Pittsburgh Current. Sept. 15, 2020. Volume 3, Issue 31

Page 1




Sept. 15, 2020 - Sept. 21, 2020




Deeply Rooted

The History of Police Violence in Western Pennsylvania.



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

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Publisher, Pittsburgh Current charlie@pittsburghcurrent.com




Publisher/Editor: Charlie Deitch Charlie@pittsburghcurrent.com


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Vol. III Iss. XXXI Sept.15, 2020



Music Editor: Margaret Welsh Margaret@pittsburghcurrent.com Visuals Editor: Jake Mysliwczyk Jake@pittsburghcurrent.com Sr. Contributing Writer: Jody DiPerna Jody@pittsburghcurrent.com Social Justice Columnist: Jessica Semler jessica@pittsburghcurrent.com


Contributing Photographer: Ed Thompson info@pittsburghcurrent.com Contributing Writers: Jody DiPerna, Atiya Irvin Mitchell, Dan Savage, Larry Schweiger, Brittany Hailer, Matthew Wallenstein, Caitlyn Junter, Aryanna Hunter, Nick Eustis, Jessie Sage info@pittsburghcurrent.com Logo Design: Mark Addison TO ADVERTISE : The Fine Print

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






ike most of America, Pittsburgh's Black community has borne the brunt of more than its fair share of police brutality. Antwon Rose, II, Leon Ford, Jordan Miles, Jonny Gammage and Ernest T. Williams are names that may be familiar, and for the very worst reasons. When law enforcement and race converge, the results are often alarming, maddening and tragic. The Pittsburgh Current has compiled some of the key events in the painful history of police violence against the Black community in Pittsburgh. Because there are more than 100 different police departments in metropolitan Pittsburgh, we have included incidents from those municipalities, as well as other law enforcement bodies, such as the Port Authority Police and the Pittsburgh Housing Police. It doesn't really matter who is wearing the badge -- these



Current Photo by Jake Mysiiwczyk

incidents represent the very real, very lived-in experience of Black Pittsburghers. This timeline is meant as a way into the legacy of racially discriminatory law enforcement. We are disheartened that we were unable to chronicle rape and sexual violence cases herein, simply because they are very rarely reported,

if at all. This is our attempt to acknowledge and understand the history and foundations of policing of Black bodies and Black spaces. Our hope is that by examining our history, by searching for the connections and throughlines, we can move forward as a community to a more just and equitable future.

If this timeline contains inaccuracies or omissions, please let us know by emailing: jody@pittsburghcurrent. com And if you value this kind of journalism, please consider supporting the Pittsburgh Current.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS Jody DiPerna is a senior contributing writer for Pittsburgh Current and has been published in numerous outlets. She contributed to Belt Publishing’s The Pittsburgh Anthology and The Love of Baseball by McFarland Press. She is at work on a project chronicling the history and lives of LGBT folks in industrial Appalachia. A child of Western Pennsylvania, she adores her hometown unreservedly, warts and all.


CHRONOLOGY OF VIOLENCE of salaried and full-time officers.




n March 14, 1816, the Pennsylvania Assembly established Pittsburgh as a City. In August, Pittsburgh Common Councils established a 'Night Watch' and set aside $300 for funding. It was disbanded in March of 1817, although there was some form of watch used to police the city for the next two decades. Via an April, 1836 Ordinance, the Pittsburgh Police Committee was established, staffed by one Captain, two Lieutenants and sixteen watchmen.

he State Convention T of Colored Freemen was held in Pittsburgh for

the “improvement of the condition of colored people in this State." Similar conventions had been held in Philadelphia and other northern cities in the years leading up to the Civil War and afterwards. The delegates at the conventions consisted of both free and fugitive enslaved people. The conventions were created to provide, "organizational structure through which black men could maintain a distinct black leadership and pursue black abolitionist goals."

*** In 1851, Mayor John B. Guthrie informed the Select and Common Councils that, with the approval of the Police Committee and under powers granted by the 1836 ordinance, he had appointed nineteen additional watchmen. He urged the Councils to consider


DEC. 1860 raising the size of the force to seventy-five, saying, "the lives and property of our citizens are more deserving of greater consideration than many other objects on which large sums of money

are expended."

*** In 1857, the Pittsburgh Police Department was founded-- a modern force


fficers Munn and Taylor, two night watchmen, encountered a Black man named Alfred Jordan, walking down Liberty Avenue near the train station. To the watchmen, Jordan seemed intoxicated

ABOUT THE AUTHORS Elaine Frantz is a Professor of History at Kent State University. She is the author of Manhood Lost: Drunken Men and Redeeming Women in the Nineteenth-Century United States (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002) and Ku-Klux: The Rise of the Klan during Reconstruction (University of North Carolina Press, 2016). She is currently writing a book about the history of policing in Pittsburgh.


SPECIAL REPORT and could not account for what he was doing. They arrested him. He said he had done nothing wrong and resisted, ultimately biting and kicking at them. They used their maces (what we now call nightsticks or billy clubs) striking him repeatedly, including, striking him after he was down and "apparently in no condition to offer any violence to the officers." Witnesses testified to the beating. Mayor George Wilson fired Munn, whom he had previously warned about excessive violence; he suspended Taylor. The mayor stated that accepting “hard usage” was part of the police's job, and they should only use their mace in extreme circumstances, like apprehending a murderer.

M AY 1 9 1 5


he national Fraternal Order of Police was formed in Pittsburgh, with Fort Pitt Lodge #1. It was intended to “promote the general welfare of its members, to listen to their grievances and to seek better conditions regarding working hours and to eliminate many alleged political abuses to which the men who tramp 'beats' have said they were subjected …”



he Red Summer of 1919 stretched from late-winter to late-summer of that year. Black citizens and communities were targeted by white citizens causing hundreds of Black people to be injured or killed, according to the Equal Justice Initiative. There were large-scale attacks across the country. Many newspapers and media accounts of the time refer to these acts of violence as so-called race riots. However, history tells a different story. From the EJI: "NAACP membership nationwide had grown more than tenfold, and many Black people were moving to the North and West searching for work and safety from widespread lynching and Jim Crow segregation in the South. Black veterans especially were targeted by white mobs and police who used racist violence to maintain the racial hierarchy. "During what became known as the Red Summer of 1919, anti-Black riots erupted in 25 major American cities, including Houston, Texas; East St.


Louis and Chicago, Illinois; Washington, D.C.; Omaha, Nebraska; Elaine, Arkansas; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Charleston, South Carolina. White mobs intent on protecting their economic and social dominance from growing communities of Black workers attacked Black communities, destroyed property, and killed or injured hundreds of Black people. "Newspapers reported that Black veterans stood “on the front lines” to defend themselves and their communities from these attacks. One of the first victims of Red Summer in Washington, D.C., was a 22-year-old Black veteran named Randall Neal. "In the fall of 1919, a report on the causes and scope of Red Summer concluded that “the persistence of unpunished lynching” contributed to a mob mentality among white men and fueled a new commitment to self-defense among Black men emboldened by military service." Between April and November 1919, there were 97 known lynchings.

The men of the Harlem Hellfighters of t WWI, looking for more equitable treatm


he Pittsburgh Courier archives from 1913 to 1922 are missing or were destroyed. Because of the lack of Courier coverage for the summer of 1919, and because Pittsburgh's white papers did not reliably or fairly report


MER OF 1919

the 369th Infantry were just some of the Black veterans who returned home after ment when they returned home. (Photo: National Archives)

violence against Black people, it is hard to get an accurate sense of what violence was visited upon Black Pittsburghers and how police participated in or responded to it. The stories we do have paint a complicated picture, though a terrifying one for Black people in Pittsburgh.

There are stories of notices being posted in Black communities reading, "The war is over, Negroes. Stay in your place. If you don't, we'll put you there." Two motorcycle officers apparently saved a Black man who was be-

ing pursued by a mob of hundreds of white people at Webster Avenue and Washington Street, after a conflict involving gambling. Newspapers were also full of sensational descriptions of alleged atrocities by “Negroes," often ending by describing police as “on the hunt” for the perpetrators. Headlines like, “Negro’s Skull Fractured in Resisting Patrolman” were common. Nationwide, white mobs attacked Black people and Black neighborhoods in a period that is regarded as one of the worst periods of white-onBlack mob violence in U.S. history. Over ten months there were at least 25 riots. More than 250 Black people were killed without repercussion. Victims were lynched, burned, shot and beaten to death. Thousands saw their homes and businesses destroyed.


lbert Jeter, a 60 yearold Black man, was waiting for a streetcar when he was robbed of $50 by a uniformed officer. The patrolman claimed that he searched Jeter because he could 'not give a good account of himself.'

