POLICE REFORM IN PENNSYLVANIA DIDN'T HAVE TO TAKE THIS LONG VOL. 3 ISSUE 18
June 16, 2020 - June 22, 2020
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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.
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Vol. III Iss. XVIII June 16, 2020
SPECIAL REPORT Pittsburgh Public Schools' Remote Education Plan: What happened and how it can be prevented in the future. Pages 6-13 NEWS 14 | Police Reform isn't new 16 | House panel passes two reform bills OPINION 17 | Brewed on Grant 18 | Guest OP/ED: Pitt must support Grad Students 19 | Dick Polman 20 | Larry Schweiger ARTs & ENTERTAINMENT 22 | Zyka Gallery 23 | 'Citizen Reporters' 24 | The Art of Rest 25 | Event Listings EXTRA 26 | Savage Love 27 | Matthew Wallenstein 28 | Parting Shot
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PITTSBURGH CURRENT | JUNE 16, 2020 | 5
Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Anthony Hamlet hands out a laptop to a student earlier this year. (Photo: Pittsburgh Public Schools)
PPS VOWS TO DEBUG REMOTE LEARNING PAPER PACKETS AND LACK OF COMPUTERS DELAYED EDUCATION BY MARY NIEDERBERGER - PITTSBURGH CURRENT CONTRIBUTING WRITER MARY@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM
he last day of school is traditionally met with sighs of relief from students liberated from lessons and parents freed from nagging. Last week’s sighs were no doubt far deeper than past years' as students and parents in the Pittsburgh Public Schools ended a nearly eight-week session of remote learning that brought frustration, isolation and even some anger to the final quarter of the school year. Superintendent Anthony Hamlet
said he hopes the district can use lessons learned from its mistakes to create a better system for the 20202021 school year, which is certain to include at least partial remote learning, because it's likely that none of the school buildings are large enough to accommodate all of the students at any one time with social distancing. “I understand the frustration. But no one in the United States would have thought that the U.S. would have shut down because of a pandemic,” Hamlet said in a recent
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interview. Frustration built in the district as nearly four weeks passed without any instruction following Gov. Tom Wolf’s March 13 closing of schools due to the coronavirus. District officials following directives from the federal and state departments of education believed they could not offer mandatory school work to any students if they could not provide a free and appropriate education to all students including those with disabilities. Those directives were clarified
later in March and allowed schools to start offering remote lessons. But even as remote learning got underway in Pittsburgh, frustration grew deeper when it became apparent the district did not have nearly enough technology to distribute to its 23,000 students for online learning, leaving many to work from paper packets that had no system for returning completed assignments. Remote learning started for high school seniors on April 16 and by April 22 students in all grades were receiving lessons.
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During the ensuing weeks, students and parents grappled with a remote system that provided only those students with technology and internet access and some complained it was too difficult to master. Others completed their work via paper packets they had to pick up from designated distribution spots. “I know that nobody was ready for this and nobody expected it, but at the same time there should always be a contingency plan for something like this. Just to know that there are children who still have no type of technology today and this is the last week of school, this is disheartening,” parent Jenise Shealey said in an interview last week. Shealey is one of more than 50 black women, members of Black Women for a Better Education, who signed a letter recommending to the school board that Hamlet’s contract not be renewed. One of the reasons was the perception by the group that Hamlet’s COVID-19 response was a failure. It cited the district’s lack of a 1:1 technology program, the lost weeks of instruction and lack of remote individualized education plans for students with disabilities. Hamlet defended his performance citing the fact that Pittsburgh schools had remote learning operating before the Philadelphia, Reading and Allentown districts “and still that’s not good enough? “No, we are not at 100 percent yet. But we are pushing for it. We have a lot of work to do,” he said. He also cited the numerous communications the district had with the community during the pandemic, including robocalls, letters, website postings and calls from teachers and counselors. A districtwide assessment of the
Pittsburgh Public Schools superintendent Anthony Hamlet stands on the steps of Pittsburgh Colfax K-8 and speaks to the school employees who participated in the Black Lives Matter march organized by the school district on June 8, at the end of a rough year for all of them. (Print Photo: Ann Belser)
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NEWS system at this point is difficult, but administrators reported to the board’s education committee on June 9 that they are trying to reach out to all constituencies in the district for feedback about what worked and what didn’t during the weeks of remote learning. In total, 127 students did not participate in remote learning and their families could not be reached from March 13 to June 12, said district spokeswoman Ebony Pugh. Hamlet said the names of those students have been turned over to building principals who are expected to work with community partner agencies to locate the students and their families. Theodore Dwyer, chief of data, research, assessment and accountability, reported to the board education committee that 57.8 percent of students logged into one of the platforms the district used for remote learning. “So, that’s 12,000 of our students,” Dwyer said. Of high school students, 71 percent logged in, Dwyer said, though he did not indicate how often or for how long. School director Devon Taliaferro pressed the administration to find ways to reach hard-to-reach students. “We need to look at how we address not being able to reach all of our students. Can we find better ways? Instead of 12,000 students it should be 23,000 students,” Taliaferro said. District survey One attempt to assess the remote program and to find ways to improve it for fall was a recent online survey that drew results from 5,194 families. It’s been pointed out by school officials and parents that since the survey was taken online only those with technology could participate. But Hamlet said the number of responses accounts for 89 percent of
district families Of that group, 56 percent found the district’s remote learning tools helpful while 44 percent did not. But parents interviewed for this story said they appreciated the efforts made by their children’s teachers. During the weeks of remote learning, students who did not have access to technology could not connect virtually with teachers who held online office hours and those who posted videos of lessons online or offered real-time virtual lessons. Even some students with access to technology chose paper packets because of the difficulty level of using the online platforms chosen by the district. Initially there were complaints the printing in the paper packets wasn’t clear but that was later corrected. The biggest issue with the remote learning plan was that, unlike other districts in the county, Pittsburgh did not have a 1:1 technology program which provided each student with a device nor was it building one when the coronavirus struck. The exceptions were at Pittsburgh CAPA 6-12, where a booster group provided the devices, and at Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy, where they were part of the curriculum. That equity issue has loomed large over the program as Pittsburgh officials scrambled to raise money and get devices and internet access to students, an effort that received a major boost from a $360,000 grant from the Heinz Endowments. It got another boost recently when Neighborhood Allies raised $400,000 to provide Comcast internet service to the 1,000 families who reported in an earlier district technology survey they lacked it. Still the school year ended without
all students having devices though Hamlet has vowed all students will have technology for the start of the 2020-2021 school year. The remote learning survey showed there was some level of satisfaction among those who responded. It’s unclear how many students did not participate in remote learning as the district has not released that statistic. Board member Terry Kennedy requested it at the June 9 meeting. Of the 5,194 families that responded to the survey, 1,239 of them said their child had a positive experience with the instructional paper packets, while 1,814 said they did not. Among those who had positive experiences were 437 black families and 499 white families. But far more white families — 1,085 — said they did not have a positive experience, than black families at 414. The survey results showed the highest response rate — 54 percent — came from white families, while 27 percent came from black families. Across the district, 52 percent of students are black. The majority of those who responded — 3,289 families — said their child was using family-owned technology. Of that total,1,966 families were white and 712 were black. District-issued technology was used by 977 students, with 469 of the group white and 312 black. Paper packets were used by 2,352 students in the families who responded, with 1,178 of the families white and 704 of the families black. There were no breakdowns between technology and paper packet use for students with disabilities or English language learners. Kennedy expressed concern about how well those groups were served during the remote period and if they had access to technology.
