges. “He has been our AAEC president, and he is beloved for his manner and humor. He’s a courageous fighter for our profession, and at a critical

moment stood up for his work and right to comment independently.” “Brewed on Grant,” a strip with musings on local politics and current events, originally ran for more than 20 years in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, starting out as black and white and later implementing full colors. After the Post-Gazette’s infamous decision to fire Rogers in 2018, the strip ended until Pittsburgh Current began publishing it in August 2019. The car-

toon was also awarded the best in editorial cartooning this year by the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. “Everybody said, ‘I’m so glad to see this back,’” Rogers said. “I had several people request copies of different ones.” Rogers previously served as president of the AAEC and deeply admires the organization. “They’ve been an amazing organization in terms of championing the rights of editorial cartoonists not only in this country but around the globe,” Rogers said. Being awarded for local cartooning is especially exciting for Rogers because of the value he believes local cartooning has. “The cliche is that all politics are local, but that is really truly where changes can be made and where people’s lives are affected, is on the local level,” Rogers said. “I think it’s really important to have checks and balances on that level to keep a check on the people in power so that corruption doesn’t happen. “I really do think that we cannot underestimate the importance of local coverage.”

PITTSBURGH CURRENT | OCTOBER 6, 2020 | 11


OPINION

POLICING IN PITTSBURGH: CAN IT WORK AGAIN? BY BRENDA TATE - PITTSBURGH CURRENT COLUMNIST

INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM

M

y first of many career-shaking experiences would come as I stood for roll-call one day at the old Zone #8 police station in Mt. Washington. This was the first station I was assigned to after graduating from the police academy. Mt. Washington was as foreign to me as Afghanistan would have been to me at that time. I had never ventured to that side of Pittsburgh in my entire life. This was 1979, so you can probably understand why a Black woman would not have business outside of the safety of the inner-city. Prior to each tour of duty, we would stand for shift roll call. It was a form of inspection to determine if your uniform was clean, and you were in fact wearing your weapon (many old-timers would sometimes forget their weapons). Duty assignments and radios were then distributed. Loud banter could be heard throughout the smoke-filled, dilapidated room and phones would be ringing off the hook. Roll call was five rows deep, with a total of five to six men in each row. As each name echoed, an assignment would be attached to it. Either a two-man vehicle assignment, or a one or two man beat assignment. As we were nearing the end of the roll call, I noticed my name had not been mentioned. The station was old and looked as though it was trapped in the 1930’s. A huge

About The Author

B

renda Tate is a retired Pittsburgh Bureau of Police Detective who has served 40 years in Law Enforcement. She was a Pittsburgh Bureau of Police Officer for the past 35years and a Housing Authority Police Officer for 5 years prior to that, having been one of the first female officers of that department..

oak wooden table was elevated at least two-feet high on a platform which gave the desk sergeant the appearance of severe importance and authority. The desk sergeant that day was officer W. Conley. A sergeant’s status was bestowed on officers with the following criteria: old, white, crabby, and racist. Conley displayed all those attributes, along with an ill-fitted hearing aid that never appeared to work. As the officers weaved in and out around me, I stood there feeling very small. Everyone dispersed, and headed out to their assignments, I was left standing alone in the middle of the room. Suddenly, I did what I was taught to do, I summoned up the courage from a space that my mother taught me, from

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my inner-soul. I blurted out, “I didn’t get an assignment.” Immediately, the room became completely quiet. Conley slowly lifted his pale, gaunt face and latched his blue cloudy eyes onto me. He then pointed his long boney finger towards the corner of the room where a dirty sink and broom closet stood. Through clenched teeth, and quivering jaws he said, “See that closet? Look in there and get a broom.” For a moment, I felt as though I was back working at Mr. Budd Bracket’s restaurant. I have always been blessed with a quick mind, and that day was no different. My mind flashed over the many menial jobs I had held: cook, waitress, barmaid, housekeeping, all paying less than $1.50 per hour.

And then it hit me like a hammer, if they are going to pay me $12,000 a year to sweep this damn dirty floor, who’s the fool here? As I started to move towards the broom closet, I heard a voice behind me: “Don’t do that kid, come with me.” It was the voice of an oldtime beat cop, H. Fisher. The Lord sent Fisher to save my dignity that day. From that point on, Fisher would take me under his wing and teach me how to walk a beat. Fisher would retire a few years later, and die within a month of retirement. To this day, I can still see Fisher’s ’s smiling eyes. I can still hear his soft voice and those words. I entered my career under the shadow of race discrimination


OPINION litigation and a consent decree. In 1975, Judge Gerald Weber, a federal judge, issued a mandate that ordered the City of Pittsburgh to hire one black woman, one white woman, one black man for every white man hired as an officer, which was known as The Judge Weber Consent Decree. In 1979, I was among the many Black recruits hired under this decree. In 1991, however, our union used my dues, and the dues of my fellow Black officers to file a reverse-discrimination lawsuit and won. That ultimately ended the consent decree, which allowed for a “re-whitening” of the Pittsburgh Police Department. Eventually, I understood it was important that Tonya Ford, a fellow officer, myself, and the ACLU proceed with a legal discrimination action lawsuit filed against the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police. Allow me to share the reason it was necessary to end my career under the same legal shadow I started, pursuing race discrimination litigation against PPD. 1979-1980 POLICING Under the Judge Weber Consent Decree, applicants were required to pass the same written test, background investigations, and physical as our counterparts. Black people earned the right to be selected, we challenged each other to perform better. This was all done under the watchful eyes of Ms. Alma Speed-Fox (The Mother of Pittsburgh’s Civil Rights), Harvey Adams, and the NAACP. The City Of Pittsburgh owes an enormous debt of gratitude to them for their relentless and dedicated work in diversifying