DEC. 30, 1922 fter the killing of A a police officer on duty in the Hill District,

Police Superintendent John C. Calhoun issued longer, heavier nightsticks to all police officers, and required that they keep them in their hands and “use them freely,” on threat of suspension.

JUNE 2, 1923


oliceman William Fullerton, of the 43rd Street Police station, was charged with the murder of Thomas Richardson, a 33 year-old Black man. According to the Pittsburgh Courier, Fullerton had a reputation for violence and shooting. Charlie Richardson, the brother of the victim, told the Courier that Fullerton had arrested Thomas for interfering in police business and as he was walking Thomas to the patrol box, Fullerton shot him.

Continued on Page 11





n October 27,1919, Albert Jeter, a 60-year-old Black, was robbed of $50 by a uniformed police officer in Pitts-



On January 1, 1919, Edsel Ford became the head of the Ford Motor Company, succeeding his father, Henry Ford.


On January 1, 1919, a wealthy and powerful white man transferred wealth and power to his son, also a white man.


On January 16, 1919, the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution went into effect, authorizing Prohibition. In 1890, Frances E. Willard, suffragist, racist, and national president of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, said in an interview, "'Better whiskey and more of it' is the rallying cry of great, dark-faced mobs ‌ The safety of [white] women, of childhood, of the home, is menaced in a thousand localities."


On January 22, 1919, the United States recognized the independence of Poland. On January 22, 1919, the United States recognized the independence of Poland, but not the freedom and humanity of Black Americans.


On January 31, 1919, Jackie Robinson, a Black baseball player who would go on to break Major League Baseball’s color line, was born.

Chicago police officers stand over the body of a Black man who was stoned to death by other wh Red Summer attacks of 1919 in Chicago. (Photo: Chicago Museum of Art)

On January 31, 1919, Jackie Robinson, who reportedly agreed to not fight back against the death threats, racist taunts, and hate mail he would receive throughout his career in exchange for starting at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947, was born.

On May 1, 1919, racist white mobs killed three Black men in Charleston, South Carolina, marking the beginning of Red Summer during which white supremacists terrorized and killed Black people in more than three dozen U.S. cities and in one county in rural Arkansas.


On May 1, 1919, a race riot in Charleston, South Carolina killed three Black men, marking the beginning of Red Summer.2



On May 9, 1919, the United States recognized the independence of Finland. On May 9, 1919, the United States recog-

nized the independence of Finlan freedom and humanity of Black A


On June 4,1919, Congress app Amendment to The Constitution, suffrage to women.

On June 4,1919, Congress app Amendment to The Constitution, suffrage to white women. Fifty y Elizabeth Cady Stanton, suffragi xenophobe, opposed the 15th am


CHRONOLOGY OF VIOLENCE would give Black men the right to vote, saying at a convention, “Think of Patrick and Sambo and Hans and Yung Tung, who do not know the difference between a monarchy and a republic, who cannot read the Declaration of Independence or Webster’s spelling book, making laws for … Susan B. Anthony ...”

~On June 28, 1919,

World War I officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. Nearly 400,000 Black veterans returned home from fighting that war, perceived by whites as a threat to the racial status quo and as competition in the job market. In Red Summer: July 2019, what will we do with a drunken sailor? Back home from the war, racist white sailors went on a days-long terror spree, assaulting and lynching Black people in the nation’s capitol.


In Red Summer, on July 27, Eugene Williams, a 17-year-old Black boy, drowned in Lake Michigan after he violated the de facto segregation of Chicago’s beaches and was stoned by a group of “white youths,” sparking the Chicago Race Riot of 1919.3

On July 27, 1919, a 24 year old Bavarian-American baker hit a 17 year old Black boy in the head with a rock causing him to drown as he attempted to climb back on a raft with his friends. Black people dared to expect the white baker to be arrested. By the time the white ramhite men during the page was over a week later, murderous white mobs had torched and destroyed the homes of nd, but not the more than 1,000 Black families. Americans. ~ In the fall, after Red Summer, on October proved the 19th 27,1919 in Pittsburgh, a white, uniformed police , guaranteeing officer robbed Albert Jeter, a 60-year-old Black man, of $50. 4

proved the 19th , guaranteeing years earlier, ist, racist, and mendment which

Man robbed by patrolman, 1919, Pgh Press "It Just Goes On and On’: How the Race Riots of 1919's ‘Red Summer’ Helped Shape a Century of American History”, Time, 2019, Encyclopedia of American Culture and History, and The History Channel 3 “Blood in the Streets,” Chicago Magazine, 2019 4 “Stop using ‘officer-involved shooting’”, Columbia Journalism Review, 2020: “In 2018, Adam Johnson, writing for FAIR about ‘copspeak,’ decried ‘the linguistic gymnastics needed to report on police violence without calling up images of police violence.’ . . . A passive sentence makes the agent less prominent, Curt Anderson, an assistant professor of linguistics at the University of Toronto Scarborough, writes in an email. ‘I think this is where the sense that the passive ‘exonerates’ someone might come from, at least in some cases; by rephrasing an active sentence like ‘a cop shot and killed a boy’ as a passive sentence like ‘a boy was shot and killed,’ the speaker can de-emphasize the contribution the agent, the cop, had in the shooting.’” 1 2

From Page 9

At his trial in December, 1924, Fullerton claimed that Richardson pulled a gun. The Pittsburgh Press reported that he shot Richardson in the chest, but the Courier reported that he shot Richardson in the back, at close range. The jury deliberated for 10 minutes before acquitting Fullerton.

JUNE 25, 1925


epresentatives from the Hill District met with County Council to report systematic police brutality and terrorism against Black residents. Council directed the Director of Public Safety to: “Go up there and clean up; throw out those responsible and put in new … We don’t want you to

investigate it -- we don’t want reports, but we want this handled as it should be handled. … You have heard what these people said, and we all know that they have not come here just to hear themselves talk.”



he ACLU published 'The Shame of Pennsylvania,' which contended that Pennsylvania had, “more police violence, brutality, violations of civil rights ...” than any state in the union; it documented police violence against workers throughout the state, including Pittsburgh. It reasoned: “The industrial conflict in Pennsylvania will continue to Continued on Page 12

DEC. 19, 1931


ohn Thornton was stopped by police near his home. Officer Stanley Fajurski searched him and found an unloaded revolver. The officer then beat Thorton in the head with a mace (billy club/nightstick.) In March of 1932, officer Fajurski was found guilty of aggravated assault and battery.

Coverage of the officer's conviction was buried on page 25 of the March18, 1932 edition of the Pittsburgh Press.


SPECIAL REPORT be marked by bloodshed and violence as long as the thousands of public and private police are allowed to abuse their powers without inquiry or punishment… [the Governor must act, because] the legislature can do nothing except abolish the police, which is not conceivable."

APRIL 1932


homas Phoenix and Thomas Holland were held as theft suspects by the Coraopolis police. Both men, both Black, were beaten unmercifully while at the jail. According to testimony of one of the prisoners, as well as several other members of the police force, Chief Kieszek tightened the handcuffs on Phoenix until his wrists bled. He gagged him, kicked him and beat him in the stomach with a blackjack. The Chief of Police and five other policemen in Coraopolis were dismissed by the Borough council.

JUNE 3, 1933


olice officer Tony Bettors shot wildly on Wylie Avenue and Arthur Street in the Hill District as he chased suspect Roosevelt Jones. Witnesses say that the incident began outside a speakeasy

said to be owned by officer Bettors' family. Charges of felonious shooting against officer Bettors were later dismissed.

J U LY 2 5 , 1 9 3 4


fter several high-profile cases of arrestees with cracked skulls, Pittsburgh Mayor William N. McNair considered forbidding police from carrying nightsticks (or maces) and said, “It’s too easy for them to use their clubs on people’s heads.” This marked a reconsideration of prohibition-era policing tactics -- in the 1920s, police had often been expected to “use night-sticks freely,” particularly when conducting raids on areas like the Hill District.

J U LY 2 0 , 1 9 3 5


Black man was arrested because somebody called the police on him for fear that he might attack one of the kids playing nearby. Verbatim reporting from the Pittsburgh Courier titled the incident, 'LUCKY MAN,' and described the event as follows: "William Lynch, of 402 Adelaide street (sic) was arrested on Melwood street, after someone sent in a call for the Radio Car. Lynch was supposed to have been


playing with some kids and it was feared that he might 'attack' one of the girls. "When the Radio Car got there, they found Lynch alone and no one to verify the story. He was taken to the Oakland Police Station after a 'number' book was found in his possession. He was charged with gambling, not rape, and fined the next morning."