Of the amount of time students spent on remote learning daily, 55 percent said they spent one to three hours, 24 percent spent three to five hours, 5 percent more than five hours per day and 16 percent said less than an hour a day. To improve remote instruction, 65 percent of the responding families said the district needed teacher-led instruction and 43 percent said additional resources for parents to assist children were needed. Respondents also cited the need for additional guidance on student learning experiences and technology assistance with remote learning. The administration showed board members a slide show of student activities during the remote learning period. After watching the slide show, school director Kennedy asked: “How do we know how much they really learned?” David May-Stein, chief of school performance, said the next step is to assess at the beginning of next school year what the learning loss was during the remote learning period. He said there will likely be after-school academies and other interventions to address the losses. Some of the parents interviewed for this story said teachers were sometimes helpful in guiding them through technology issues. When broken down by school, the smallest number of survey responses — 24 or less — from traditional district schools came from those with predominantly black enrollment, including Faison K-5, Arsenal K-5, Manchester PreK-8, Weil PreK-5, King PreK-8 and Milliones 6-12. In interviews, some parents complained that it was burdensome for families without cars to pick up the Continued on Page 10
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paper instructional packets. Hamlet said the district informed families that if they could not pick up packets or food, the district would deliver and some deliveries were made to homes. Voices of parents Parents also said there was no way to return completed work from the paper packets without some type of technology. Teachers recommended taking a cellphone photo and texting it or downloading software that could reproduce the work and send it to the teacher. But some parents either didn’t have cellphones or didn’t want to use limited data plans. Former school director Moira Kaleida, whose husband, Ray, is a teacher at Clayton Academy, had a student who picked up a lesson packet and did the work but had no way to return it because his mother could not afford to use her limited cellphone data to take photos and text. “It’s a poverty issue,” Moira Kaleida said. Hamlet said he hopes that won’t be an issue in the fall when all students should have district-issued technology. The Kaleidas have two daughters who are students at Pittsburgh Montessori K-5. Moira Kaleida said she had difficulty with the district’s technology platform so she printed her daughters’ work and they completed assignments on paper. “I am no tech whiz but I can get by and trying to figure out Microsoft Teams and how to have kids do math on a computer, it just didn’t make sense to them or me. Once the paper packets came out it was much easier.” She was able to use technology to video chat with her daughters’
teachers every day. Hamlet said a district committee is currently researching platforms for use in the fall and may recommend another platform or recommend training for families on how to better navigate the system. “I think the district did the best job it could. But there are so many obstacles to overcome with vulnerable populations,” Moira Kaleida said. She said she doesn’t believe the district has heard the true needs of those populations. “With the transient population and housing instability, I know there are students in families that just can’t be reached,” she said. “I think the problem is from the hierarchies of needs of their lives, getting to work and getting food on the table rather than complaining about remote learning are more important.” Maria Guyette, who has children who were in second and fourth grades this year at Pittsburgh Liberty K-5, said she was frustrated the district did not have individual technology for students the way surrounding districts did and upset that there were four weeks without instruction. Her family had access to technology but had difficulty with the platforms. It was exacerbated by the fact that she and her husband, also an emergency room physician, sent their children to live with relatives in New Jersey during the quarantine period. She commended the district for providing food for students as soon as schools closed and praised the Liberty staff. “They had a daily check-in and a special every day. They did have some kind of face-to-face learning. The morning meeting goes on for a half-hour or 45 minutes. The teachers talk to the kids about the school work and check in on their mental
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This article is being co-published by Print and the Pittsburgh Current and has been funded by Print readers who donated to the Print Journalism Fund.
health,” Guyette said in an interview last week. Her son received virtual speech therapy through Microsoft Teams. She said her biggest concern was for the 25 percent of Liberty students she was told did not have access to technology. She worried that they did not get feedback on their work because there was no mechanism — other than to use technology — and that they missed chances to interact virtually with their teachers. Keisha Hatten has a son in seventh grade at Environmental Charter School and a daughter in fourth grade at Pittsburgh Dilworth K-5. She said her son, Kejuan, “didn’t miss a beat” in his education. She said he came home on March 13 with his chromebook and the charter school started lessons within a few days. “They did live lessons and they made videos of them going over lessons as well. They stay connected in a lot of ways. If you needed one of them they would video chat with you and go over the work,” Hatten said. Like all Pittsburgh students, her daughter Juanae at Dilworth went without instruction for four weeks. Hatten said, when instruction resumed on April 22, Dilworth teachers went out of their way to stay connect-
ed to students. They had daily meetings and “still did their hat day on Friday. They still did their Dilworth spirit shirts. They still did shout outs for the kids for their birthdays.” But, she said, “My son definitely had more real work.” Dilworth students did not have computers although her daughter had one as part of the Strong Women Strong Girls group at the school. Shealy has a son in sixth grade at Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy. He had a computer device a week after quarantine — delivered by the district — but his lessons didn’t start until April 16. Shealey said she has nieces and nephews in the system who did not receive devices because they attended other district schools. But even with her son’s laptop there were technical difficulties. She said the Microsoft Teams platform was difficult to use. Shealey said her son did not enjoy his remote learning experience because he missed being in the classroom with his teachers. “He’s one of those students who needs teacher interaction,” she said. She said if all students had laptops and internet access, she believes, remote learning “could have been a “joyful experience.”
NEWS PPS SUPERINTENDENT SAYS A COMPUTER FOR EVERY STUDENT WILL BE A REALIZATION BY THE FALL
ittsburgh Superintendent Anthony Hamlet knows that if his district had been set up as a 1:1 technology district like others in the area when COVID-19 hit in March, the transition to remote learning would have been remarkably smoother and more expeditious. And though 1:1 technology was in the district’s longer-range plans, the reality was when schools were closed by Gov. Tom Wolf on March 13, Pittsburgh Public Schools had only about one-tenth of the number of computer devices it needed to distribute to its 23,000 students, and a portion of those devices needed to go to teachers. Although administrators hustled to inventory and rehab devices, raise money and purchase more, ultimately many students ended up working from paper packets and even by the last week of school some students had no devices. In the meantime, weeks of learning were lost. But Hamlet vows things will be different when classes resume in the fall. He is ensuring that every student will have a district-issued device, either a computer or a tablet, and internet connection and that when students are not in class they will have access to synchronous (real time) instructions by their teachers, and that the online platform will be one that is user-friendly. He’s had help in this effort by
BY MARY NIEDERBERGER - PITTSBURGH CURRENT CONTRIBUTING WRITER MARY@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM
donations for computer devices from local foundations and $400,000 raised by Neighborhood Allies to provide Comcast internet to the 1,000 families who indicated through a district survey they did not have internet access. “We’re definitely going to have an online synchronous learning platform,” Hamlet said. No more paper packets. No more parents taking cellphone photos of their children’s Anthony Hamlet assignments and texting them to teachers. No more students excluded from virtual learning experiences. And a system that is equitable for all students as opposed to this spring when families who had access to technology had more access to instructors and services. One of the committees launched last week as part of the district’s “All in to Reopen Our Schools” effort will research and recommend the best online platform for the district to use. It will review platforms and best practices used by other districts. “That committee is dedicated to finding out the information that we need,” Hamlet said. He said the solution could be changing to another platform or providing more training on Microsoft
Teams for teachers and parents. He said the Microsoft platform was chosen this spring because it allowed students who didn’t have access to a computer device to participate in virtual meetings by phone. The committee will also look at how much professional training teachers will need for synchronous learning on the selected platform and how much time they will need to become comfortable using the new techniques and technology. Parents also will be offered training. “We don’t know if was it difficult for parents because it (Microsoft Teams) was not the right platform or because of their level of understanding the platform,” Hamlet said. “We want to get down to the granular level.” Regardless of the platform selected, Hamlet and district administrators are certain there will be a need for an online system, given the Centers for Disease and Control and the state Department of Education’s requirements for social distancing between students and for learning in the event of future school closings due to possible future virus surges. District consultants are measuring each school building to determine the safest number of students who can attend at one time and still maintain the social distance of 6 feet, recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and
the state Department of Education. Pittsburgh’s Chief of Operations Pam Capretta said some schools will have a harder time with social distancing than others because of their high enrollment. So far a plan has been drafted for Dilworth because, with almost 500 children in grades K-5, “that was a very crowded school,” Capretta said. Other schools with large enrollments are next on the list. Capretta said the calculations eventually will be done for every school in the district but that schools with high capacities “will be in the most need of modifications of desks, equipment and maybe schedules.” The “All in” effort launched last week includes more than 300 volunteers who will sit on committees that will address such efforts as academic planning, personnel, family support, school operations, and safety and communications and outreach. The committees will meet through July 3, then issue reports and recommendations to the district’s executive cabinet by July 8. A draft plan for school reopening is expected by July 15 with a public presentation planned for July 22. This article is being co-published by Print and the Pittsburgh Current and has been funded by Print readers who donated to the Print Journalism Fund.
PITTSBURGH CURRENT | JUNE 16, 2020 | 11
NEWS PITTSBURGH AREA STUDENTS ISSUE THEIR REPORT CARDS ON THE EFFECTIVENESS OF REMOTE EDUCATION BY ADA PERLMAN - FOR THE PITTSBURGH CURRENT
When high school students in Pittsburgh look back to the second week of March, they realize they had no idea of the changes that were about to take place. Their education systems were about to transform in ways even their school administrations had not foreseen. Pittsburgh students were about to grapple with immense uncertainty, but what has ultimately come clear is that even with schools closed, it was the teachers who made the difference, with engaged teachers making sure their students learned through the long months of the school closure. Annika Ramani, a junior at the Ellis School, was in London on a two-week exchange trip when she started to hear about school closures. She was sitting in a cafe, watching British Prime Minister Boris Johnson give a speech on television, wondering what was going to happen with her school in Pittsburgh. Soon enough, she would be on a plane back home and then starting online classes to cap off her junior year of high school. Meanwhile, Sage Arnold said he thought of the closure of his school, Taylor Allderdice, as just an extended snow day, though he did feel comfort knowing he wouldn’t have to sweat through the hotter months in school due to the lack of air-conditioning. Adia Russell, a junior at Oakland Catholic, said it was hard to attend school in late March
A May 22 remote math class in the Clairton School District.