the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police in those years. Policing and community relations worked in Pittsburgh during the 1980’s. Due and in part to the diversity of the department, and the residential clause, (officers were required to live in the city). There was a symbiotic relationship with the residents and departments. Most importantly, the police department had the budget and bodies to make it work. Black Pittsburgh communities had their own heroes in blue. Petey Drummonds drove the big, white community policing van that passed out the treasured baseball cards. Kids in public housing and minority communities throughout the city waited anxiously for the huge white truck with the blue PPD decal on the side to appear. The East End Zone #5 station had Black officers who created sports teams in their spare time. They became surrogate dads to single-parent households. Detective Rob White was a boxing legend who mentored young boys who had dreams of becoming a Mohammad Ali. The Hill District Zone #2 was the model for the hit TV show Hill Street Blues, and the great William “Muggsy” Moore would become the first African American Chief of Police in the history of the Pittsburgh PD. You might ask, if all of this was so successful, then, why did it not continue to this day? It was successful as a direct result of the Judge Weber Consent Decree and it collapsed when the police union successfully filed the reverse discrimination lawsuit: “AND NOW, to-wit, this 20th day of March,1991, for the

reasons described in the foregoing Opinion, it is ORDERED, ADJUDGED and DECREED that this Court's preliminary injunction, entered December 5, 1975, be and hereby is VACATED and DISSOLVED.”

to revise the city’s hiring process. The settlement also provided payments totaling $985,000 to African-American applicants who were rejected between 2008 and 2014. In my opinion, this decision fell short of our original mission: to force the city of Pittsburgh to be purposeful in hiring minorities. Tonya and I were absolutely crushed, however, we weren’t surprised.

In the spring of 2012, I made the decision to return to streets where I always felt most comfortable, as a beat officer. I requested, and was transferred to, Zone #2 Hill District. This is where I had started my career According to Pittsburgh police as a City of Pittsburgh Bureau 2019 statistical report, only five of Police officer 30 years prior. out of the 89 new Pittsburgh The Hill District has been my police recruits were Black. home for my entire life. I was Our city is about 25 percent coming back to it. I was enBlack and yet our 879-person tering the last two years of my police department is only 12.35 career. percent. Tonya Ford, Vic Walczak, and In fact, these percentages have I met at the Hill House in the Hill dropped recent years, which District on a mild-spring aftermeans our police force is becomnoon, for the purpose of discussing less diverse. ing strategies to sue the City of When Antwon Rose was shot, Pittsburgh Bureau of Police for my thoughts were, “if given the discrimination. same scenario of young African I made it clear to Walczak that American males bailing from Ford and I would put our careers a vehicle and running--which on the line to provide any inforhappened to me on many occamation he needed under one consions--I think my response would dition: that he would bring the have played out differently.” case to court in two years upon Antwon would have resembled my retirement. He promised he my son, my neighbor’s son, or would. my brother therefore, I would not Throughout those next two be so quick to pull the trigger. years, Ford and I would attend This happens when your police countless meetings with ACLU department reflects the commuattorneys. nity they serve. In the Spring of 2015, almost This is what made policing a year after I retired, the ACLU work in the 80s and 90s prior to of Pennsylvania announced that the elimination of the consent it would settle a class action decree. federal lawsuit alleging that the We knew that it would take Pittsburgh Bureau of Police had a serious “POLITICAL WILL” longstanding pattern and practice from our elected officials to adof racial discrimination against dress the antiquated policies and African-Americans in its hiring to stop the “re-whitening” of the process for entry-level police Pittsburgh Bureau of Police. officer positions. Today, this political will is still As part of the agreement, a needed. committee would be established PITTSBURGH CURRENT | OCTOBER 6, 2020 | 13


OPINION

SEMLER: VOTER EDUCATION CAMPAIGN TEACHES A LESSON ABOUT MORE THAN JUST VOTING

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he #NoNakedBallots campaign, spearheaded by Allegheny County Councilwoman At-Large Bethany Hallam, has garnered national attention. Covered in The Guardian, People Magazine, and Fox News, some of our most badass local elected officials, including yours truly, posed “topless” with Official Election Ballots as censors covering their chests to raise awareness that mail-in ballots in PA missing their secrecy envelope will NOT be counted. I got on board with the campaign through this brief text exchange with Bethany: Bethany: I’m coordinating an ad campaign of naked elected officials. To remind people not to submit naked ballots. You in? Me: Are you serious? Because I am IN. Bethany: I am 100% serious. Me: *sends a gif from the movie Orange County of Jack Black saying “You want me to get naked and start the revolution?” Two days later I was getting my photo taken in my strapless bra and gym shorts. This was not a Vogue photoshoot. There was no photoshopping, no over-the-top glamour expected of us. Our instruction from Bethany was to come as we were, whatever that looked like. For some folks that meant no makeup. For me,

BY JESS SEMLER - PITTSBURGH CURRENT COLUMNIST

JESSICA@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM

Jessica Semler's #nonakedballots campaign photo. Right: Semler joined by Duquesne Mayor Nicole Nesby and state Rep. Sarah Innamorato. (Photos: Jackie Bradley)

that meant makeup and a flower in my hair. Because what is that saying? “You’re never fully dressed (or undressed) without a fascinator!” Yes, that’s exactly how that goes. Some folks may wonder why I, an elected official, was

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so quick to strip and show my skin to so many people. I was eager to jump in for two reasons: This “naked ballot” business is a big fucking deal! Votes without the secrecy ballot will NOT be counted. In the

2019 General Election in PA, 6% of the absentee ballots received were missing secrecy envelopes. Extrapolate that to the number of mail-in ballots received for the 2020 General Election, and up to 100,000 PA votes could be invalidated.