MARCH 28, 1954


loysius Spaulding, a Black man, and an ex-boxer from the Hill District, died of a suspicious suicide in his jail cell three days after he was arrested for killing police officer William Heagy. Mayor David L. Lawrence called for an investigation into charges of widespread police mistreatment of Black prisoners. The investigation found no evidence of foul play.

NOV. 18, 1958


olice created the K-9 Corps. Used widely for guard duties in the Second World War, dogs such as German Shepherds were said to have “psychological value” on would-be lawbreakers.




ou never forget your first time. “Why didn’t your boy come in," Don asks, swiping his dreads out of his face and looking at his watch. We knew it was getting late. “I dunno,” John replies. "His girl said she had a headache so they stayed in the car. I guess we better go. It’s been about 30 minutes.” We leave the apartment. Outside, Don's cousin Cubby hunches over a grill pit and the aroma of the chicken hits me in the stomach. Children scream and run, playing games of tag in the streets. Go-go drums clap and vibrate through the stereo and John and Don take turns b-boying. Flipping over one another, crip walking, and dabbing -- I am impressed that my white boy got moves. We hug goodbye and Don tells me "Take it easy." We walk back to the car where Jamie and his girl Eve are napping in the front. “Y’all have fun?” Jamie asks, now readjusting his seat. “Yeah,” John replies. “They are good people.” Eve sleepily leans onto the side of the passenger window and Jamie puts the key into the ignition. The car rumbles and we drive down the street. We make it a block until we see flashing red and blue lights. Three cop cars pull up to the front, back, and side of us. Six cops run toward us, guns drawn, flashes of black metal tapping on windows. They scream "GET OUT OF THE CAR! GET OUT OF THE FUCKING CAR NOW!" Is there some kind of mistake? I am with white people. I'm in DC. This must be a mistake.





The cops open our doors and grab my arm -- a hand squeezes tight and I can feel my own pulse under the weight of a thumb. STAND HERE. I am on the wall pressed against concrete. I feel hands between my legs. Between my thighs. WHERE ARE THE DRUGS BITCH? WE KNOW YOU HAVE THEM. Is there some kind of mistake? I am with white people. I'm in DC. This must be a mistake. I stand, helpless, and look for John. He is standing with Jamie and Eve on the other side of the car and the cops ask them questions. Our eyes meet. My eyes plead for him to help me. He looks down. WHERE ARE THE DRUGS? A white cop turns me around. As he sticks his hands down my dress and gropes my breasts, all I can do is fixate on his silvery white hair. I count the follicles. I stare at each strand and think about how the peppering of silver is so much like my mother’s. “Please,” I say. “Please, I don’t have anything.” I KNOW YOU’RE LYING, BITCH, he tells me. He takes a deep breath WHERE IS THE DOPE? He takes the black beret off of my head. When my grandfather gave me the beret, he told me to always let my light shine. A flashlight shines in my face as the cop sticks his hands in my hair. He shakes my curls and bends me over to make something falls out. He sits me on the curb of the sidewalk, my hands behind my back. I am facing my friends.

They are facing away. They ask Eve and Jamie if they can search the car. They agree. A Black cop goes directly to my side of the car and grabs my purse. He goes through my wallet and pulls out a card. He looks at the card, looks at me, and then walks over to the white cop to show him. On the back I see it is my college ID and the weathered black band of my meal swipe card seems to be my only ticket out. The Black cop walks over to me and stands me up. He loosens my restraints and hands me my purse. “You know it’s lucky we got to you when we did,” he tells me. “The house you came out of is a trap house. A lot of bad drug deals come out of there.” He smiles, as if this is to reassure me. Perhaps out of shock, I thank him, even though I don’t know why. We're free to go. John and Jamie thank the cops and we get back into the car. The white cop salutes the boys and tells them to “get home safe.” We drive out of Southeast and head back to Virginia. In the car Jamie, John, and Eve joke and laugh about how crazy the experience was. They relish the adrenaline rush. John puts his hand on my thigh as if to remind me that he loves me. All I can do is stare at the glow of the Washington Monument. All I can do is try to fixate on the light. This is how we are born. We are woke through trauma.


hen JM the Poet (a.k.a. Jay Manning) first got into music, it was lyrics that hit him the hardest. Outkast was an early favorite -- his mom would play their records around the house -- and, later, Tupac, Lil Wayne, “basics that got me into hip hop and really got me into lyricism.” But it wasn’t just the words that he was interested in. It was the elements of universality in the stories that were being told. “A lot of times [people] are telling the same types of stories over and over,” just expressing things in different ways, he says. “So I picked a lot of that stuff up growing up.” Given that, it makes sense that JM ended up studying storytelling via a degree in broadcast journalism, or that he now works as a photographer for PublicSource. And it's no surprise that he tells his own stories through music. On August 25, he released his first full-length record, Deja Vu, on Pittsburgh-based label Driving While Black. It’s a memoir of sorts, documenting the ups and downs of the four years since JM moved from Columbia, South Carolina to Pittsburgh. As a teenager, he set up a makeshift garage studio for him and his friends. But around the time of his post-college move, he says, “I was on the verge of quitting music, hip hop, all that.” he

says. “The first half of [Deja Vu] deals with how I first moved to Pittsburgh and had a good career, got a job fresh out of college, had my girl, we were engaged, everything was good,” he says. “I was having a lot of fun but I feel like I lost myself. And I was starting to lose that artistry side. I was losing my passion for making music.” The album’s second track, “Get Up, Get Right,” reflects that time of internal conflict: “I’m splitting in my mind, I need to make a decision,” he raps, his urgent tone tensing against the chill looping beat. “Doubt my vision/Go for that promotion/ Your family needs your attention.” Then one day he got on stage at an open-mic event put on by hip hop-focused art and activism collective 1Hood. He eventually joined up, and now works with them as a teaching artist. Working with 1Hood, he says, “really sparked my want for music and hip hop, my passion for it. Being around so many people who are just as passionate, and more passionate about it than me. And not only in the sense of making music, but actually having a message … and really making music as an MC and as an artist.” Through 1Hood he met Jordan Montogomery, the rapper and entrepreneur behind Driving While Black, who is featured on Deja Vu, along with fellow




SPR I N G 19

n November 1967, the police began using chemical mace manufactured by a local company. It was said to be a “more humane” alternative to nightsticks, particularly for suppressing riots. One of its first local uses was against student protesters at Oliver High School.



An editorial cartoon by Chester Commodore that apeared in the Pittsburgh Courier in 1970.


OCT. 23, 1965

atrolman Robert MacBeth shot and killed Louis Hardy, 25, a Black man who was running away from a craps game. Protesters demanded justice and asked for aptitude tests and training which would prevent “undesirables” from becoming members of the force. 12 | SEPTEMBER 15, 2020 | PITTSBURGH CURRENT

lack Pittsburghers fought back against police brutality through local chapters of national organizations like the NAACP, Urban League, CORE and the ACLU but also through local organizations like Citizen’s Committee Against Police Brutality, Big Daddies of Beltzhoover, and Civilian Alert Patrols, in order to observe, document, prevent, and protest police violence against Black people.

Illinois Gov. Otto Kerner (center) along wit Wilkins and President Lyndon Johnson, ta work of the Kerner Commission. (Wikimed


The American summer of 1967 w bulence as pent-up frustrations bo and poorly-served African-Ameri There were widespread riots. In D Twenty-six people died in Newark icans blamed the riots on outside Black men, in particular. President Lyndon B. Johnson co Commission to identify the cause unrest. In March 1968, the Kerner its findings -- white racism, not B match that lit the flame. The Kern that the United States was so divi fracture into two radically unequa The commission reported: “Wh implicated in the ghetto. White in white institutions maintain it, and dones it.”




th Civil Rights activist Roy alks to the press about the dia Commons)


was full of racial turoiled over in many poor ican neighborhoods. Detroit, 43 people died. k. Many white Ameragitators or on young

onstituted the Kerner es of the uprisings and r Commission released Black anger -- was the ner Commission warned ided it was poised to al societies. hite society is deeply nstitutions created it, d white society con-

A crowd of marchers press up against police officers trying to prevent a march, three days after the killing of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Photo: Charles Martin Collection/University of Pittsburgh)

Nationwide protests and unrest were sparked by the assassination of MLK, including actions in traditionally Black neighborhoods in Pittsburgh -- the Hill District, Homewood, and the North Side. The Pittsburgh police were deployed and the National Guard was called in to enforce a curfew in the Hill. The week of violence saw one death and 926 arrests. In the wake of King's assassination, the Pittsburgh Police introduced a 'Tactical Patrol Force' with special equipment and training, aimed at policing, “civil disturbance, labor disputes, demonstrations, and large public gatherings." A Post-Gazette editorial later noted: “By its verbal and physical abuse of arrested persons, the TPF has appeared to use its authority to punish those associated with unpopular causes rather than simply to maintain the peace.” The almost-entirely white force was directed largely at young Black people, sometimes at local high schools, and became extremely controversial. Among Black Pittsburghers, it was sometimes referred to as a 'gestapo' or 'goon squad” The force was eliminated in 1971. PITTSBURGH CURRENT | SEPTEMBER 15, 2020 | 13

SPECIAL REPORT drug-related arrests, particularly in communities of color.