because she feared getting sick with coronavirus. Her school shut down much later than other schools so she said she felt a sense of relief knowing that coming to school wouldn’t jeopardize her health. With no sense of structure, students started to question how they should be spending their days, which classes they should prioritize, and how to deal with this new reality. “If I’m being completely honest,” said Dori Catz, a sophomore at Pittsburgh CAPA, “[The school] was trying to make sure the kids who get food from the school, got food — which is incredibly important. They completely lost the idea that people need an education and so they
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didn’t prioritize it for a long time.” She said she was frustrated that it took her school (along with the entire Pittsburgh Public School system) almost five weeks to set up a system to produce work for their students. While some teachers, particularly the teachers in her Advanced Placement classes, sent out work before the school set up a learning platform, Catz said she felt disheartened knowing that she was missing out on part of her sophomore year education. When her school finally started using Microsoft Teams, she had no live classes. At the beginning of the week, she would get work and was expected to turn it in by the end of the week. She motivated herself by making a schedule in order to turn assignments in on
time, but it also made her appreciate learning more because the work was not being graded. She realized that she took the classroom setting for granted, and now she’s said that she has had to adapt to her at home workspace. A senior at Obama Academy, Amanda Jones, said she felt similar to Catz. She said she learned a fraction of what she would have normally been learning. While the school focused on giving out food stamps to students in need, Jones said she realized how grateful she was for her situation. However she wished that her classes would have resumed sooner. She felt that the district was extremely unorganized during this transition but it did not reflect on the efforts of her
NEWS teachers. Sam Bisno, a classmate of Jones at Obama Academy, said, “there was no lack of trying on their part.” Both Bisno and Jones felt for their teachers too; they had young kids at home as well as partners. As Bisno said all of the teachers were trying but the technology was inconsistent. For instance his history teacher made an effort to engage the class by starting an optional weekly current event discussion. Jones responded feeling similarly supported by her teachers. Planning to be a chemistry major in college, she was concerned about missing some of her high school chemistry material. Her teacher happily sent her extra resources so that she would be prepared for her college courses. Though the district’s decision to use Microsoft Teams was difficult to navigate, both Obama students said they felt supported by their teachers. Arnold, who is a student in the district’s Center for Advanced Studies at Allderdice, pointed out that some of his teachers set up Zoom classes before the districtwide decision to use Microsoft Teams. These classes were quickly shut down and they met again on Microsoft Teams a few weeks later. He said that he found it was much easier to do the work when the teacher engaged the class. Nola Friedman, a sophomore at Allderdice who is not in the advanced studies program, said even if her teachers were engaged, not all of her classmates were interested. At one point only four students in her class had done the daily assignment. She said she
felt that it’s harder to stay engaged when you aren’t in a school setting where your teachers are constantly there to support you. Though most of Catz’s classmates at CAPA showed up to class, sometimes her teachers didn’t. The situation was egregious enough that she said some students even emailed the principal and vice principal to tell them that teachers had checked out. “We don’t have time to wait for some teacher who doesn’t want to teach,” Catz said. Though across the board students struggled with motivation during remote learning, each of the students said the enthusiasm of their teachers made the difference in their own desire to learn the subject. For students at nearby private high schools, teacher engagement was not an issue. Felix Bhattacharya, a junior at Winchester Thurston, said he felt that he has always had a close relationship with his teachers, which helped to smooth the transition to remote learning. After spring break (which was the last two weeks of March), his online classes picked up quickly, although he did feel like it was sometimes easy to lose focus because of the distracting big window next to his desk. At Ellis, Ramani said she felt similarly. Her teachers were all invested in this platform and she could always set up meetings if she had additional questions. Usually, Ramani stops into a classroom to casually ask a teacher a question so she voiced that she found this new formal format frustrating. Russell explained that at Oakland Catholic, their teachers as-
signed them way too much work at first. Still, after a class meeting with the school president, their work became more manageable. Students who were able to settle into remote learning said they missed the extracurricular activities of school but quickly remote dance shows, debates, and more started to go online. Because Pittsburgh CAPA revolves a lot around the arts, Catz said she felt heartbroken when her shows were canceled. As a musical theater major, Catz was going to be in a schoolwide production of “Hairspray” and a department production of “Chicago.” She conveyed that it felt like they had done all of this work for nothing though they were consoled by the possibility of performing these shows next year. Her theater class started to meet online every other week and her voice lessons also resumed. Winchester Thurston was planning to put on “Urinetown,” so instead Bhattacharya and his castmates filmed a scene remotely. Theater at Ellis functioned similarly, featuring an online murder mystery radio play. At Obama, Bisno’s Youth and Government Conference was canceled. Instead, he organized a virtual conference. Normally, they would hold everyone to a very high standard but online, they were able to make it more fun to give people a chance to escape from their reality. “Sometimes you have to adjust your expectations — and that’s OK and that’s healthy,” explained Bisno, who served as Pennsylvania’s youth governor. The Upper Schoolers at Winchester Thurston were also able
to see the fun in this new reality. Their Student Council organized a 24-hour ‘Zoomathon’ featuring different events at each hour. Bhattacharya described events ranging from playing Kahoot! to college discussions. At Obama, instead of the usual Cinco de Mayo celebration in Spanish class, Jones’ teacher sent out recipes and videos for the students to watch. Though braced with difficult circumstances, each school was able to adapt accordingly, even coming up with a few new events for the online calendar. Overall, students said they had mixed feelings about how much they were able to learn remotely. Some responded that their classes were just giving out busy work while others derived enjoyment and knowledge from their respective assignments. As the school year was ending, Jones remarked that she started to think about moving forward as a senior. When she heard about friends who had family members die from COVID-19 or the murders of black people, her attitude changed. “I just don’t care anymore. I don’t care about [missing out on] prom or senior prank day. I care about protesting as a black woman and helping people,” she said. “When so many people are getting sick and there are protests going on, you’re not going to prioritize your history PowerPoint due tomorrow.” Ada Perlman is an intern at Print and a junior at the Ellis School. This article is being co-published by Print and the Pittsburgh Current.
PITTSBURGH CURRENT | JUNE 16, 2020 | 13
NEWS NOTHING NEW
ATTEMPTS AT MUCH-NEEDED POLICE REFORM IN PA. PRE-DATE GEORGE FLOYDâ€™S DEATH BYJODY DIPERNA - PITTSBURGH CURRENT LIT WRITER
n March 22, 2019, an Allegheny County jury acquitted Michael Rosfeld of criminal homicide in the killing of 17-year old Antwon Rose, II. The charges were brought after the thenEast Pittsburgh police officer shot Rose three times while Rose fled. Rosfeld's acquittal hung on Title 18, Section 508 regarding use of force by law enforcement officers. As protestors filled the streets here, house Representative Summer Lee of Pennsylvania's 34th District, which includes Homestead, Forest Hills, Braddock and Edgewood, started to work on a bill that would amend Title 18 to limit the use of deadly force by police officers. Lee, a Democrat, introduced the bill to the House on June 19, 2019, the one year anniversary of Rose's death. "At the end of the day, I think that legislators, lawmakers in this country, we have been accustomed to ignoring the plight of black and brown people. Especially when it comes to police violence, police brutality and police accountability," Lee told the Current via telephone. As we approach the second anniversary of Rose's death, her proposed legislation, House Bill 1664, sits in the Judiciary Committee of Pennsylvania's House, where it has languished since June 24, 2019. The Current reached out via both email and telephone to Republican Representative Rob Kauffman of Pennsylvania's 89th District who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, but he has not responded. Amid statewide and nationwide protests over police violence sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Lee believes elected
Ps. Rep. Summer Lee stands on the steps of the Allegheny County Courthouse to protest the acquittal of a white police officer in the killing of Antwon Rose. Opposite Page: A BLM protest in East Liberty on June 1. (Pittsburgh Current Photos by Jake Mysliwczyk)
officials are duty-bound to do something and to do it with urgency. "Legislators see these things happen, they will see these uprisings, they will hear the calls of people on the streets and they will wait it out. They'll kick the can down the road, they'll kick the can down the road and that's what we've been doing for decades. We've been kicking the can down the road," she said. According to Pennsylvania Title 18, Section 508, an officer can deploy deadly force on a fleeing person who possesses a deadly weapon, irrespective of whether or not that
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person indicates a threat or desire to inflict bodily injury or harm. In layman's terms, Lee's proposal changes the circumstances under which deadly force may be used: only if the suspect presents imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm to the officer or another person can an officer use deadly force. "It does something else, too, in that it adds the term, 'reasonably believes.' The way the law currently reads is that an officer is justified in using deadly force if he believes that it is necessary in self-defense, or in defense of others, or to prevent