OPINION Trump won PA in 2016 by less than 44,000 votes! I knew immediately that this campaign would spark conversations about the automatic assumed sexualization of women’s bodies, and expectations for women as public figures, and I am ALL about that dialogue. Part of the reason I ran for office in the first place was to challenge ideas about what a politician “looks like.” Like all of the women pictured in this campaign, I have a big ole brain that I use to make and change policy and impact people’s lives through my work. I also inhabit a woman’s body. Women’s bodies are forever political battlegrounds. In so many ways in our society, we are taught that our bodies are not our own. Our very personal healthcare decisions are debated and legislated. Our treatment as victims of sexual assault from perpetrators, the justice system, and onlookers often only recognizes a specific brand of victimhood. The expectation to stuff our bodies into Iron Maidens of unrealistic, unhealthy beauty ideals lead to shame and disappointment. Women are reduced to just their bodies in so many ways as a means to an end for other forces. This campaign turns that notion on its head, and says, actually, our bodies are ours, and they are powerful. The responses I’ve seen from this campaign are overwhelmingly positive. Folks are definitely talking a lot about naked ballots now, and we were able to spark this important conversation in a cheeky way, all while showing

no more than you’d see from someone at a family pool party (pre-COVID, of course). What I’ve noticed about the negative reactions, is that they say more about the folks looking at our campaign than about us. Kind of like knowing that dudes that wore Ed Hardy shirts or popped collar polos didn’t know or care to find the clitoris, the reactions to our #NoNakedBallots campaign is like a Rorschach Test to see how sexist and puritanical one’s views on women are. For example, former Congressman Keith Rothfus called our images “vulgar.” I’m thankful this man, scandalized by my bare shoulders, is no longer in a position to continue to vote down funding for access to breast and cervical cancer screenings, prenatal care, and access to contraceptives. People like Rothfus don’t believe that women’s bodies are really ours, so

exerting this agency over ourselves was really uncomfortable for him. Some people said that by showing skin, we were degrading the offices we hold. These folks feel uncomfortable when women are more than one thing. I can’t stand Kim Kardashian, but I was irate on her behalf when folks were mad at her post-childbirth nudes because “she’s a mother now.” LOL yeah guys, do you know how most folks reproduce to become mothers? Women are multifaceted beings. Folks still stuck in the Madonna-Whore Complex are going to have a hell of a time accepting that women can be more than romantic partners or sexual partners. We are in positions of political power too. These people are automatically equating bare skin with titillation. If you are someone who only sees women as

sexual beings, of course this campaign makes you uncomfortable. Take Vice President Mike Pence, who says he won’t be alone with any woman except for his wife. This isn’t a sign of respect for women; it’s signaling that, to Pence, all women are first and foremost potential sexual partners. This experience reminded me of a moment I had in college that sparked my awareness that being proud of my body might impact the way my mind was perceived. I had approached one of my favorite professors about my interest in pinup modeling, and part of her advice was that “Life is long. What if you want to run for office someday?” I did the damn pinup modeling, and I had a great time. Years later, I’m now an elected official, I’m getting stuff done in my community, and I’m still inhabiting this body. I reject the idea that being proud of my body is inherently exploitative or sexist. My brain is part of me, so is my body, and the way I choose to present both to the world. I’m grateful that the #NoNakedBallots campaign is shedding light on an issue that could make or break the election results in PA while also subverting expectations around gender. I’m happy that I stripped down so other Pennsylvanian’s don’t get stripped of having their votes counted. Our democracy is in such a fragile state, and we all need to have skin in the game.

PITTSBURGH CURRENT | OCTOBER 6, 2020 | 15


OPINION

CAITLYN HUNTER: DANNIELLE BROW

BY CAITLYN HUNTER - PITTSBURGH

INFO@PITTSBURG

D

riving on Route 235 the smell of cow dung mixed with salty brackish water is the first signifier that I am home. In the back of my car my styrofoam cooler squeaks as the lid thumps against the door of the trunk. I hear the shifting of oyster shells and plastic tubs of blue crab meat rattling on ice as I pass by a sign for a “Coon Hunting Association” and Sotterley plantation. Lawn after lawn are scattered with Trump 2020 signs and Confederate flags and I chuckle to myself thinking it’s another beautiful Sunday morning in Southern Maryland. No trip to Maryland is ever complete if I don’t bring back my beloved blue crab. Driving back north to Pittsburgh I think about all of the ways I am going to cook that tub of meat. Maybe I’ll make a dip. Maybe I’ll make some Cream of Crab soup. Maybe I’ll make a crabcake, but then I remember something else, today is October 4th. Today Jaylen Brown would’ve been 23 years old. Today his mother, Dannielle Brown, has been on a hunger strike for over 93 days. It’s enough to make anyone sick to their stomach. The average human pregnancy lasts 280 days. To carry a life, to nurture it within, to let it consume what you are eating, and to have that fluttering kicking reminder that your life is currently not just your own is an unfathomable relationship which transcends scientific explana-

(Current Photo by Ed Thompson)

tion. My mother often tells me that she knew that God existed the very moment I was born and placed within her arms. Her second thought, she also reminds me, was “what the hell have I just done?” To be a mother outside of the biological definition is a bond that comes to us as natural as breathing. We love our mothers for better or worse of who they are and what they mean to us.