APRIL 17, 1971


In this photo from famed photographer Charles "Teenie" Harris," activist and teacher K. Leroy Irvis speaks to Pittsburgh Police Chief Lawrence J. Maloney at an NAACP demonstration about the city's employment policies. Irvis would go on to become the first Black Speaker of the House in any state legislature. (Teenie Harris Photographs/Carnegie Museum of Art)


AUG. 27, 1969

n August of 1969, after days of protest, the NAACP wrote to Mayor Joseph Barr about police brutality in the arrests of demonstrators at the Manchester Bridge and Sixth and Liberty Avenues. The demonstrations, organized by Operation Dig and led by Nate Smith, were peaceful protests in response to the hiring of all-white or nearly all-white work crews for the construction of both Three Rivers Stadium and the U.S. Steel Building. Roy Wilkins, executive director of the NAACP, said the organization "vigorously protests unwarranted police brutality, use of Chemical Mace, and the arrests of 131 demonstrators. 14 | SEPTEMBER 15, 2020 | PITTSBURGH CURRENT



ittsburgh created its Narcotics Division, one year before President Richard M. Nixon declared a “War on Drugs." Through the rest of the twentieth century, the Pittsburgh Police would increasingly focus on

eorge Cotton, a 19-year-old disabled youth, was beaten by four police officers from 5 Station. The case was brought to light by firefighter Williams Jenkins, who witnessed the beating. Neighborhood Legal Services went public with other such complaints of police brutality, including the beating of 15-yearold Vernon Mitchell, also by officers from 5 Station; and the beating of 19 yearold Terrence McKnight, who suffered a leg fracture while in custody of 4 Station police. F.W. Quinlan, president of the local FOP, was quoted as saying that it was all part of a conspiracy to undermine authority by, "those groups of people who have caused the problems in the universities, in the prisons, and on the streets." When asked who those groups of people were, Quinan responded, "I would hope the government knows who they are."



atrolman Howard Landers shot and killed 19 year-old Ernest T. Williams. Landers claimed he thought Williams was another man -- escaped murderer, Leonard Moses. A coroner's jury ordered the patrolman to be held for involuntary manslaughter charges. The following day, the police trial board exonerated Landers of improperly discharging his gun. In September of that same year, after a highspeed chase, police officers shot John Williams, the 17-year-old brother of Ernest Williams, on the Boulevard of the Allies. John Williams survived. His father told the Pittsburgh Press at the time that it was "more than coincidental" that a second son was shot by the police.

NOV. 18, 1971


n November, 1971, District Judge Rabe A. Marsh issued an injunction requiring six white Pittsburgh police officers to stop, “harassing, threatening, intimidating, and beating� Black Pittsburgh residents. Witnesses

testified that the officers had beaten Black residents around the East Liberty, Homewood and Brushton neighborhoods with clubs, blackjacks (a piece of metal covered by leather, with a metal handle) and lead-weighted gloves. The six officers were transferred to another station. The FOP objected to the ruling with President Francis Quinlan claiming: "If the public allows this to continue, the hands of the police will be tied and the death knell of law enforcement shall be rung."



ederal Judge Gerald J. Weber ruled that the hiring practices of the Pittsburgh Police Department showed 'racial and sexual discrimination,' and issued an Order on hiring in the Department. He set new guidelines for the hiring of new officers and said that the city must develop a better system of qualifications 'free from racial and sexual bias.'



he Pennsylvania Justice Department was called

A story from the Nov. 20, 1971 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette covered the court ruling requiring six city police officers from "harassing" Black Pittsburghers.

AUG. 18, 1979

in to assist in a fact-finding commission on alleged police brutality in Wilkinsburg. Deputy State Attorney General Michael Louik received 12 complaints regarding six different incidents of police brutality in the municipality. The state hearings were separate from an FBI probe of the beating of three Black men after they were arrested by the Wilkinsburg PD. The three men said they were arrested under false pretenses and beaten while in the Wilkinsburg jail.


ollowing a traffic accident on the night of August 18th, Lillian Sands claimed that Swissvale police officers Nuzzo and Ohrman took her to the station, took $100 out of her purse and refused to return the money. Her son, Willie Sands, came to the station to pick up his mother. She told him that the police had hit her. Willie said that he was hit in the head with a club by a policeman. He needed six stitches to close his head wound. Police charged him with disorderly conduct and assault. [He was acquitted.] In Sept. 1981, the Borough paid $2,000 to Sands and her son to settle out of court.




illiam B. Robison and his son, William Robison, Jr., claim they were attacked by a police dog, beaten and had mace used on them by the Swissvale Police in an altercation in Regent Square. On October 10th, DA Robert Colville approved a request by Robinson's attorney to file criminal charges against several Swissvale police officers. At trial, the police testified that the younger Robinson struck one of the officers during a traffic stop and that the elder Robinson was bitten by a police dog, but only when he was attempting to strike an officer. Both Swissvale officers were acquitted.

AP R I L 10, 1984


nthony Agurs was killed by Pittsburgh police officer Bernard Hont, who struck him with a car in the Stanton Heights Shopping Center parking lot. The 15 year-old Agurs died when he was pinned between two vehicles -- a stolen automobile (from which he and two other youths allegedly had been seen running) which Hont was

driving and a police automobile. Hont was acquitted of vehicular homicide, but the City paid over $100,000 to Agurs' family to settle a civil lawsuit. In 1988, Bernard Hont was convicted of five counts of burglary and one count each of conspiracy and theft. In December of 1994, Hont was again sentenced, this time for selling cocaine and paying off on video poker machines at a bar he operated.

FE B. 12, 1992


ilkinsburg Police shot and killed Duwayne Dixon in a routine drug sweep. They first claimed that he pulled a gun and fired on them. Later, police stated that, though Dixon had a gun, he didn't shoot; rather, as they grabbed him, the gun fell to the ground and went off. Dixon's mother said that her son was handcuffed at the time of the shooting and his death was nothing short of an execution. Wilkinsburg Police chief Daniel Rearick stated that Dixon was not handcuffed at the scene.

AUG. 12, 1993


nthony Walton, Jr, 33 years old, was shot and killed by


NOV. 20, 1993


aneia "Stoney" Bey was shot and killed by police in East Liberty. Eighteen officers were called to the scene. Bey was shot while running from the police. The coroner's reports state that 13 bullets struck Bey in the back. According to the Post-Gazette, after hearing from 33 witnesses over two days, a coroner's jury voted (4-2) to recommend no charges be filed against six officers who fired at Bey.

an off-duty McKeesport police officer. Officer Javan Wilson, III, was outside a bar in McKeesport when Walton nearly drove his car into another McKeesport officer. Walton's blood-alcohol level was three times the legal limit. Wilson got in his car and chased Walton through McKeesport, across the Duquesne Bridge and into Dravosburg. Wilson fired seven shots at Walton, two of which struck and killed him. A coroner's jury recommended involuntary manslaughter charges be brought against officer Wilson. He was acquitted in August 1994.

APR IL 28, 1995


nthony Starks, 30, of Rockville, Maryland, died after being restrained by city police in an East Liberty apartment building where he had been smoking cocaine and drinking with friends. Police admitted striking Starks on the face and hands, while other witnesses testified that police kicked him in the head and abdomen and beat him with nightsticks. Deputy Coroner Arthur G. Gilkes Jr. ruled that Starks' death while in police custody was accidental. Gilkes concurred with a forensic pathologist who said blunt force trauma played no part in Starks' death -- the probable cause was cocaine abuse and heart disease.



APRIL 6, 1995

erry Jackson was killed in a barrage of bullets in the Armstrong Tunnels after a car chase. At least 51 rounds were fired and Jackson was shot 14 times. Thirteen of the bullets which struck Jackson were fired by Pittsburgh Housing Authority officer John Charmo. An initial investigation cleared Charmo, but a second investigation, including a second inquest by Cyril Wecht, led to DA Stephen Zappala filing charges. The second investigation also brought to light previously suppressed evidence which contradicted Charmo's claim that he fired in self-defense. He alleged that Jackson had managed to turn his car around inside the tunnel. Twice. But wheel markings in the Armstrong Tunnels from Jackson's car invalidated that specific claim. The Housing Authority officer fired at Jackson with unauthorized Black Talon hollow-point bullets. [In 1993, in an unprecedented move, the Winchester company limited sales of the Black Talon to law enforcement only. These bullets were manufactured to expand on impact, exposing sharp edges to maximize damage to human flesh.] Charmo pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter charges on October 11, 2001. He spent just eleven months in prison.