resistance or escape if the person has committed a forcible felony or possesses a deadly weapon," said Jalila Jefferson-Bullock, MA, JD, Associate Professor at Duquesne School of Law. "This adds to that a reasonable belief, which is quite different. I think she did that to add a measure of objectivity and uniformity, because otherwise we're just left to the whims of whatever a police officer believes. Reasonable belief is more of a measurable term in criminal law. It is going to ask about what the ultimate decision was and the process by
NEWS which that decision was made, rather than just leaving this belief up to an officer's subjective whim." Lee says that her bill makes a police officer's service weapon the weapon of last resort. In effect, it adds proportionality, in that the use of a deadly weapon would be proportional to the threat. In short, a service weapon would be used in self-defense, or to protect another person in grave danger. Lee believes that change would be good for all parties involved. "If the statute is vague and a police officer who is rogue, who is bad, who is violent, kills somebody who is unarmed -- kills a 17-year old child. If he comes on a force where he already had misconducts, is able to change departments, and on the first day at work, shoots a 17-yearold kid in his back three times and prosecutors aren't able to work with that because of that statute? What we're seeing is an egregious error," Lee said. While the Current was at work on this story, the Judiciary Committee was scheduled to meet July 15 to vote on two other policing bills, HB 1841 and HB 1910. Those bills were passed, see story on Page 16. Bill 1910 would require police officers and minor judiciary to receive training which would help them to recognize child abuse and be fully aware of reporting requirements. Bill 1841, introduced by outgoing-Rep Harry Readshaw (Democrat, 36th District) would help weed out officers with spotty or dangerous track records by requiring previous employers to disclose information to law enforcement agencies conducting background investigations for applicants. It would further permit the courts to compel the release of such information if the employer fails to comply. Prior to his being hired by the East Pittsburgh Borough Police Department (which has since been disband-
ed), Michael Rosfeld was employed as a University of Pittsburgh police officer. He was fired by Pitt in January 2018, something that would be required to be revealed by Bill 1841. It should be noted that Rosfeld filed a lawsuit in January, 2020 contending that Pitt fired him without cause. That matter is still in litigation, though Pitt issued a statement saying that they had no intention of ever reinstating Rosfeld. As to Lee's bill, she says that communities, especially marginalized communities, need for the police to be held to a higher standard. "What she's trying to do is not take power away from the police necessarily. That's not what it's about. It's about holding the police accountable because the way that the law stands now, police are given incredibly wide latitude in determining when to use deadly force," Jefferson-Bullock explained. The changes to Title 18 would, in fact, make it easier to prosecute law enforcement officers for criminal homicide. But Summer Lee says that isn't the point of her bill. She hopes that changing the statute will prevent homicides. "What we really want, we want to protect black lives, we want to protect disabled lives, we want to protect brown lives," she said. "The way to do that is to make it very clear under which circumstances force is acceptable and justified. We also want to change the culture around how force is used and when force is used. To do that, we need to make it abundantly clear, abundantly clear, that the only time you can use force is when your life, when you face an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury, you or someone else." In the meantime, House Bill 1664 waits. If anybody remembers their 'Schoolhouse Rock' lesson, bills go from the House committee to vote
in the full House. And while that educational music video was set in Washington, DC, things run much the same in Harrisburg. If a bill passes in the State House, it then goes to the State Senate and the process repeats there. According to Bill Patton, Press Secretary for the House Democratic Caucus, the partisan atmosphere is not unexpected. Beyond straight party-line votes, the adversarial mood also means that legislation like Lee's can get jammed up in committee and never see the light of day in the House. "Unfortunately this is typical for Democractic legislation. Our caucus has experienced this on, not just with this committee, but this is one of the committees where it is especially prevalent. We can introduce as many bills as we want, but very few of them get full consideration in committees," Patton said.
The Pennsylvania House is a Republican controlled body, with 110 GOP members and just 93 Democrats. Lee's bill, should it come out of committee, will need 102 votes to pass. Voting in the House in Harrisburg often breaks down along party lines, so even if this legislation is permitted to see the light of day, it is a tough road for Lee and other backers of this bill. But Summer Lee maintains that is nothing short of dereliction of duty to not try to effectuate legal changes. "Folks are confused as to why people are saying that this institution has fundamentally failed. It has fundamentally failed communities of color. I think that the least that our Legislature should do is take common sense measures as a good faith effort and good faith step to say that we are willing to talk to you, we are willing to listen to you and now is the time to move forward," she said.
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NEWS PA. HOUSE PANEL APPROVES POLICE REFORM BILLS, WITH FULL VOTE AS SOON AS NEXT WEEK
fter weeks of protests for justice and action both inside and outside the Pennsylvania Capitol, a state House panel has advanced five proposals to update police hiring and training. The reforms, crammed into two bills passed by the House Judiciary Committee Monday morning, would update useof-force and racial awareness training for law enforcement, and require regular PTSD checks for officers. But most importantly, one bill would create a confidential statewide database of police personnel files, including any criminal charges, civil and ethics complaints from the public, or internal complaints of harassment, discrimination, sexual misconduct or domestic violence among other issues. Law enforcement agencies would be required to consult the database while hiring new officers. While specific complaints could not be acquired by an open records request, reporters and the public could check if departments had hired someone with a record of misconduct. All the proposals — four from Democrats, one from a Republican — passed unanimously through the GOP-controlled committee with little comment from lawmakers. The committee’s Republican chairman, Rep. Rob Kauffman, of Franklin County, said the proposals were picked because they
BY STEPHEN CARUSO - FOR THE PITTSBURGH CURRENT
could “garner significant support.” They could come up for a floor vote as soon as next week. Democrats on the committee celebrated the moment, but they also warned that their work was far from over. The 100-plus Black Lives Matter protests that have occurred across Pennsylvania, Rep. Summer Lee, D-Allegheny, noted, are not just because of the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed in police custody in Minnesota in late May. “These are folks who have been [protesting] not since George Floyd, not since Antown Rose, not even since Mike Brown or Eric Garner, but long, long before that,” Lee said, referencing police killings going back to 2014. Their nationally known names as victims of law enforcement violence, alongside Harrisburg’s own Ty’Rique Riley, were chalked onto the Capitol steps on Monday morning. “People on the ground have made clear what their expectations are of their government, and we have responsibility to act on that,” Lee added. In the future, she and her colleagues hoped for the committee to revisit other policing proposals, such as her own bill to rewrite the state’s use-of-force law. She also wanted to see proposals on Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk before the General Assembly breaks for summer at the end of the month. Monday’s vote comes a week after Black Democrats shut down the Pennsylvania House floor for
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about 90 minutes and demanded action on 19 pieces of legislation, from Lee’s use-of-force proposal to special prosecutors for police killings to oversight for departments acquiring military surplus equipment. Some of the bills have lingered in the House for a year, introduced as a package on the anniversary of the death of Rose, a Black East Pittsburgh teenager shot and killed by police in 2018. At the time, committee chair Kauffman told the Capital-Star he would not run Lee’s use-of-force bill and expressed skepticism of policing reforms in general. But last week’s protest led to meetings between Republican and Democratic leadership, which trickled down to Kauffman. On Monday, Kauffman said that no Democrats had ever consulted him on their policing bills before. Kauffman also cited the sheer quantity of bills in his committee for the delay in action. “We don’t study every piece of legislation that comes” to the committee, Kauffman said. He did not commit to any more votes in the future. Soon after the final vote, some Democrats approached Kauffman and thanked him for holding the meeting — and offered their services to flag and review their bills. Rep. Chris Rabb, a Philadelphia Democrat and committee member, sponsored the policing personnel database. Speaking after the meeting, he acknowledged the committee’s heavy workload, but didn’t
see it as an excuse for the last year of inaction. “It’s true there may be 90plus bills that have come before this committee,” Rabb said. “But they have newspapers in Franklin County.” “There is police brutality everywhere. They are protests not just in Pittsburgh, not just in Philadelphia, but all over this commonwealth,” he added. “It is not our job to keep folks up with the news.” Wolf has already indicated his support for the House Democrats reform package. The police personnel database also has the backing of the state police union, the state troopers union, and the police chiefs association in a deal brokered by Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro. The bills passage received praise from both Shapiro, who called it “a down payment on the kinds of reforms we need to deliver” in a statement. House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, must now shepherd the proposal through the House. “Today’s unanimous vote speaks volumes to the importance of these issues,” Cutler said in a statement. “Ultimately the issue is about trust, and taking steps to ensure all residents and all law enforcement are taking strides to build trust makes for a safer Pennsylvania, and everyone benefits.” Stephen Caruso is a Staff Writer for the Pennsylvania Capital-Star where this story first appeared.