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But what happens when one of us stops breathing? Exactly 2 years ago today, Marquis Jaylen “JB” Brown was celebrating his 21st birthday. According to reports there was marijuana in his bloodstream. According to reports campus police were called to Brown’s dorm on a report of students fighting. Whatever happened in that room resulted in Brown falling sixteen stories out of a window thus end-

ing his birthday in a body bag. The past 95 days has been a reminder to me that all lives are not equal nor valued not just in Pittsburgh, but nationwide. When a Duquesne professor came under the microscope for using the n-word in class, this story garnered national attention where Brown’s hunger strike did not. To date as far as I researched, Dannielle Brown is the


WN IS STILL HUNGRY FOR ANSWERS

OPINION

H CURRENT CONTRIBUTING WRITER

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only woman to hold the longest recorded hunger strike in the United States without the assistance of a feeding tube. Why do few know about it? Ask Breonna Taylor. Optics here is the major problem, not just at Duquesne, but in Pittsburgh in general. It’s a shame when my Black friends ask me for my opinion about moving here and I have to tell them not to do it. I live in a city where the Mayor is more con-

cerned about tweeting about the 40th anniversary of Bob Marley visiting Pittsburgh than the fact that Tonee Turner (who went missing on Dec. 30, 2019) still has not been found. I live in a city that reported a year ago that Pittsburgh is most liveable for women of Asian, Multiracial, Latinx, Other, and Native American descent (who make up 2% of the population) and white men. I live in a city where people think it’s perfectly acceptable to use

racial profanities in and outside of the classroom, where I’ve heard the n-word (and equally problematic derivatives) used more here than in my 20 years of growing up in a small, rural, and backwards town in Southern Maryland. In the time since Dannielle Brown started her hunger strike, Duquesne has not issued body cameras to campus police. As far as I’ve seen they have not instituted any form of sensitivity (multicultural, gender, disability, or otherwise), mental health, or de-escalation training for campus police. I have seen that the administration held a Zoom meeting on August 28th in response to inquiries regarding JB’s death but this was behind closed doors and only offered to staff and faculty...not students nor Dannielle Brown. Dannielle Brown has repeatedly asked Duquesne for a seat at the table and for three simple things, all of which, to my knowledge have not been met. Gandhi didn’t last in his hunger strike as long as Dannielle Brown. Even still, he famously said to be the change you wish to see in the world. I have to wonder if change is ever possible. I have to wonder how any institution, any parent, and/or any decent human being could continue to let a woman starve that is searching for answers around her son’s death and fights for the safety of other students at her son’s alma mater. I have to wonder what kind of city I live

in where we would let a woman starve at the gates of a Catholic institution where her son took his last breath. I have to wonder, if the next time I see Dannielle Brown, she too will become another Black death that I’m forced to mourn. With each passing day I watch, helplessly, as a woman continues to waste away. Each time I see her and we hug, my arms wrap around her a little more loosely as if I’m hugging warm air. There is a vacancy between us that only her passion and grace can fill. Her presence is the epitome of a mother’s love where every time she hugs me I feel as if I were her own. When you think about the men and women in your life think about what it would feel like to lose them. Think about those subtle nuances that you would miss. Think about the inability to have Facetime or Zoom calls, to celebrate milestones, to celebrate successes, to grieve losses together. I want you to think about how it would feel to watch them suffer, day after day and stand by knowing that you are incapable of doing anything else but be supportive as best you can. I want you to think about your mother, your father, your sister, your brother, your grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and your friends. If they died on their birthday, wouldn’t you be hungry for answers and preventative solutions too?

PITTSBURGH CURRENT | OCTOBER 6, 2020 | 17


OPINION

PEOPLE WHO CARE WEAR MASKS

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n 1928, as a “self-made” millionaire candidate for President, Herbert Hoover claimed that America's greatness was based on "rugged individualism" and "self-reliance.” Later, Hoover’s failed policies may or may not have caused the Great Depression, but Hoover certainly did not address the suffering of so many who desperately needed help from their government. FDR's New Deal repudiated Hoover's "rugged individualism” by using several governmental programs to help restart the economy and rebuild the Nation. Yet today, an influential segment in American society still embraces the rugged individualism philosophy reminiscent of the failed Hoover days. Waving "Don't Tread on Me" flags, MAGA supporters oppose governmental mandates and rebel against health warnings and the clear guidance from the CDC. Trump hates being seen as weak and again played the role of a "rugged individualist" in a hospital video. From the very beginning, Trump fostered individualism as he has been dismissive, even hostile to mask-wearing. He continuously down-played the coronavirus while urging businesses, churches, and schools to reopen. Trump attacked democratic Governors who were following CDC guid-