F EBR UARY 8, 1997

erald Potter, 19, was killed by off-duty Pittsburgh police officer Fred Crawford, Jr. in the Small Wood Bar in Homewood, after he displayed an unloaded gun. Witnesses said that Potter had the gun, but that Crawford never identified himself as Pittsburgh police, as he claimed, and that he was wearing a checked flannel jacket over his uniform, so it wasn't obvious he was police. Though the deputy coroner ruled Crawford was justified when he shot and killed Potter, he also found Crawford's version of events was not believable. Deputy coroner Timothy Uhlrich stated, "I find no credibility in the testimony of Mr. Crawford."


A PR I L 1997

n April of 1997, a Consent Decree to restructure the City of Pittsburgh Police Department was entered into after the ACLU filed a 1996 class-action lawsuit against the Pittsburgh Police. The US Justice Department intervened to restructure the city's police department and its citizen complaint system. Pittsburgh had been sued more than 100 times for police civil rights violations during the 1990s, the head of the Pittsburgh chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said in an interview with the Washington Post. Justice Department officials said it was the content and pattern of suits in Pittsburgh -- not the quantity -- that prompted federal intervention. On July 115th, the Citizen Police Review Board opened its doors to community complaints as part of the Consent Decree. This was the first such consent decree of its kind in the nation and it was hoped that it might be a model for other police departments. While the decree was in place, Pittsburgh curtailed strip searches, began documenting traffic stops, gave officers 'cultural diversity' training and tracked civilian complaints. The New York Times reports that, from the outset: "the police union balked, warning of 'more drive-by shootings, more drugs' and a spike in crime."

The Armstrong Tunnels. (Photo: Alekjds/Wikimedia Commons)



OCT. 12


31-year-old Jonny Gammage was 31-years-old when he was killed by local police officers. Center: Marchers took over Route 51 in Whitehall earlier this sum


'm 31. I'm only 31."

On October 12, 1995, Jonny Gammage was driving north on Route 51, headed home to his Moon Township apartment. He was driving a 1988 Jaguar that belonged to his cousin, Ray Seals, a defensive end with the Steelers. Brentwood Police Lieutenant Milton Mulholland started tailing him. Mulholland later testified that the car had an expired Florida

registration, but according to Jean Kessner, a reporter who covered the trial for WIXT Syracuse (Gammage's hometown), Mulholland said he thought it was suspicious for someone driving a luxury car to go 10 miles under the speed limit. That was his reason for pulling Gammage over. Gammage drove for a bit before pulling over and Mulholland called for backup.


Brentwood officer John Vojtas responded, as did Whitehall Borough Sergeant Keith Henderson, who was close by. Gammage pulled the Jag over near Frank and Shirley’s diner on Route 51, just inside City of Pittsburgh limits. When Henderson arrived, Mulholland was standing at the driver's side window of the Jag talking to Gammage. Henderson shined his flashlight into the car and saw

Gammage on his cell phone inside. He drew his weapon. Vojtas arrived and likewise drew his weapon and began yelling at Gammage to get out of the car. Gammage got out of the car, his cell phone and date book still in hand. Vojtas knocked the items to the ground using his flashlight and, according to the officers' testimony, Vojtas raised his flashlight and Gammage


2, 1995


mmer in what would have been Gammage's 56th birthday. (March Photo: By Jake Musliwczyk/Pittsburgh Current)

knocked it from his hand. Vojtas and Henderson tackled Gammage and wrestled him to the ground. Mulholland joined in, helping to pin him down. By this point, officers Michael Albert and Shawn Patterson, of the Baldwin and Whitehall Police departments, respectively, arrived and also got involved. The officers held Gammage down and one or more of them hit him with flashlights.

He was eventually handcuffed and, though cuffed, Henderson and Patterson continued to hold him facedown on the ground. One officer sat on his legs and the other held his upper body down. Within seven minutes, Gammage was dead. The autopsy by the Allegheny County medical examiner concluded that Gammage died of “positional

asphyxia." Which is to say, the pressure on the young man's back and neck as he was being held face-down made it impossible for him to breathe. His death was ruled a homicide and a coroner's jury recommended homicide charges be brought against all five officers. Instead, the Allegheny County district attorney, Bob Colville, charged Mullholland, Albert and Vojtas with the lesser charge of

involuntary manslaughter. The case against Mulholland and Albert ended in two mistrials and the case was dismissed. Vojtas was acquitted by an all-white jury. Pittsburghers old enough to remember Gammage's tragic killing couldn't help but hear his echoes when George Floyd was killed by the police in Minneapolis on May 25 of this year. Jonny Gammage was just 31 years old.



Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/Jan. 2, 1999

Deron Grimmit was killed in the Hill District by Pittsburgh police officer Jeffrey Cooperstein. Grimmit, 32, slowed down his car as he passed police officers making a drug arrest. Police said they sought to detain him to ask why he slowed down. Cooperstein claimed he was afraid Grimmit would run over him with his car and that he fired in self-defense. A coroner's inquest established that Grimmitt was shot through the passenger side window, not head-on, as might be expected if he were driving toward the officer. Cooperstein fired four rounds into the side window of Grimmit's car. The shot that killed Grimmit hit him in the left side of the head, just above his ear. Cooperstein was a frequent and vocal contributor to the Blue Knight website, posting angry diatribes against a variety of targets, including Pittsburgh Police Chief Robert W.McNeilly, Jr. The Blue Knight webpage routinely blasted the department and defended the five white suburban officers who suffocated Jonny Gammage. [Cooperstein's Blue Knight alter ego became a focal point in his trial: prosecutors claimed Cooperstein himself was the creator and moderator of the site, not just a person posting comments; he would neither confirm nor deny that he was The Blue Knight.] In February of 2000, a jury acquitted Cooperstein of homicide in the shooting of Deron Grimmit. In May of that year, the city made payments of $61,000 (back pay) and $150,000 (medical disability) to Cooperstein to get him off the force. 20 | SEPTEMBER 15, 2020 | PITTSBURGH CURRENT




he 1997 federal consent decree expires.



uring a traffic stop N E G L E Y A V E N U E S at Kentucky and FOR AN EXPIRED Negley Avenues INSPECTION for an expired inspection sticker on Pamela Lawton's S T I C K E R O N PAcar, police officer Eric Tatsuko allegedly pulled a gun on the unarmed woman and reportedly pointed it at her ustin Jackson, 19 years old, 7 year old daughter. Joseph police officer along Arlingt K. Williams, attorney for lice said Jackson had a gun Lawton, contended that the released his K-9 partner to subdu officer threatened to "blow shot the dog dead and the officer [her daughter's] brains Jackson's family disputed the p out." Because Lawton's that the teenager did not have a g insurance and registration op Otis L. Carswell said, "There weren't current, her car was our city, a straightening of somet towed and she was cited. status quo can no longer work in Weeks after the incident, usual in our city." Lawton received another citation for disorderly conduct. She was acquitted.



, was fatally shot by a Pittsburgh ton Avenue in Mount Oliver. Pon in his hands and that the officer ue him. Police said Mr. Jackson rs returned fire. police account and maintained gun. At Jackson's funeral, Bishe needs to be a reformation in thing that is not quite right. The n our city. No more business as

JA NUA RY 12, 2010

T H E B E AT I N G O F J O R D A N M I L E S Around 11 o'clock at night, Jordan Miles was walking from his mom's house to his grandmother's house. An unmarked car pulled up behind him. A man jumped out and asked him to hand over the drugs and hand over his gun. He turned to run. He slipped and fell on the ice. Two other men got out of the car. He struggled with them, but they administered a beating. He thought he was going to die. Eventually, they clicked handcuffs on him. A police van arrived and they loaded him into it. Until the uniformed cops arrived, Miles says he didn't know the men were police. The police assert that they told him they were police from the jump. And they were certain Miles had a gun on him, that he was acting furtively, and his one coat pocket was heavier than the other. They didn't find a gun on him and despite searching and re-searching the area, they never found a gun. They charged the 18 year old CAPA senior with aggravated assault and resisting arrest. Eventually, Miles was taken to the jail and able to call his mom. His mom and grandmother came to pick him up. By this point, his face was so swollen and bruised his mother barely recognized him. Two months after the incident, the charges against Miles were dropped at a preliminary hearing, a highly unusual event. District Attorney Zappala could have re-filed the charges against Miles and the FOP wanted him to, but he didn't. He also didn't charge the three police officers, after an investigation by his office. The FBI investigated as well, but chose not to charge the officers.