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OPINION GUEST OPINION: PITT MUST SUPPORT ITS GRADUATE STUDENTS IN THIS TIME OF CRISIS BY KESS L. BALLENTINE - SPECIAL TO THE PITTSBURGH CURRENT
Pitt Must Support Its Graduate Students in This Time of Crisis I am a member of Pitt’s PhD Advisory Group, headed by outgoing Vice Provost Dr. Nathan Urban. In our last meeting, some of us raised concerns about the bleak job market we’ll be facing and asked for the administration to consider granting all funded graduate students an optional funding extension similar to what they’d offered to tenure-stream faculty. As a PhD candidate in Social Work nearing the end of my program, I was hoping for some insight from Vice Provost Urban. Instead, he told us that he was encouraging his graduate students to graduate with what they had. As far as I could tell, he was encouraging us to enter a difficult job market with a weaker resume or unfinished research. Despite worsening career prospects, administrators at Pitt continue to tell us that things aren’t so bad. That we’ll get through our “ramen noodle days” if we just keep our heads down and don’t ask too many questions. This makes no sense when the success of alumni contributes significantly to Pitt’s prestige. It also feels disingenuous when, despite raised alarms about budget cuts for the fall, Pitt’s administration has chosen to continue their expensive legal battle against its graduate
student workers. I am one of these workers, and I am incensed by the notion that all of Pitt’s students, faculty, and employees have to accept less while its administration wastes millions to undermine our legal right to organize. They have argued that we shouldn’t be considered employees despite the revenue and prestige that our highly-skilled labor generates for the University. Many graduate students will need support to complete our programs with excellence and to be competitive on the job market. Just as faculty face a tenure clock, we face a limited window in which we must take courses, pass degree milestones, conduct research, write a dissertation,
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and find employment. We can’t currently present our research at conferences, and remote work is a poor substitute for in-person collaboration. Our teaching conditions impact the learning conditions of our undergraduate students, and will become even more challenging as we adapt to new teaching platforms. Those of us who are parents and caregivers have to spend more time caring for family. Our households may be experiencing poverty from widespread unemployment. More than ever, we need to stand together and advocate for ourselves when the university won’t. Though Pitt’s administrators have offered some emergency
aid, they are woefully out of touch with the glaring uncertainties and precarious circumstances that their graduate student workers now face. Can’t a small portion of Pitt’s $4.3 billion endowment be used to grant grads this much-needed funding extension? Pitt has stated that it would not tap into the endowment, as it’s for emergencies only - but if a global pandemic is not an emergency, what is? We don’t have to fight alone. As a union, we can secure protections that we don’t currently have. Graduate student unions across the country are celebrating worker protection and emergency funding wins. Here at Pitt, our Graduate Student Organizing Committee held a successful May Day action to win fair disbursal of emergency funding grants for international students. We have also begun collecting signatures on a petition that calls on Pitt to protect its graduate student workers by providing emergency funding for any funded grad who chooses to use it. When graduate students organize together, our working conditions can improve. We can have a say in the decisions that impact us - and this matters now more than ever. Kess L. Ballentine, MA, MSW is a PhD Candidate in Pitt's School of Social Work
OPINION WHY ‘DEFUND THE POLICE’ IS A SLOGAN RIPE FOR REPUBLICAN EXPLOITATION AND DISTORTION BY DICK POLMAN - FOR THE PITTSBURGH CURRENT
he good news for America is that Donald Trump is crashing his presidency the same way he bankrupted casinos, with recent polls showing him significantly trailing Joe Biden. His own advisers reportedly say that his internal numbers are “brutal.” The bad news for America – potentially – is that Trump may have found a life preserver to which he can cling, and perhaps slow his risk of being swept away. Here’s what Trump said the other day in Maine: “(Protestors) are saying ‘defund the police.’ Defund. Think of it. When I saw it, I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ ‘They say, ‘We don’t want to have any police.’ You don’t want any police?” “Defund the police” – formerly a cri de coeur in certain activist and academic circles; now painted on a street near the White House – is a bold slogan that’s potential grist for Trumpist demagoguery. Perhaps Trump’s efforts will ultimately fail, given his horrific performance in office, but Biden and the Democrats may need to be careful nonetheless, lest they be tarred as “soft on crime” – one of the GOP’s more durable smear tactics. When lawmakers start talking about “defunding” a program, it generally means reducing the program’s money to zero. But “defund the police” is not about magically abolishing all police. As Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza said Sunday on Meet the Press, it’s about shifting priorities: “When we talk about defunding the police, what we’re saying is, invest in the resources that our communities need…What
we do need is increased funding for housing, we need increased funding for education, we need increased funding for the quality-of-life communities that are over-policed and over-surveilled.” But fortunately for Trump and his enablers, a three-word slogan can be twisted and caricatured and exaggerated and distorted all kinds of ways, for the purpose of freaking people out. Hence this Trump tweet, posted Sunday: “Sleepy Joe Biden and the Radical Left Democrats want to ‘DEFUND THE POLICE’. I want great and well paid LAW ENFORCEMENT. I want LAW & ORDER!” And this one: “Not only will Sleepy Joe Biden DEFUND THE POLICE, but he will DEFUND OUR MILITARY!” Naturally, Trump is lying – Biden
is opposed to defunding the police and the military – but Trump may have some room to maneuver. He can demand that Biden denounce the slogan and endorse our men and women in blue. If Biden does denounce the slogan, maybe he’d alienate progressives in his ranks. Alternatively, if he stands with the activists, maybe he’d tick off the majority of Americans – 71 percent – who support their local police departments. As a slogan, “defund the police” is ripe for right-wing political mischief. Even though it’s generally about shifting some money from police (especially the purchase of military hardware) to a community’s basic human needs, Trump and his enablers will say it’s all about abolishing the police. Monday on MSN-
BC, the Rev. Al Sharpton admitted that “the slogan may be misleading without interpretation.” Which means that, politically speaking, is not a good slogan. Not if you have to keep explaining it. But here’s a good attempt to explain it, courtesy of Georgetown University law professor (and police reform expert) Christy Lopez: “For most proponents, ‘defunding the police’ does not mean zeroing out budgets for public safety, and police abolition does not mean that police will disappear overnight – or perhaps ever. Defunding the police means shrinking the scope of police responsibilities and shifting most of what government does to keep us safe to entities that are better equipped to meet that need. It means investing more in mental-health care and housing, and expanding the use of community mediation and violence interruption programs…It means recognizing that criminalizing addiction and poverty, making 10 million arrests per year and mass incarceration have not provided the public safety we want and never will.” In all likelihood, Biden will stay broadly within those parameters. At this point – amidst a pandemic, an economic depression, and widespread civic unrest – the burden is on a failed, lawless president to leverage “law and order” to his benefit. And that’s the good news. Dick Polman is an op/ed contributor to the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where this story first appeared. Read his columns each Monday at penncapital-star.com
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DEMOCRACY IN THE BALANCE: GERRYMANDERING AND VOTER NULLIFICATION BY LARRY J. SCHWEIGER - PITTSBURGH CURRENT COLUMNIST
n 1812, Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry led a backroom redistricting plan. One rigged district was so contorted that it looked like a salamander. Since then, the practice of manipulating electoral maps for political advantage has been called gerrymandering. When Gerry carved up Massachusetts district, it was an art not a science. Politicians sitting around some smoke-filled room would draw district maps by imprecise political instincts, and handwritten street lists. Today, sophisticated computer models using massive amounts of personal data from commercial sources, including social media like Facebook, drive gerrymandering. Big data and advanced mapping technology have been available to Republicans paid for by the Koch Brothers. Politicians can now use advanced mapping technology to carve districts with surgical precision. They can track their voters using this sophisticated data base. Politicians pick who they want in or out of a voting district and are now able to choose voters as never before. Modern high-tech gerrymandering has happened in several states, including Pennsylvania. Based on simple statistical tests, Pennsylvania is one of eight severely gerrymandered states, including Florida, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin. A large number of seats are uncontested because rigged districts are so uncompetitive. Yet, the partisan U.S. Supreme Court has
washed its hands and the hands of Federal Courts to address the blatantly undemocratic threats. Republican Governor, Senate, and House gerrymandered Pennsylvania's Congressional districts, and House drew the legislative boundaries. A Republican-controlled State Supreme Court ratified it. The original map ensured that Republicans would win control even though there were 4,172,826 Democrats, and 3,280,202 Republicans voting in Pennsylvania. This gerrymandered electoral map produced 6 Democrats and 12 Republicans despite the 892,624 democratic voter lead. Through precise gerrymandering, Pennsylvania GOP dominates both the House and Senate. Pennsylvania is known for its gerrymandered districts—in fact, in 2016, researchers at the independent Electoral Integrity Project gave our redistricting practices an 11 out of 100—the third-worst rating in the Nation. More recently, the State Supreme Court redrew the Congressional boundaries more fairly but not the State House or Senate districts. After a lengthy court battle, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was eventually forced to redraw congressional districts. This is a temporary fix in Pennsylvania, as we must establish a non-partisan “fair districts” mechanism to curb future gerrymandering. The Koch Brother’s gerrymander plan worked spectacularly around the country and it’s why in 2012, Democratic state-
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house candidates won 51 percent of the vote in Pennsylvania, which voted for Barack Obama in the presidential election, yet Democrats ended up with only 28 percent of the seats in the legislature. Shelby County v. Holder, and the Erosion of the Voter Rights Act In an unbelievable decision on
June 25, 2013, the right-wing United States Supreme Court decided that racism is no longer a political factor in America when they ruled in a partisan 5-to-4 vote in Shelby County v. Holder. The U.S. Supreme Court is either dangerously cloistered or deliberately bent on undercutting the minority vote when they decided to undermine voter rights in southern states.