BY LARRY J. SCHWEIGER - PITTSBURGH CURRENT COLUMNIST

INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM

President Donald Trump in a photo op outside Walter Reed Medical Center. (White House Photo)

ance to protect their citizens and cheered on Republican Governors who ignored the CDC guidelines. He dismissed sound medical science and rebelled against those in the media who wore masks, even mocking Joe Biden for wearing a mask. Early in the pandemic, he told Bob Woodward he wanted to downplay the risks of COVID-19, and he has done that from day one. The President refused to fully utilize the War Powers Act to rapidly expand N95 mask production and mandate the manufacturing of other critical medical and testing supplies in the

18 | OCTOBER 6, 2020 | PITTSBURGH CURRENT

US. He urged the slowing down of testing, and has failed to call for a national mask mandate. A Federal effort to contact trace is non-existent even during the current White House crisis. Trump took masks from the realm of a prudent and necessary healthcare measure to a political statement. He has also succeeded in turning a pandemic into a referendum about his lack of leadership in what has been called “an astonishing act of hubris, asking his base to choose between paying homage to him or protecting their own lives.” People who refuse to wear a

mask show a perverse loyalty to him and a reckless disregard of others. Trust is eroded when mask-wearing becomes a partisan wedge issue. Trump encouraged indifference and neglect that damaged our sense of community as we are at risk by those who flaunt the rules and refuse to wear a mask. America can only stem the surging tide of COVID deaths and the suffering of millions of "long-hauler" victims if we all work together and listen to the CDC to stop the spread. Caring for others is a very personal matter, but


OPINION mask-wearing reveals those who care and those who do not. Simply put, people who care for others wear masks in public. Trump's family revealed their values and far-too-often skewed thinking when they willfully rejected explicit requests from a Cleveland Clinic doctor and policies established by debate organizers. Ignoring the “Must wear a Mask” sign on the store’s door is another example of the toxic "rugged individualist" mentality. Walking through a Lowes, Home Depot, or many grocery stores, you will soon discover that Trump has fostered a widespread unwillingness to wear masks. Ohio's Republican Lieutenant Governor Jon Husted was booed at a Trump rally when he urged the crowd to wear masks to protect America. Ironically, the expressed individual freedom is oddly intertwined with blind obedience to a profoundly flawed cult leader. When people care enough about each other, they always find a way to make wearing a mask work, isolate when exposed, socially distance, and wash their hands regularly. Mask wearing goes beyond politeness and caring for each other. We now know it has severe consequences for those who violate guidance and refuse to mask up. CDC guidance is straightforward. “Everyone should wear a mask in public settings and when around people who don’t live in your household, especially when other social distancing measures are

difficult to maintain.” According to a New York Times detailed American behavior survey, fifty-nine percent say they wear masks in public. In comparison, fourteen percent say they never wear a mask. In Pittsburgh, about seventy percent claim they wear masks in public settings. There is a striking comparison between Japan with only 1,597 deaths and the United States, where we have experienced more than 210,000 deaths. While there may be several factors involved, the wearing of masks in Japan has long been an accepted practice. In Japan, people did not debate their freedom from masks. Instead, they dutifully resorted to wearing masks to avoid catching or spreading this dread disease. Culturally, Japanese are more formal in greeting each other by bowing, rather than shaking hands or kissing. The lack of physical contact may have also reduced transmission. While American culture is different from that of Japan’s, we can learn mask-wearing from others if we are willing to listen. COVID19 is a cruel virus, but we must not be. Rugged individualism is incongruent with stemming a pandemic, and has run its course again in American history. Trump and many of the sycophants around him acted invincible, flouted the rules, and questioned medical scientists. They refused to take precautions and now they must face the deadly realities of the pandemic. The depth of Trump's

narcissistic recklessness was revealed when Trump tested positive, yet continued to hold a New Jersey fundraiser even greeting donors without masks. From Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Trump produced a video where he showed no remorse for his flawed actions, no apologies for people he knowingly exposed. Instead, he defended his behavior, saying he could not stay upstairs at the White House. His donors feel misled by his failure to protect them and they are frustrated by the campaign’s failure to be transparent, and to take appropriate precautions. Every Trump appointee should have worn masks for their health and safety while modeling good behavior for others. Social distancing and other safeguards should have been rigorously enforced at the White House and when Trump was on the road. Instead of that, Trump has repeatedly tempted the virus, and now the virus threatens his health. Trump claims to have gone to school and learned a lot about the virus. Some voters hope the illness will help Trump discover the serious nature of this disease, and start respecting health scientists, develop empathy for others, and perhaps even begin to respect the rule of law. He is a 74-year-old uncurable narcissist who is devoid of veracity and in constant need of political theatre and the adulation of followers. Trump’s Sunday afternoon publicity stunt around the block waving at supporters is further evidence

that he does not care about the health and safety of his driver and Secret Service detail who shared a sealed SUV with him. It is hard to know the truth about his condition when he has lied more than 20,000 times. Confusing statements from the President’s doctor and the Chief of Staff also increased uncertainty. He is incapable of acting any differently. I hope President Trump, the First Lady, influential Republicans and Senators sickened while mingling without masks can fully recover. At the same time, we must understand that nothing will change unless we change it by voting. It is evident that Trump's narcissistic personality disorder is harming our National security and democracy. His unhinged, unpresidential, and disgusting behavior was on full display during the debate. Meanwhile, the Trump campaign needs a hard reset. They must end super-spreader rallies that threaten many. It is worth noting, Joe Biden took down his negative ads when Trump took ill. Trump has not. This will be an election about values. America will be on the ballot as never before. This is not a time for maskless rugged individualism, it is about caring for others. In a sense, our health and safety are on the ballot in 2020 and we must vote safely as our Nation is at great risk from a rolling pandemic with a reckless President.