Jordan Miles following his run-in with police in

Miles sued the police and the city in federal court. During the trial, lawyers representing the officers took turns calling Miles' character into question and belittling him at every opportunity. Pittsburgh Current Editor Charlie Deitch wrote at the time: "Jordan Miles' eye is not swollen shut, this time. There is no knot on his head. His hair hasn't been ripped out. But after watching the three-week-long trial in his civil-rights lawsuit against three Pittsburgh police officers, it's hard not to feel like he's been battered all over again." After two civil trials, Miles was given a settlement of $125,000.00.





It has been a touch over 10 years since Jordan Miles' violent encounter with the Pittsburgh Police in Homewood shook the city. It was January cold at 11 o'clock at night as the senior at Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts school (CAPA) was walking the very short distance from his mother's house to his grandmother's house. The streets and sidewalks were covered with snow and ice and all the leftover mess you find in mid-winter in Pittsburgh. An unmarked car rolled up on him. Right here is where accounts of the events split. And as the case unfolded in real time, the city of Pittsburgh split, too. Most everybody was shocked, saddened and angered, but for different reasons. David Harris is the Sally Ann Semenko Chair at the University of Pittsburgh Law school and an expert on racial profiling. His book 'A City Divided: Race, Fear and the Law in Police Confrontations' (Anthem Press, 2020) is a thorough and assured examination of the incident, public response and the law around the case. "I'd been doing work in the police reform field, or if you want to put it another way,

where criminal justice and race intersect, at that time for 15 years at least" Harris told the Current. "I had been a practicing lawyer in the criminal courts. I saw everything that I had known and worked on beginning to play out right in front of me. I thought, I have to pay attention to this. This is every lesson, every piece of research, everything I've ever done -- it's all here in one case." Jordan Miles says he didn't know the men were cops. He was scared, so he ran. He fell and they caught him. He struggled and they administered a beating. He thought he was going to die. When he learned the men were police, he was actually relieved, though he had no idea why he was arrested. On the other side is the story of the police and those who backed them. The police maintain that Miles was acting suspiciously and he ran even though they clearly identified themselves as police. Harris said, "It wasn't just police officers -- they had great support from many people who just didn't understand why this young man didn't just talk to the police, why was he lying about it, just a whole set of


David Harris

assumptions." The police said Miles' coat pocket looked like it had something heavy in it which they were sure was a gun. They said he fought the three men off and kept reaching for that pocket; they used only the force necessary to subdue him. Though they never found a gun, they were certain there was one. "There are plenty of guns

(on the street). You cannot discount that -- that is something that American police have to consider all the time," Harris clarified. "Still, the idea that they (officers Michael Saldutte, Richard Ewing and David Sisak) settled on -- he had a gun -- there was no disabusing them of that notion. Even when it doesn't show up. They give it a good look. They don't find it.

CHRONOLOGY OF VIOLENCE It was just, we weren't wrong about that." Police charged Miles with aggravated assault and resisting arrest. Soon, photos of Miles' misshapen, swollen face, with bald patches where his dreads had been pulled out, were all over the news everywhere. People were outraged. Two months later, Magistrate Judge Oscar Petite, Jr. dismissed the criminal charges against him at a preliminary hearing. Harris says it is incredibly uncommon -- unheard of, really -- for charges to be dismissed at this stage. It was the FOP's turn to be outraged. "There is no other way to read it except [the judge] did not believe the police officer. He doesn't totally come out and say that. ‌ There is no way to come to any other conclusion: he simply didn't believe the police story." Miles sued the police and the city in a civil suit in Federal Court. There were two civil trials before the case settled (for $125,000) and, in reviewing the transcripts from those trials, Harris was struck by the assertion that Miles simply had to know the men were police officers because they were white. "People just said it. The lawyers and people arguing for the police: what would three white guys be doing in Homewood? Other than being the police and enforcing the law?" Harris said, noting that it came up more than once. He was surprised that this portrayal of Homewood as an entirely Black and entirely


APRIL 14, 2014

uring a traffic stop on the North Side, Anthony Kenney says he was beaten and pistol-whipped by Pittsburgh Police officer Matthew Turko. A federal jury awarded Kenney $105,000 in compensatory and punitive damages after a trial in July, 2014.

drian Williams was killed when he was shot six times as he was running away from a Pittsburgh Police Officer. He was in possession of a handgun at the time. Williams was hit twice in the back of the shoulder, under his left arm, under and through his right arm, and above his buttocks. He died at the scene.


JUNE 26, 2013

lawless place that had to be policed by white people just slid by. It was said and nobody checked it. "It was hard to miss. It might be that people were not as awake to it then, but it was there. And it served to make its own point -- to say what it said -- to point out there are certain roles people have in certain spaces," he said. The Jordan Miles case is a microcosm of where we are right now. It speaks to what happens when the atmosphere is so charged that the fear is palpable. And it goes to the heart of systemic racism and the activists who continue to fight for meaningful reform. David Harris will read from and discuss his book at White Whale virtual event on September 22nd.


ennis Henderson was standing outside a building in Homewood. He was talking to journalist Rossano Stewart after attending a meeting about police and community relations. A police car came past a high speed. Henderson said something about it. The officer doubled back, threatened both men and arrested them. Other police who arrived identified Stewart as media and he was released. They took Henderson to jail and charged him with resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. DA Zappala dropped the charges a few weeks later.


MARCH 3, 2015


hurchill Police Officer Steve Shaulis verbally abused 15 year-old Woodland Hills student, Ahmad Williams in the lobby of Woodland Hills High School where Williams was a student. The officer then arrested Williams for disorderly conduct, put him in a chokehold, slammed him to the ground and shocked him with a Taser -- twice. There is evidence dating back to 2009 that officer Shaulis was violent and abusive to other students at Woodland Hills, with video of him tasering a student. A civil case was brought in Federal Court on behalf of multiple students which settled for more than one-half million dollars.



THE SHOOTING OF LEON FORD Leon Ford was shot multiple times during a traffic stop in Highland Park. Ford was pulled over by two officers who mistook him for a suspect with a similar name. They thought he might be Lamont Ford, a member of a violent street gang. Nineteen years old at the time, Leon Ford handed over his license, insurance, and registration, as requested. Later, during the civil trial in Federal Court, he testified that the officers seemed fixated on the idea that he was Lamont, even though he was no relation to him, had no connection to him, and his papers all identified him as Leon Ford, not Lamont Ford. When officer David Derbish arrived at the scene, he said that he saw a bulge in Ford's pocket that he thought was a gun and Ford was reaching that way. He jumped into the car, very much in violation of police protocol. The engine was still running. According to the officer, Ford grabbed the gearshift and he grabbed Ford's hand with his left hand. The car took off. Detective Derbish drew his gun and shot Ford five times. The car crashed into a porch a few yards away. The police arrested Ford for aggravated assault. One of the bullets pierced Leon Ford's spine and he was paralyzed. District Attorney Stephen Zappala pushed forward with prosecuting Ford. The jury acquitted him in 2014 of the most serious charges and deadlocked on five others. He will not be retried Pittsburgh settled a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by Ford for $5.5 million in January of 2018. Since his shooting, Ford has become an outspoken critic of police brutality and the

JAN. 31, 2016


ruce Kelley, Jr. was killed when more than eight officers responded to a call in Wilkinsburg. Kelley first encountered Port Authority police for the crime of drinking in public at a gazebo. He tried to get away -- he was on probation on a burglary charge and was afraid of being sent back to lock-up. He was pepper-sprayed and tasered. He stabbed a K-9 officer. He was shot eight times. Tim Stevens, the chairman of the Black Political Empowerment Project, said an incident that started with a man accused of drinking a beer in public, "shouldn't end with that man dead."

FEB. 11, 2018


Leon Ford. (Photo: Emmai Alaquiva)

systemic racism that exists in the Criminal Justice System. He now travels the country telling his story


ark Daniels was shot and killed by Pittsburgh police in Homewood. The police say they were alerted to an 'actor with a gun.' The Allegheny County Police Homicide unit investigated the shooting and stated that the Pittsburgh police were simply alerted to a 'man acting suspiciously,' rather than a man 'with a gun.' Both departments claim that Daniels fired at the officers and noted the bullet holes in a nearby downspout to back this up. Daniels retreated. The

CHRONOLOGY OF VIOLENCE shot that killed him hit him in the back of the arm as he fled. Daniels' family maintains that he never fired on the officers. This was the third shooting in less than a year involving officer Gino Macioce, although the previous two shootings were not fatal. Mayor Bill Peduto said those shootings were proper and justified.