OPINION The high court overturned a vital provision of the hardfought Voting Rights Act of 1965, declaring it unconstitutional. Founded on a false assumption that forty years have healed past discriminatory practices, they ruled Section 4(b), the provision that spells out the formula identifying the jurisdictions subjected to pre-clearances based on their histories of discrimination, unconstitutional and no longer needed. This also nullified Section 5 that required certain states and local governments with long histories of voter discrimination to obtain federal pre-clearance before implementing changes to their voting laws or practices. Eight years after the ruling, we are witnessing polling places being systematically and cynically closed across the country, and voter rolls purged of tens of thousands of disenfranchised voters. Far too many closed polling places were in predominantly African-American counties to be a coincidence. Following the Shelby County v. Holder, new voting restrictions were put in place before the 2016 Presidential election, and 868 fewer polling places were closed across the country. While these laws have disproportionately targeted Black people, at least 17 states saw voter suppression cases targeting American Indian and Alaskan Native voters in 2016.” Through several troubling decisions, Roberts Court has done more to destroy our democracy than any other court in history. Chief Justice Roberts has dodged responsibility by blaming voters' lack of education. He should look in a mirror and own the damage his court has done to our democracy. Unchecked
now, several state departments and local governments have deployed brazen, and often illegal attempts to suppress turnout. Recent research by Stephen Pettigrew at the University of Pennsylvania, found minority voters are six times as likely as whites to wait longer than an hour to vote. In many states, this disparity is intentional. States controlled by Republicans made several changes from strict voter ID laws and polling place closures to make voting harder targeting minority communities that tend to vote Democrat. Mr. Pettigrew's research also suggests that this discourages voters. For each hour would-be voters wait, their probability of voting in the next election drops by one percentage point. Georgia’s current Governor Brian Kemp stole the election from Stacey Abrams. Running as Secretary of State, Kemp closed polling places, lock up hundreds of voting machines and purged 340,134 voters by falsely asserting they had moved. He carried the state by just under 55,000 votes after the purge. Georgia's well-publicized strategy to purge black voters and close voting locations got a new dimension last week. Defective voting machines, incorrect passwords, and untrained and ill-equipped poll workers did the trick to make voting extremely difficult while black. Last week in Georgia’s primary, minority districts were targeted, forcing voters to stand in line for 3-6 hours while nearby white districts seemed to have no problems. While the voting location irregularities received little oversight, they are the-
oretically being investigated now. Voters must be on guard voter suppression in November. The shenanigans in Georgia will only expand. The stakes are much higher there with two U.S. Senate seats and the Presidency in the balance. Abuses are not limited to Georgia. The Brennan Center for Justice reported that “election officials removed at least 17 million voters from the rolls between 2016 and 2018, on top of the 16 million registrations that were canceled between 2014 and 2016.” The report found "counties once covered by Section 5 purged voters at a higher rate than counties that were not required to seek pre-clearance. The counties with histories of discrimination now purge about 10 percent of voters on their roles, while counties that did not require pre-clearance canceled about 7 percent of registrations.” William J. Barber, II, Episcopal Bishop and the head of the Poor People's Campaign, asks, "Did you know that there are fewer voting rights in 2018 than there were 50 years ago when the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act were passed? Since 2010, 23 states have passed racist voter suppression laws, including racist gerrymandering, reduced early voting days, and fewer hours, purging voter rolls, closing targeted voting locations, and more restrictive voter ID laws that make it harder to register. We must add to Barber’s list, the GOP’s efforts to block voting by mail as they are doing in Iowa. America’s democracy is
dysfunctional and that threatens every voter. The weaponization of gerrymandering coupled with voter suppression has distorted the outcome of elections and creates a cloud of illegitimacy. It contributed to the decline of black voters in 2016, according to a Pew Research study. The study found black voter turnout declined for the first time in 20 years in a presidential election, falling to 59.6% in 2016 after a record-high 66.6% in 2012. As we watch Pennsylvania Speaker Mike Turzai's taillights as he departs Harrisburg, let's not forget his attempts to suppress voter turnout. Mike Turzai became the poster child for voter suppression when he was caught on tape bragging about rigging registration requirements. Leading up to the 2012 election, Turzai bragged on tape that the state’s new ID law would “allow Mitt Romney to win the state in November. Done!” Fortunately, the State Supreme Court found Turzai’s voter suppression bill reinforced by his claims unconstitutional before the 2012 election. The Republicans are now throwing sand in the gears for the 2020 election to keep us from voting by mail. We must demand the right to vote by mail everywhere, end gerrymandering and demand an end to voter suppression. Time is long overdue for restoring democracy to America. Our Supreme Court has failed us and it’s up to every American to protect democracy and demand vote by mail in the upcoming Presidential election.
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A&E AS ALLEGHENY COUNTY CONTINUES INTO THE GREEN, SOME GALLERIES BEGIN OPENING THEIR DOORS. BY NICK EUSTIS - PITTSBURGH CURRENT CONTRIBUTING WRITER
he COVID-19 pandemic has, in many ways, put parts of the world on pause. Everything from sporting events to symphonies were cancelled or postponed indefinitely, and many artistic institutions were forced to temporarily close. Now, as Allegheny County moves to the green phase, Zynka Gallery in Sharpsburg is staging its first public exhibition since the pandemic began. Since reopening at the end of May, owner Jeffrey Jarzynka has been laying the groundwork to showcase the work of artist Brenda Stumpf. The exhibition, titled “Consecrated,” opens June 27 and will be on display until August 8. “She’s kind of hard to pin down as far as determining what type of artist she is,” said Jarzynka. “She works with all kinds of different media, usually found objects that she then molds and shapes and layers into her own works that usually hold very personal stories for her.” This latest body of work was created in 2018 as Stumpf was moving into and renovating an abandoned church in Pittsburgh. She used items found during the renovation process and incorporated them into her art, including discarding pamphlets and pieces of an old staircase. “I’ve often said about Brenda’s work that it often feels like it was excavated during an archeological dig, or pulled from the bottom of the ocean,” said Jarzynka. “They almost take this religious quality upon themselves. It’s not overtly religious, but they do feel like sacred objects.” Although this work was created before the COVID-19 crisis, Stumpf says the work is particularly timely because of it, and that viewers may be able to relate to her process in a new way because of their own pandemic experiences. “It is a time of being deconstructed, rearranged, and learning what is of greatest value, and it offers a profound inner opportunity to experience the process of sacred alchemy,” said Stumpf. Since reopening, Zynka Gallery has enacted new safety requirements to keep visitors safe in light of COVID-19. Guests must maintain six feet of distance while inside, as well as wear a face mask. Any common surfaces are regularly sanitized by gallery staff, and the gallery’s window wall is open on all good weather days for improved ventilation. Zynka Gallery is not the only art institution taking new measures to keep guests safe as the region slowly reopens. The Shadyside-based GalleriE Chiz, for
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A piece from Brenda Stumpf's "Consecrated"
instance, has begun reopening, but at unpredictable hours. Owner and director Ellen Neuberg said in an email that appointments can be scheduled online, and walk-ins are allowed if she is present. Guests are also required to wear masks and maintain social distance. BoxHeart Gallery in Bloomfield has also reopened with limited hours, as well as accepting online appointments. Exhibiting artists can choose to host “Visit With” sessions, where guests meet the artist in small groups and discuss their work, rather than put on a traditional opening. Food and beverage are also no longer being served. Some larger institutions have taken more cautious approaches. The Carnegie Museum
of Art will remain closed until June 29 for the general public, and June 26 for members. The museum directors have also changed policy to address the pandemic, including the use of timed ticketing, limiting capacity to 25 percent, and requiring masks and social distancing. On the other hand, some art houses have not yet reopened, even as the county enters the green phase. The Cultural Trust-partnered Wood Street Gallery and SPACE Gallery in downtown remain closed until further notice. Contemporary Craft in Lawrenceville also remains closed for the next couple of months as their team develops safety strategies.