PITTSBURGH CURRENT | OCTOBER 6, 2020 | 19


OPINION

STEPHEN CHBOSKY'S 'IMAGINARY FRIEND' MAKES PAPERBACK DEBUT

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uring a recent interview with Stephen Chbosky, I told the author that I remember his Pittsburgh-based horror novel Imaginary Friend more for its beauty than its terror. “Oh good,” he said. “I’m glad that you did. “My intention was to use the conventions of horror to talk about all of the themes that have interested me over the last three decades, whether it’s about a parent’s love for a child, or it’s about the secrets that we keep and how those poison us, if it’s about empathy, if it’s about traditional, coming-of-age themes.” On October 6, the Upper St. Clair native and Perks of Being a Wallflower author’s second novel, Imaginary Friend, releases in paperback, about a year after its commercially and critically successful hardcover release. In the two decades between Perks of Being a Wallflower and Imaginary Friend, Chbosky has written, directed and produced a slew of television and film projects. He wrote the screenplay for the 2005 Rent film adaptation and co-wrote the live action Beauty and the Beast movie from 2017. He’s directed films too, like the 2012 film adaptation of Perks of Being a Wallflower and the 2017 movie Wonder starring Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson. Chbosky spoke by phone from Atlanta, Georgia, where he’s directing the upcoming film Dear Evan Hansen, packed with big names like Amy Adams, Julianne

BY MATT PETRAS - PITTSBURGH CURRENT CONTRIBUTING WRITER

INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM

Stephen Chbosky

Moore and Amandla Stenberg. He spent years and years working on Imaginary Friend in between projects like this. In the year since Imaginary Friend finally released, Chbosky has seen a great response. It cracked the New York Times bestseller list right away and received critical acclaim. He’s happy with this because it had been so long since Perks, and Imaginary Friend appears so different at first glance, a sprawling, 720 page horror novel about a little boy who makes a suspicious, supernatural friend in the woods. “I’m switching up genres,” Chbosky said. “It’s, actually, I think, a nice cousin to Perks. It’s about

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a lot of the same themes. It’s about a lot of the same emotions, but just in a different genre. And it was very gratifying to have folks accept the change.” Imaginary Friend, billed as elevated horror, has creepy monsters, torture and a ton of other frightening bits one may expect from a horror novel, but at its core is an extreme degree of empathy for its characters. Imaginary Friend is more or less a sandwich with Stephen King’s It and Chbosky’s Perks smooshed inside. While writing the book, Chbosky pondered questions like, “What is it like to really understand or empathize with what people are going through?” The protagonist Christopher

and his mother Kate have a wonderfully evocative relationship that represents one of the most important aspects of the book. The two also live in Mill Grove, Pennsylvania, which underscores the laundry list of Pittsburgh area references in the book, including Primanti Bros, the Hill District, Giant Eagle and South Hills Village. In one scene, Kate comes into a lot of money and decides to treat her and her son to a fancy dinner at Ruth’s Chris in Downtown, Pittsburgh. Chbosky drew a lot of inspiration from his wife Liz when developing Kate. “The love that my wife has for


OPINION

our kids is the most powerful thing I’ve ever been around,” Chbosky said. Chbosky’s Catholic upbringing influenced the book a lot. It made him ponder God’s ability to be infinitely empathetic, a concept that fed into a lot of the plot and themes in Imaginary Friend. He also thought about how we can never truly, fully know how much we mean to those we love. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if people could really feel how much they were loved? It would revolutionize the world,” Chbosky said. “But sadly, most people cannot feel how deep it goes, from their families, from their loved ones and from their friends.” The concept of Hell terrified Chbosky as a young Catholic. I asked if Hell still troubles him, and with his answer, Chbosky revealed that Imaginary Friend has had not just a profound effect on his readers but also on him. Since writing Imaginary Friend, Chbosky no longer fears Hell. “I defined it. Most things that scare us, they scare us because they are unknown,” Chbosky said. “They scare us because it’s a set of conditions that you are given. Here’s this thing, that you did not invent, you did not create, and that’s bigger than you, that’s going to punish you forever, right? That is a terrifying thing to a child. That’s a terrifying thing to an adult. That is a prison. “But once I understood, through writing this book, that the prison’s in your mind, it no longer terrified me.”

RECORD REVIEWS BY MARGARET WELSH - PITTSBURGH CURRENT MUSIC EDITOR

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Holy Rivals Mind Blinder [Self-released] Holyrivals.bandcamp.com Years ago, I interviewed Jason Orr for a feature about T-Tops, for whom Orr played bass. "It's music from people from isolated worlds,” he said of that band. “Rock music as an area of musical artistic expression is just, you know, disgusting people [teasing] their imaginations to the public a little bit.” That sentiment undoubtedly holds true for Holy Rivals, which released Mind Blinder on August 16. Fans of T-Tops, or Wormrigg (another of Orr’s projects) will find familiar territory here. But where T-Tops --under the leadership of Patrick Waters -felt more tightly-wound, nearly bursting with rock ‘n’ roll rage, and Wormrigg verged on industrial, Holy Rivals wilds-out, shifting from rambly shape to rambly shape and just barely holding together. Composed of the Orr brothers, Jason and Aaron, and Rob Storm, the real joy of this band is its semi free-form, visceral instrumentation, and the catharsis that lies in the push and pull between established structure (the “blind-