DEC. 22, 2019


he Wilkinsburg police were called to a dispute at the corner of Penn and Wood and told that there was a man with a gun threatening another man. When they arrived, they spotted a man about two blocks from the intersection who they thought matched the description they were given of the man with the gun. There was a brief foot chase. Police say that the man turned and fired at them and they returned fire. Romir "Rome" Talley, 24 years old, was shot seven times and died at the scene. Talley's family questioned the shooting. Paul Jubas, the attorney for Talley's family, called out the Wilkinsburg PD for not having dashcams or body cams. He also said the shooting was a case of mistaken identity -- that Romir Talley was not the man with the gun at the corner that police were called to and that he ran rather than interact with police. Jubas further stated that he has evidence that Talley did not fire the first shot. At a vigil held for Talley, Olivia Bennett, an Allegheny County Councilwoman said this incident "... is yet another example of needed police oversight," and called for a county-wide citizens police review board.

Current Photo by Ed Thompson





eventeen-year-old Antwon Rose ran from the police when the car he was riding in was pulled over in East Pittsburgh. Police officer Michael Rosfeld shot Rose three times as he fled. Rosfeld had pulled over the car because it matched the description of one that was involved in a drive-by shooting in Braddock which had happened just 10 minutes earlier. Antwon Rose was unarmed. Rosfeld shot him three times. Just hours earlier. Rosfeld had been sworn in as an East Pittsburgh officer, though he had experience with other departments -- Oakmont, Harmar Township and the University of Pittsburgh Police. He left the Pitt job after "discrepancies were found between one of his sworn statements and evidence in an arrest." On June 26, 2018, Rosfeld was arrested and charged with criminal homicide in the killing of Antwon Rose. DA Stephen Zappala said Rosfeld intentionally shot Rose to death, even though the teen "didn't do anything in furtherance" of a crime in North Braddock or East Pittsburgh. "It's an intentional act and there's no justification for it," Zappala said during a news conference at the time. "You

do not shoot somebody in the back if they are not a threat to you." At trial, prosecutors argued that Rosfeld gave inconsistent statements about the shooting, including whether or not he thought Rose had a gun. On March 22, 2019, after four days of testimony, Michael Rosfeld was acquitted. In November 2018, the Borough of East Pittsburgh disbanded its police department. In January of 2020, Michael Rosfeld sued the University of Pittsburgh for his January, 2018 firing. In August, that case was dismissed by a Federal Judge.


Top: Jasiri X, second from right, and members of 1Hood stand vigil outside the trial of Officer Michael Rosfeld. (Current Photo: Jake Mysliwczyk) Bottom: Antwon Rose



On June 16, the Pittsburgh Current ran a story titled: “Nothing New: Attempts At Much-Needed Police Reform In Pa. Pre-Date George Floyd’s Death.” It came less than a month after Floyd’s May 25th streetside suffocation at the hands of Minneapolis Police officers. Specifically, the story referred to “new” police reform initiatives that were moving through the Pennsylvania legislature. But the fact is that a group of local Pa. House members, including Summer Lee, Ed Gainey, and Jake Wheatley, sought reforms back in 2018 after the killing of Antwon Rose and redoubled their efforts again after the cop who killed Rose was found not guilty. But, “nothing new” can also be applied to Floyd’s death and the protests and calls for justice which have been demanded in the streets, along with the needlessly aggressive and violent tactics used by police against protesters. Sadly, what has happened in this city since protests began on May 30th over the death of George Floyd and the systemic racism in our criminal justice system that has allowed acts like this to continue, featured the usual oppressive tactics that police always employ. On May 30th, a peaceful march and protest over Floyd’s death were met by squadrons of officers in riot gear from the beginning of the event. A police car was burned and marchers engaged in acts of civil disobedience, as people have for

Mayor Bill Peduto sits on his front porch during the second night of protests outside his home. (Current Photo: Jake Mysliwczyk)

decades when protesting for change. Pittsburgh Police used tear gas on protesters. Oftentimes the canisters were fired directly at crowds, striking and injuring many. Less lethal projectiles were also used indiscriminately. Many demonstrators were injured, some seriously, including a photographer whose lips were shot off by a projectile. On June 1st, at a protest in East Liberty, police were even more aggressive and ordered crowds to disperse, then used violent action when they refused. Again, protesters were shot with projectiles, both as they stood still with hands up and as they tried to flee the area. Tear gas

was also used that day, even though police officers denied it and Mayor Bill Peduto backed them. A class-action lawsuit has been filed against the city which maintains that the police escalated “a peaceful protest into a scene of pandemonium, panic, violence and bloodshed” and then “disseminated flagrant lies to conceal and/or justify the PBP’s shameless use of force against peaceful protesters.” Protests have continued. In recent weeks, protesters have been demonstrating outside the home of Mayor Peduto. On the second night, the Mayor spoke to protesters on his porch; however, those talks broke down. With continued visits to his

home, Peduto said on Twitter: “continual denial of law, will end up in arrests. Actions have consequences.” Additionally, police have frequently arrested protesters and have even asked photographers for photos of certain events so they could attempt to build cases. Protests are expected to continue throughout the fall but don’t expect anything new when it comes to police response. The last 24 pages have chronicled so many unnecessary and avoidable deaths, injuries, and humiliations of Black people at the hands of police in this region since 1857. It’s hard to imagine anything changes now.







recent Twitter back-andforth between Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and one of his constituents caught my attention. Referring to the Pittsburgh Police, the constituent wrote, “We need you to help defund and defang them. We realize the police have resisted your attempts to bring reform, but the issue is too important to give up on so easily. Pittsburgh needs your bravery here.” Peduto replied, “I get you. But please understand, the message from our Black neighborhoods and the message from Protestors are very different. Ending systemic racism involves better access to housing, healthcare, jobs, education as the foundation. That is what we are delivering.” This response from our Mayor irritated me for a few reasons. Firstly, despite Peduto’s apparent desire to link ongoing activism in Pittsburgh to “far-right extremists,” the “alt-left” and other so-called “outside agitators,” the protestors currently on the street were born and raised in the very Black neighborhoods that Peduto would like to pretend they’re diametrically opposed to. The protesters include a diverse array of Black activists from all over Pittsburgh, and they alone are the driving force behind the current movement. Peddling conspiracy theories that suggest otherwise is misinformative and dangerous. But even more glaring is Peduto’s claim that the City of Pittsburgh is “delivering” for Black Pittsburghers. The idea that



“we are delivering” in any of the aforementioned areas would be laughable if it weren’t so stunningly dishonest. Sure, Pittsburgh is known today as having safely overcome a near-disastrous environmental past, emerging triumphant from the rubble of deindustrialization with a thriving new “Eds and Meds” economy to boot. Our elected officials certainly love to tell this story about Pittsburgh. But the problem is that this narrative deliberately erases the experience of the city’s Black


residents. Socioeconomic data shows that, when compared to similar cities, rates of livability for white men and women are quite high in Pittsburgh—but for Black men and especially Black women, they are shockingly low. And as an important 2019 report from Pittsburgh’s Gender Equity Commission documents, the disparities begin at birth, and last until death. Pittsburgh’s Black residents are more likely to experience maternal mortality and infant mortality than both white Pittsburghers and Black people

living in other cities. They are more likely to experience food desertion, gentrification, poverty, barriers to higher education, unemployment, arrest, incarceration, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and suicide. Depending on age and gender, Black Pittsburghers are between 4 and 42 times more likely to experience homicide— and their homicides are far less likely to be solved—than their white counterparts. So no, the Mayor is not “delivering” Black Pittsburgh anything except precarity, displacement, and death—no matter how many times he pays lip service to social justice, attempting clumsily to soothe communities’ frustrations with his mendacious platitudes. But furthermore, Peduto’s response betrays his shallow understanding of the movement to defund the police. Even a cursory glance at the many explanations of defunding that have recently been pushed out en masse by academics, activists, and explanatory journalists recently would benefit Mayor Peduto. He would realize that “better access to housing, healthcare, jobs, [and] education” is exactly what supporters of defunding are asking for. So, Pittsburgh, allow me to make the case. Defunding is not a crackpot thought experiment or a liberal pipe dream. As a political demand, defunding is evidence-based and entirely defensible. Defunding is not simply a unilateral slashing of police budgets. It’s not a vengeful punishment, or even a sanction for the po-