A&E 'CITIZEN REPORTERS' IS A TIMELY BOOK ABOUT MUCKRAKING JOURNALISTS OF THE GILDED AGE BY JODY DIPERNA - PITTSBURGH CURRENT LIT WRITER
When Ida Tarbell was an adolescent growing up in the 1870's in Titusville, in the oil region of northwestern Pennsylvania, she wanted to be a scientist. She enjoyed exploring nature, looking deep and close and careful to see things that were not easily apparent to the naked eye. But after graduating from Allegheny College, she turned that instinct for pain-staking research and attention to detail to journalism. Starting in the 1890's, Tarbell signed on with McClure's magazine, one of the most influential magazines of the Gilded Age. A bedrock writer at McClure's, she wrote several in-depth series on Napoleon and then Lincoln. After that, she turned her attention to Standard Oil, the oil producing and transportation behemoth run by John Rockefeller, one of the richest men in America. It would become her most enduring work. "When she embarked on that, she already had her traditional Tarbell method worked out -this was unique to her before it became commonplace among journalists -- she would do a lot of courtroom research and interviews. She tried to always confirm what one source was telling her with another source, or with documentary evidence. So that's how she initially attacked it," Stephanie Gorton told the Current by phone. Gorton is the author of 'Citizen Reporters: S.S. McClure, Ida Tarbell and the Magazine that Rewrote America' (Ecco/HarperCollins, 2020), a book that feels particularly relevant at this moment, as journalism faces threats
Stephanie Gorton (Photo: Rachel Hulin)
from outside and inside. The president maligns journalists via twitter daily. Forbes recently published a story documenting the arrests of and attacks by police on journalists who are covering the nationwide protests. (54 and 173, respectively.) Simultaneously, the Post-Gazette has barred reporter Alexis Johnson and photojournalist Michael Santiago from covering the Black Lives Matter protests happening here in Pittsburgh. Both Johnson and Santiago are black, and Santiago was part of the team that won a Pulitzer for the paper for it's coverage of the Tree of Life massacre. Publisher S.S. McClure was a visionary, always looking for, "the next great thing that people would be excited to read and would potentially contribute to progress on a world scale," according to Gorton. He had a talent for recognizing talent. He hired reporters to undertake immersive series, tackle compli-
cated problems and explore the connective tissues of society. The staff at the magazine dug deep and set out to report with fearlessness and compassion. Lincoln Steffens wrote a series investigating government malfeasance and political corruption (later, these collections were published as 'The Shame of the Cities.') Ray Stannard Baker wrote a series titled, 'What Is a Lynching.' "I find in this moment there was that spirit of righteousness," Gorton said of the importance of the magazine. "I especially think of Baker's series, 'What Is a Lynching?' In terms of the newspapers and magazines that would be in the halls of power and in the kind of old white man clubs -- this was the first investigation in the press of the phenomenon of lynching. These were readers who were not reading the black press." These were mostly middle-class, mostly male reporters (other than Ida Tarbell) writing about poverty and societal unrest. They were also white reporters writing about race. McClure didn't hire black writers and they weren't elevating the work of Ida B. Wells. Yet, they were ahead of their time, even as they were a part of their era. We now refer to Tarbell and her cohort as muckrakers -- journalists who investigate events, practices and systems that those in power would prefer they not investigate. Muckrakers set out to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, as the saying goes. The term originated when President Teddy Roosevelt deliv-
ered a speech excoriating journalists in the spring of 1906. In it, he referred to the 'man with the muck-rake character.' Intended as a burn by Roosevelt, the term is a badge of honor for working journalists. "He's really pointing a finger at journalists," Gorton explained. "Afterwards, he wrote letters to his friends in the corps saying, I was really trying to talk about the wrongdoers (at a few magazines and newspapers.) The public didn't get that sense at all -- the nuance was lost, if there really was any nuance there. But the energy behind investigative journalism was compromised by this blow against them from the very top." In the meantime, Tarbell's Standard Oil series contributed to the dissolution of the monopoly and led to the Clayton Antitrust Act passed by Congress in 1914, ten years after publication. 'Citizen Reporters' feels like a book we all need to read right now, to be reminded of the power of investigative reporting. "She wrote 19 articles (about Standard Oil.) Each one is substantial. She turned this into a compelling series for a mainstream readership," Gorton noted of Tarbell's tremendous skill as a writer. People read her history of a financial titan the way modern Americans consume podcasts. According to Gorton, most historians agree that it led to the Supreme Court's dissolution of Standard Oil in 1911. It was so widely read that it changed history.
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A&E THE ART OF REST BY NICK EUSTIS - PITTSBURGH CURRENT CONTRIBUTING WRITER
xperiencing art is often a necessarily social occasion. Whether watching a play or attending a gallery opening, art is often public by nature. The COVID-19 pandemic has naturally proved to be a major disruptive force in the art and entertainment communities. To combat this disruption, The Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council’s Office of Public Art began a public search for artists in an effort to respond to the crisis. “A couple days before the official stay-at-home order came through, we launched our Artists Bridging Social Distance initiative,” said Divya Heffley, associate director of the Office of Public Art. “The goal of that initiative was to be responsive to the crisis in real time.” The initiative worked to fund artistic content that could transcend the physical barriers to art in these times. “There were only two things these projects had to do: they had to follow guidelines for public health and safety, and they had to be widely shareable, in any media,” said Heffley. After review by an independent third party, three grant recipients were chosen from 32 submissions at the beginning of May. One of them is Black Dream Escape, an artistic collaboration between rest doulas Onika Reigns and Windafire. Their work centers on black and indigenous rest practices, and to that end, they would host monthly in-person lullaby sessions, along with one-onone rest consultations. Black Rest ThoughtPathways arose out of Black Dream Escape’s monthly lullaby sessions. The advent of COVID-19 made it impossible to meet in person, so Reigns took these lullaby sessions online, doing daily live lullaby sessions on Instagram. These were dubbed “COVID Cares” lullaby sessions, and it was this work that was submitted to the Office of Public Art. “When the grant from the Office of Public Art came to our attention, we decided to make June about Black Rest ThoughtPathways,” said Reigns. “We were looking for ways to bring people in where we could pay them, because we believe that if we ask another artist to do something, we pay them an artist’s fee. That’s one of our core values.” Black Rest ThoughtPathways is a series of YouTube videos, posted every Wednesday in June to 24 | JUNE 16, 2020 | PITTSBURGH CURRENT
Toni Asante Lightfoot talks about being black, rested and political on a recent episode of Thought Pathways
Black Dream Escape’s channel. Each video contains guided meditation, guests who speak on a variety of topics related to rest practices, and instruction on ways to build these practices individually. The videos also open and close with lullabies, written by Reigns and Windafire. “Our thought pathways are always instructional but more just theory on how people can build rest practices, being black and indigenous in this oppressive world that we’re in,” said Reigns. Helping to cultivate these practices is very important to Reigns, as she understands intimately how this pandemic is affecting communities of color. “This is a restless and frightening time for not only the world at large, but especially Black and Brown communities who are being disproportionately affected by all of
the consequences of the pandemic,” said Reigns. “It is imperative that we supply our communities with opportunities to decrease stress creatively.” Reigns also hopes that this work will help connect viewers to their predecessors, noting that communities of color have always found ways to rest, even under threat of death. “We try to help people remember physically and emotionally that our ancestors had a specific way,” said Reigns. “We aren’t originating rather than reminding people that this has been our way.” For more information about Black Dream Escape, visit their Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube channels.
A&E THE CANâ€™T MISS BY EMERSON ANDREWS PITTSBURGH CURRENT CONTRIBUTING WRITER INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM
FEATURED EVENTS IN AND AROUND THE PITTSBURGH REGION
JUNE 16 Midsummer Nights on Main begins in the Brownsville Road Business District. Pop-ups, food trucks and local vendors will be in attendance for those enjoying the live music and good weather. 4 p.m. 150 Brownsville Rd. Mt. Oliver Borough. Free admission. facebook.com/events/722806428551337 IxDA Pittsburgh hosts a virtual presentation on How Do We Make Things Accessible? The event is free with registration. 6:30 p.m. Free. facebook.com/events/283915959458025
JUNE 17 Join an all-day virtual celebration of World Refugee Day and Immigrant Heritage Month, emceed by Siraji Hassan, Executive Director of United Somali Bantu of Greater Pittsburgh. Attendees can hear stories, learn how to make authentic food from recipes and meet local immigrant business-owners and artists. 8 a.m. Free. isacpittsburgh.org/wrd/ Pittsburgh Restaurant Week and Toast PGH begin Toast! Happy Hour, a weekly featurette of Pittsburgh restaurants participating in happy hour specials during the summer. 4 p.m. Downtown Pittsburgh. Free admission. facebook.com/events/216468096239845
June 17: a virtual talk on the history of St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church, home of murals painted by immigrant artist Maxo Vanka the pandemic. To support Row House Cinema specifically, purchase tickets through their online portal. 12 p.m. $12. rowhouse.online Western Pennsylvania Juneteenth Celebration celebrates with a virtual Livestream Walk to Black Historic Landmarks in the City of Pittsburgh. Landmarks include Bethel AME Church, John Vashon Bathhouse & Barbershop, Freedom Corner and other locations around the city. 1 p.m. Free. facebook.com/WPAJuneteenth
The Society to Preserve the Millvale Murals of Maxo Vanka holds a virtual talk on the history of St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church, home of murals painted by immigrant artist Maxo Vanka. The talk is free to watch with registration, though donations are being accepted to preserve and share Vankaâ€™s murals. 6:30 p.m. Free. facebook.com/ events/1220770754941955
The Market Square Farmers Market becomes the 11th Street Farmers Market to better facilitate social distancing practices. All attendees should review the list of safety precautions before arriving. Limited free parking is available. 9 a.m. 11th Street and Waterfront Pl. Free admission. DowntownPittsburgh.com/FarmersMarket