ed mind,” you might say) and freedom. There are definitely songs here, and an overarching pop sensibility: the anthemic “No Future” and the surfy punk tune “Raana is My Friend” are practically singalongs. The Butthole Surfers are an obvious comparison, and Holy Rivals share that band’s funny, druggy, far-out, slightly threatening tunefulness. “If you love life, I just don't see where your place is in rock music,” Jason told me long ago. That certainly checks out here: anger, boredom and frustration permeate Mind Blinder. But sometimes you can catch the band enjoying itself, as they escape into the fun of making noise for the sake of making noise. There’s plenty on this earth to hate, but Mind Blinder leaves the listener with a welcome sense of buoyancy.

Chameleon Treat Winter on Callisto, 1971 [Self-released] chameleontreat.bandcamp.com Andrew Kruske, the sole artist behind Chameleon Treat, describes Winter on Callisto, 1971 as “a sort of soundtrack to a non-existent

film.” And there is a cinematic plot to the record: a man travels to space where -- after years of isolation -- he discovers a hidden civilization on the Jupiter moon Callisto. In order to be accepted into that society, he must access his creative side and reconnect with the things that inspired him as a child. Ultimately, it's a story, Kruske says, about when things fall apart and having to rebuild from scratch. But, with it’s gentle, kaleidoscopic tones, Winter on Callisto, 1971 invites the listener to think not so much of personal disappointments and wrong turns, but of the possibility of seeing one’s life from a different angle. The record’s retro futuristic aesthetic -- fleshed out with synths, vibraphone, and marimba, among other instrumentation -- brings to mind Jetson’s-style kitsch and high-contrast, alternately warm and cold (looking) 1960s movie sets. For me, the glittery instrumental opener “Invocation” brought to mind a similarly themed record, 1987’s Cave Valts on the Moon by composer Joanne Freeman. Written as a companion piece to a sculpture exhibit called “Artifacts from an Alien Civilization,” Freeman’s work is a speculative soundtrack to everyday extraterrestrial life. Kruske share’s Freeman’s imaginative approach, and the conceptualization of space as a place one might like to stay. But while Winter on Callisto stretches out into soundscape here and there, it’s most definitely a pop album, anchored by solid song structure. Fans of lush mid-2000s indie rock bands like Grizzly Bear, Animal Collective, Dirty Projectors, etc. etc. etc. will likely find much to

enjoy in this record’s blossoming complexity.

PITTSBURGH CURRENT | OCTOBER 6, 2020 | 21


SAVAGE LOVE Savage Love Love | sex | relationships BY DAN SAVAGE MAIL@SAVAGELOVE.NET I was dumped in August by a guy I was seeing for ten months. He told me that he wants to work on himself and “needs to be selfish” right now. Since then, we have spoken every day, shared numerous dinners, and gone on hikes. Our friendship is killing me. With him I hold it together. Away from him I cry all the time. I’ve started seeing a therapist and I’m on medication. I’m trying to be mature about the breakup and match his level of “coolness” but it’s destroying me. My friends tell me that I should stay away from him, allow some time to pass, and reassess. But the thought of losing him is almost has bad as the thought of keeping him in my life. Simply Heartbroken And Talking To Ex Really Extending Depression P.S. I should also mention that I ended a ten-year relationship for the opportunity to date him.

It’s always nice when exes are friends, MTP, but it’s not an easy pivot and it can’t be executed instantly. And transition to friendship is always much harder for the person who was dumped—because of course it is—and it’s even harder when a selfish dumper accepts or demands the kind of attention and emotional support from the dumpee that the dumper is longer entitled to. P.S. If you ended a ten-year relationship to date someone— if you ended it for a romantic prospect, not a romantic certainty (and there’s no such thing as a romantic certainty)— then that ten-year relationship needed to end. If your ex-boyfriend implored you to end that ten-year relationship and ten months later dumped you to “work on himself” and then did everything in his power to keep you all to himself even after dumping you, then that “friendship” needs to end too. At least for the time being.

“Hey, Dan, what I’m doing is making me miserable—should I stop?” Yes, SHATTERED, you should stop. Your friends are giving you excellent advice: stay away from this guy for at least a year—don’t talk on the phone (with him), don’t share meals (with him), don’t go on hikes (with him)—and then see how you feel after you’ve talked, shared meals, and gone on hikes with other people.

My name is a variation on “John Smith.” I met a woman and she liked me but then she did a cheapo background check on me and found a “John Smith” who had committed felonies—including assaulting a high school principal—and ended things with me. I am not that “John Smith” and I am innocent of these crimes! She had every reason to trust me: we met at my house and she viewed