Current Photo by Jake Mysliwczyk


OPINION lice’s bad behavior. And despite the fear-mongering by corporate-owned media and right-wing pundits, defunding is certainly not about cutting off victims’ access to justice. Nobody wants to see their neighborhood become a “war zone” where crimes don’t get solved and violent offenders are allowed to roam with impunity. But the first key observation is that, despite what we have learned from Hollywood, police just aren’t the badass crime fighters one may think of them as. The Vera Institute has found that police are often the de-facto first responders to 911 calls, despite the fact that the vast majority of these calls are unrelated to emergencies or crimes in progress. We should begin by asking why people with guns and tasers are the first, rather than last, resort. Data from the FBI shows us that 95 percent of arrests made by U.S. police each year are for nonviolent offenses—and that, on average, individual police officers make less than one violent crime arrest in an entire year. The mandate of the police is supposedly to “protect and serve.” But only 46 percent of violent crimes ever result in police actually making an arrest. The vast majority of rapes and robberies go uncleared every year, as do almost 40 percent of murders and almost 50 percent of assaults. It shouldn’t surprise us, then, that most violent crimes in America don’t even get reported. Black people bear the brunt of the police's remarkable ineptitude. In Allegheny County, for example, 97 percent of unsolved homicide cases between 2010 and 2015 were of Black victims, despite the fact that Black people make up just around a quarter of Pittsburgh’s population. And figures like this don’t


include the murders that police themselves carry out. As public health experts and community organizers have long warned, our overreliance on law enforcement as the sole means to control violence is entirely counterproductive. Black Americans are up to six times more likely to be killed by police than non-Blacks, particularly in the Midwest and Northeast. Fewer than 1% of police killings ever reach a conviction. As the Brookings Institute concluded recently, “the failure to prosecute murderous police typifies a bad overall track record with solving violent crimes.” In short, the (overwhelmingly Black) working class in Pittsburgh, like in virtually all major American cities, just isn’t getting a return on its tax dollars given the sheer magnitude of resources absorbed by the Bureau of Police. In a truly democratic (and not just Democratic) city, budgets are supposed to be a reflection of communities’ values and interests. Just in the time since Peduto was inaugurated in 2014, the police’s budget has ballooned by over $42 million, bringing the PBP to a 2020 grand total of $114,787,000. That’s almost 19 percent of our city’s budget. For comparison, Human Resources and Civil Service, which got slashed by over $14 million in 2020, takes around 7 percent. Environmental Services takes only 3 percent. Parks and Recreation, just 0.78 percent. The Citizen Police Review Board, a measly 0.1 percent. Like in the vast majority of America, violent crime in Pittsburgh has been generally falling steadily for around two decades. 2019 in particular saw a dip in violent crime. Homicide rates were at historic lows. So why did the


2020 operating budget, drafted between City Council and Mayor Bill Peduto, boost the police’s budget by 10.2 million dollars? Why was the police’s first stated goal to “continue to increase the ‘boots on the ground’ officers in the field”? Why did Peduto advocate for police recruitment classes, hybrid police cruisers, three new substations in Homewood, Southside, and Downtown, and a potential fourth North Shore station to be included in the budget? The goal with opening the new substations, as Peduto himself put it, was to hire more officers who were interested in working with young people, drug addicts, homeless people, and the mentally ill. With substations, Peduto said, “officers become part of what is needed.” This phrasing is telling. If police need to “become” part of a community’s needs, is that not a red flag? Defunding does not seek to create a vacuum of violence, chaos, and destruction. Quite the contrary—advocates are deeply invested in stimulating our strongest community organizations, and, indeed, in creating new ones altogether. Defunding seeks to address the true generator of crime—namely, socioeconomic marginalization. Consistently, both Black community organizers and academic sociologists tell us that the single most effective way to reduce crime is to improve social programs—especially education and employment. The status of these social programs is dismal in Black Pittsburgh. A schematic view of the past half-century in American cities reveals two processes, always twinned and mutually reinforcing—on one hand, municipal austerity and the gutting of social services; and on the other, a drastic

expansion in the scale and scope of policing, typically justified by a rhetoric of “law and order.” From the 1980s until the early 2000s, while Allegheny County affordable housing projects were getting demolished or turned into “mixed-income housing" and Pittsburgh was losing hundreds of thousands of industrial jobs, brand new prisons were popping up all over Western Pennsylvania, often in renovated schools and hospitals. We have to think, then, about tipping the scales in our communities once more—away from punishment (policing, surveillance, incarceration, etc.) and towards transformative social justice. Defunding represents this kind of concrete step. It is a counterbalance to the massive expansion of the prison-industrial complex—which, of course, includes police as its gatekeepers—that we have witnessed in the U.S. since the end of the Civil Rights Movement. But why not reform? Well, efforts at police reform have been implemented in municipalities like Pittsburgh for years now— body cameras, training sessions, town halls, hiring more officers of color. I even participated in many of these reform efforts, from roundtables with Chief McLay and then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch to focus groups with Zone 2 police officers. As solutions to police brutality, we now know these “reforms” were totally bogus. We have zero evidence that any of these efforts have affected police use of force or the disproportionate criminalization of Black people. They are little more than public-relations Band-Aids slapped over the gaping wound of the prison-industrial complex. Defunding acknowledges the

CHRONOLOGY OF VIOLENCEOPINION undeniable reality that policing, as Micol Seigel has put it recently, is about “violence work.” By definition, it’s the job of police to enforce the law through violence, or the threat thereof. So it should appall us that the criminal justice system has become many people’s primary point of contact with their local government. The true crackpot fantasy here is the idea that granting police even more money, training, and respectability will stop them from carrying out acts of violence against the citizenry. Violence is the logical conclusion of policing—and the systematic murder of Black people by police is the logical conclusion of the past half-century of our political history here in the U.S. Whether you like it or not, 2020 is a watershed moment, screaming at us that it’s time that we change course. But where would the police’s money go? What would we do with this surplus of capital and human labor? Answering these questions requires ongoing research and collaboration. It requires constant public discourse about the future of the community. It requires a deliberately intersectional and interdisciplinary approach to ending oppressive hierarchies. It requires people willing to employ dynamic and complex solutions to meet people’s short- and long-term needs. In other words, it requires strong community organizing. Pittsburghers are freedom fighters, and their dedication to liberation and mutual aid long precedes the current moment. Not only have the city’s residents (especially its Black femmes) long been organizing against police and the prison-industrial complex, they have also long been organizing for employment, community safety and accountability, clean water

Current Photo: Jake Mysliwczyk

and air, access to food, education, and reproductive justice, among so many other things. They have shown us that making our future in the present is possible. The Pittsburgh Police received a budget boost of $10.2 million in the last fiscal year alone. Instead of three new police stations, this bonus could have paid for three or more new reproductive health clinics. It could have been reinvested in a community-based public health approach to ending gun violence, as recommended by the CDC. It could have been set aside to give grocery grants of $250 each to over 40,800 working families when they need it the most (a strategy Pittsburgh Mutual Aid has done an incredible job with spearheading). It could have gone toward establishing a robust restorative justice infrastructure to replace traditional punishment in Pittsburgh courts and schools, or expanded counseling services for victims of rape and domestic violence. On average, it could have paid for over 500 years of tuition

at Pitt—or over 2,000 years at CCAC. It could have expanded walkability and accessibility, and improved our public transit corridors. It could have been used to implement a Housing First model (which has been proven effective at ending chronic homelessness) here in Pittsburgh. It could have established harm prevention strategies like clean needle exchanges, Narcan distribution, and robust rehab programs. It could have built schools, preschools, playgrounds, daycares, after-school centers. It could have gone towards fixing our water system, which has been utterly ruined since 2012 by the international utilities company Veolia—the very same company responsible for Flint, Michigan’s clean water crisis. It could have planted trees in neighborhoods where air pollution is the worst, or funded a municipal zero-waste program. I think people often misunderstand the work that “reparations”

really do. Reparations are not about saying sorry for slavery. They are not simply about atonement or magnanimously making up for a past wrong. What “reparations” refers to, rather, is a dynamic political and economic effort to systematically reverse the long-term effects of colonization, enslavement, and white supremacy that continue to differentially expose the Black diaspora to precarity and premature death. Reparations seek to heal our “founding wounds.” And as the work of Black American scholars like Angela Davis, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Mariame Kaba, and Michelle Alexander has shown, our current criminal justice system is yet another one of these long-term effects, a damaging and deadly wound that is widening each year. Divesting from the police and investing in working-class communities represents a huge change to our current system, certainly— but it’s perhaps the clearest goal I have heard from the American left in my twenty years of life. Our budget is decided during the fall and winter months of each year. Go to defund12.org to immediately email Pittsburgh’s City Council and Mayor. Exercise your rights to speech and assembly in your streets. Fight for Jonny Gammage. For Dion Hall. For Deron Grimmitt. For Jerry Jackson. For Romir Talley. For Antwon Rose, Jr. Most of all, fight for those whose stories may never be heard, and for those who have yet to be born. Suhail Gharaibeh is a writer and organizer, born and raised in Pittsburgh, and now studying for a B.A. in History at New York University.