Aspiring podcasters can sign up for a course that starts with the basics of Podcast 101, hosted by Lillie Leonardi and Chris Sichi. The webinar series is free with registration. 12 p.m. Free. facebook.com/ events/1224141774606877
Stout PGH Summer Camp holds a number of sessions during the summer for kids ages five to fourteen. The Jun. 22 session runs through Jun. 26 and features authentic Brazilian Jiujitsu, sports, team-building exercises and more activities throughout the week. Prices vary and discounts are available to families with multiple attendees. 8 a.m. 2626 Railroad St. $109 - $189. facebook.com/events/498916170796247
Row House Cinema joins with other independent movie theaters around the world to debut Quarantine Cat Film Fest. The online event features a compilation of videos created and submitted by cat lovers, and 50% of the proceeds from ticket sales go to independent theaters shut down during
The August Wilson Cultural Center moves their Third Annual Summer Youth Writers Camp online. The virtual session, led by poet and teacher Cameron Barnett, is abbreviated and free to all students ages eleven to fifteen. 11 a.m. Free. facebook.com/events/924911897981776
PITTSBURGH CURRENT | JUNE 16, 2020 | 25
Savage Love Love | sex | relationships BY DAN SAVAGE MAIL@SAVAGELOVE.NET
I’m a 32-year-old straight guy. My wife and I have been married for four years and together for nine. We have a great marriage and all is well. We have been quarantining at home since March. During this time, we have been exploring things sexually, which has been really fun. We have also been talking more about our kinks and fantasies. One thing my wife really wants to try is an MMF threesome. I’ve agreed and she’s been talking about how hot it will be to make this happen once quarantine is over. She is particularly turned on by the fact that this would be my first sexual experience with another guy. The only issue is, in reality, it won't be. The truth is that when I was in high school, a guy friend and I fooled around a few times. I have no regrets but those experiences only served to reaffirm that I preferred women. I never did anything with another guy and I never felt the need to mention these early experiences to my wife. She just assumed I had never had a same-sex encounter. Now I feel like I’ve misled her or lied to her somehow. Should I tell her the truth or just let her believe our MMF threesome would be my first time with a guy? Nervously Omitted Homosexual Occurrences, Mostly Oral If your wife reads my column, NOHOMO, then you’ve just told her the truth and the advice that follows is moot. So here’s hoping she doesn't read my column: You don’t
have to tell your wife about the handful/mouthful of times you messed around with another guy in high school. If you’re like most straight guys with one or two cocks in your past, NOHOMO, I’m guessing you didn’t tell the wife because you didn’t want her to feel insecure or spend all her free time corresponding with advice columnists about whether her husband is secretly gay. In fairness to the wife, NOHOMO, not every woman whose straight-identified male partner admits to a little samesex messing around worries her boyfriend or husband is going to leave her for a dude or all the dudes. But this worry is common enough to be something of cliché. A straight guy doesn’t even have to admit to having sucked one dick one time for his wife or girlfriend to worry he’s secretly gay; I get at least one letter every day from a woman who’s worried her husbands is gay because he like to have his nipples played with or his butts touched or because he has feelings. So while it’s not ideal that straight-or-mostly-straight guys don’t feel they can be honest with their wives about their long ago and far away same-sex experimentation, NOHOMO, it’s understandable that many straight guys err on the side of keeping that shit to themselves. But your question isn’t, “Why didn’t I tell her then?”, but rather, “Should I tell her now?” And I don’t think you have to. She wasn’t harmed by this omission—you didn’t deprive her of information she was
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entitled to—and disclosing now would only serve to deprive her of something, i.e. the excitement she feels about being there to witness what she thinks is your first same-sex encounter. My wife questions my use of the word gay as being potentially offensive and I'd like to get your take. I'm male and my male friends like to flirt and joke about performing sex acts on each other. We’ve never actually carried through with it but I consider myself on the "spectrum" and might be open to gay sex. My male friends and I say we're being or acting gay (though we're all practicing heterosexuals) and this is where my wife takes issue. For example, I might say, "We're so gay!", in our conversations but the word is used in a positive way. My wife makes the point that the word has a history of being used negatively, so may be considered offensive, and should only be used casually by people who are more legit gay. Should I stop using the word gay this way? Gay Poser Jesus, just suck off one of your male friends already—just get it over with—and then you have my permission to keep using “gay” as compliment, GP. I'm a 35-year-old seemingly straight man, but in the past year—roughly corresponding with the longest sex drought in the history of my adulthood—I have had recurring wet dreams where I suck myself off. Probably a dozen or so of these dreams, all up, and I very much enjoy both sides of the transaction. What do you think it means? Am I witnessing the stirrings of some latent bisexuality or am I just desperate? Should I heed the call? Originally Unilateral Regarding Oral But Oneiromancy Reveals Opening Sexuality
I usually don’t allow elaborate signoffs, OUROBOROS, but I’m making an exception for yours because it’s brilliant. (To save my other readers the trouble of googling: “oneiromancy” is the interpretation of dreams to predict the future and an “ouroboros” is an image of snake swallowing its own tail, often used an infinity symbol.) That said, I’m not sure there’s really any call to heed here—other than a call to start doing the kind of stretching that would allow you to suck your own cock if you were 1. to get limber enough and 2. your cock is long enough. But a desire to suck one’s own cock—or even an attempt, successful or not—doesn’t mean a man is latently bisexual or gay. I assume you’ve been masturbating for more than two decades, OUROBOROS, and just as there’s nothing gay about all those handjobs you’ve given yourself, there’s nothing gay about the blowjobs you can only dream about giving yourself. Dear Readers: This is gonna feel a little weird stuck onto the end of this week’s column, I realize, but I wanted to say something about protests all over the country and the world. While I haven’t been able to personally attend a Black Lives Matters protest over the last two weeks—I have deeply shitty lungs and I’m concerned about contracting coronavirus—I fully support everyone who has taken to the streets to protest the violence of systemic racism and the specific violence inflicted on the black people by racist cops. And while I can’t be at the protests, my husband and I made a donation to bail funds across the country to help out people who were arrested at them. (You can donate at actblue.com/donate/bailfunds.) Please keep marching, please wear your masks (they work!), and please—please—make sure you and everyone you know is registered to vote.
ESSAY FERRIS WHEEL BY MATTHEW WALLENSTEIN - PITTSBURGH CURRENT CONTRIBUTING WRITER INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM
My cars were always breaking down and when they weren’t breaking down I still had to be careful where I parked them. I owed close to a grand in parking tickets and they were looking to boot me. I was always finding spots behind stores or in alleys. But when my cars wouldn’t work I’d take the bus. She rode with me late after work leaning her head on my shoulder. We sat in the back. We turned our heads from the drunk vomiting on the floor and the other drunk yelling at him. My house didn’t have electricity or gas. We listened to music in the dark, had sex in the living room. The lights of passing cars moving rectangles of white up her body. I carried her to the other room and we kept going on the table till one of its legs snapped and we both fell over. Then we finished on the floor with all the splinters on the oriental rug. That was when my hand was still broken. She did a lot of little things to help me, helping with my shirt, opening cans of beans, pulling my boots on for me, tying them. She was the first person I dated who was good to me just to be good to me. Once, my dog was about to throw up and she put her hands out like a bowl and caught it, I didn’t know people did things like that. We would walk the railroad tracks, listen to each other, break into buildings. I was remembering what living was. On the 4th of July we shot fireworks off the fire escape. She liked the fire escape, watching the lights of the amusement park across
the river. Some nights we would sit out there in the heat, watch the flame at the factory, my dog panting next to us. She made me laugh a lot. There was the time she was applying to a new job and was worried about the drug test so she bought this drink that was supposed to clear your system. It worked, she passed, got the new job. But it also acted as a wild diuretic. That week we went out to a pond to swim and she couldn’t hold back any more and had to run into the water to shit. She kept singing Do, doop, do and laughing and she was so embarrassed. She pushed the water all around. We spent the next few hours laying on a weathered picnic table, her redfaced, me laughing and giving her kisses. In the dead heat of the summer, driving back from the mountains in upstate New York we saw a billboard claiming we weren’t far from the country’s largest free amusement park, maybe it said it was the worlds largest. We were curious and went. We parked the car in a big field. It was blond with dry grass. She was ducking between parked cars taking hits from a joint. Her voice always got this funny nasal sound to it when she smoked weed. When we got to the entrance we realized free referred to the admission to the park, you paid for the individual rides. I bought us each a ticket to the ferris wheel. She was scared of heights, but liked being scared. “I’m very nervous,” she said.
“Oh you gotta’ kiss me on the ferris wheel. Damn, you really want to break a man’s heart?” I said. We got in and sat. It started moving and she covered her eyes with both hands. She screamed. We went around once. “We’re at the bottom, you have to open your eyes.” “No. No, no, no, no, no.” “We’re coming up to the top again you have to open them, you can see the tops of the trees.” “No, no, no. Okay.” She did. She screamed again. She said she was nervous again. I said it was okay, she would be
fine. I stood up, jumped a few times. “See?” I said. “Ahhh.” She reached out her hand. I kissed her. I sat back down. We watched each other, watched the tops of the trees, the people walking below us, the parking lot, the road past the gate. When it was all done we got off and walked back to the field where the car was parked. It took us a while to find it, she smoked some more weed and her voice got nasal again. We found it, got in, drove with the windows down back towards the town we lived in.
PITTSBURGH CURRENT | JUNE 16, 2020 | 27
PA R T I N G S H OT
PITTSBURGH CURRENT PHOTO BY JAKE MYSLIWCZYK PITTSBURGH CURRENT | JUNE 16, 2020 | 28
SPECIAL REPORT: Pittsburgh Public Schools' Remote Education Plan: What happened and how it can be prevented in the future. The latest on Pen...
Published on Jun 16, 2020
SPECIAL REPORT: Pittsburgh Public Schools' Remote Education Plan: What happened and how it can be prevented in the future. The latest on Pen...