22 | OCTOBER 6, 2020 | PITTSBURGH CURRENT

the premises without incident. What do I do? Not That Guy You had this woman over to yours, NTG, and she viewed the premises without incident. Okay… so you didn’t rape or kill her when she dropped in and that speaks well absolute bare fucking minimum of your character. But it doesn’t obligate her to keep seeing you. If you can prove you’re not John Smith, High School Principal Assaulter, and she doesn’t care, NTG, then there’s some other reason doesn’t want to see you again. (Was there a MAGA hat on the premises?) But whatever her real reason is/real reasons are, you’ve been given a “no.” And like everyone else, NTG, you have to take “no” for an answer even when it feels unfair or arbitrary. I’ve been with my boyfriend for almost five years and everything is amazing except that he sees his ex-girlfriend when I’m not around. He says she wants to meet me but he never wants to meet up with her when I’m with him. Their “dates” are becoming more frequent. She’s a single mom and he has expressed to me that he wants to be in her son’s life. My feelings of discomfort are escalating and I’m having trouble believing him when he says he wants me to meet her. When I bring this up, he gets angry and says I’m being too emotional. Am I being a crazy jealous girlfriend? I need some help. I want to be a better person. Should I reach out to his ex-girlfriend directly since my boyfriend refuses to make it happen? Or do I bail on the relationship? I feel that uncomfortable.

Ex-Girlfriend Looms Over Everything Bail. I’m in my early 30’s and I’ve been struggling to make new friends. A lot of the people in my extended social circle are polyamorous/queer, and while I identify as queer, I’m in a monogamish relationship that isn’t poly. Lately I have been finding that I have been getting approached a lot by people who want a romantic/ sexual connection. It seems like the only people who want me around lately want in my pants and they assume because I’m queer I’m also poly without asking directly. So people ask me if I want to “hangout” and I’m often unsure if they mean “hangout” in a date context or a friend context. I’ve ended up on dates I didn’t know I was going on! My biggest issue is that I don’t understand why people want to date/fuck me but don’t want to be my friend. I’m pretty average looking and I am not overly flirty. So why is this happening? Noodling On This Problem Over Lattes, Yeah? There’s nothing stopping you from asking—asking directly—for a little clarity: “Hangout? I’d love to! But do you mean ‘hangout’ as in ‘spend time together as friends’ or ‘hangout’ as in ‘let’s-goon-a-date’? I ask because I’ve wound up on a couple of dates that I didn’t know were dates and it was awkward.” As for why this is happening… well, either the poly people in your social circle assume—incorrectly—that all queer people are poly or you’re much more attractive than you’re giving yourself credit for, NOTPOLY, or some combo of both.


ESSAY MUTTY BY MATTHEW WALLENSTEIN - PITTSBURGH CURRENT CONTRIBUTING WRITER

INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM

My mother took me to see my great grandmother at the home. I was in elementary school. I think my mother knew the scythe was waiting for Mutty and wanted me to meet her before it came swinging. Everyone called her Mutty, it was a cutsie version of the German word for mother. We sat at a table just like the ones in my school cafeteria. The floor was white tile. The table was flat and hard. It was evening. The room was pretty empty. Mutty was thin and wrinkled. Her hands were brown and felt like old cloth. They were uncannily soft. I spoke the little German I knew to her, and then she started in with it and I had no idea what she was saying. After a little while she switched back to English. There would be 5 to 10 minutes of us talking before she’d start to fade and my mom or I would ask if she knew who I was and she would smile and say no. A few times when asked she would concentrate very hard and say wait you’re Daniel I know you. And there would be a look of vague recognition on her face and this pleased simper. Daniel was the name of both my grandfather and my uncle so I wasn’t sure which she was mistaking me for. I tried to hide my

laughter but nobody seemed to mind it, not even Mutty. When I was in my mid-twenties and my mother was trying to join my life again, she took me out to dinner with my sister. I was engaged and she wanted to be invited to the wedding. A little ways into the conversa-

tion she had my sister hold up her hand. There was a large diamond engagement ring on it. I asked if she was getting married too. She said no. It had belonged to Mutty and my mother passed it down to her. My mom had gotten the ring appraised and it was

worth quite a bit. She said she wanted to tell me the story behind it. When Mutty was young she was beautiful and wild, liberated and strong willed. Eventually she was with a man who was a master of violin. He earned his money playing concerts. He was a very well-respected musician. He was also a compulsive gambler. He spent much of his time in the smoke and clatter of backroom games with politicians, cops, gangsters. He loved cards, music, and my great grandmother. He wanted to marry her. He couldn’t help himself, he couldn’t stay away from the hustle, the gamble, the crooked hook of it. He put up his instrument when he didn’t have the money to cover a bet and he lost it. It was a very rare and expensive violin. But not long after that in another game he won the ring, The ring he proposed to Mutty with, the ring my sister spun around her finger. That story, the violin and the ring, the soiled beauty of old New York: I hadn’t lived it. I didn’t own it. I didn’t have much to do with it besides the passage of blood. But there was a sort of strange pride to this bit of history and I held it, I still do, because it goes both ways and there are enough ropy devils that pull me to other histories.

PITTSBURGH CURRENT | OCTOBER 6, 2020 | 23


PA R T I N G S H OT

PITTSBURGH CURRENT PHOTO BY JAKE MYSLIWCZYK PITTSBURGH CURRENT | OCTOBER 6, 2020 | 24

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Pittsburgh Current. October 6, 2020. Volume 3, Issue 34  

Coverage of new book on Tree of Live Tragedy, Dannnielle Brown, Rob Rogers, Election 2020, Stephen Chbosky, local album reviews, Dan Savage...

Pittsburgh Current. October 6, 2020. Volume 3, Issue 34  

Coverage of new book on Tree of Live Tragedy, Dannnielle Brown, Rob Rogers, Election 2020, Stephen Chbosky, local album reviews, Dan Savage...

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