“Everything they’re saying is lies”

When I saw the front page of the March 16-23 issue of the Pittsburgh City Paper filled with nearly all white, youthful faces turning downtown Pittsburgh into an all-day unlicensed bar, I thought of another “reveler” and his father quietly drinking alone in an outdoor kiosk in Wilkinsburg on a night in early February. Ironically, Bruce Kelley Jr., fatally shot 12 times by bus cops, likely shared a surname with some of the St. Patrick’s Day rowdies drunkenly and loudly stumbling around downtown and the Southside into the wee hours of the morning. Maybe if Kelley would have deferred his drinking to the annual sanctioned drunk fest, maybe if he had joined the partiers vomiting and urinating on lawns and public spaces, maybe he would be alive today. Maybe not.

Despite thousands of annoying drunken louts prowling the streets, no one was shot by the police on St. Patrick’s Day this year. Despite regular raucous drunken tailgates, harassment of visitor fans, and macho posturing, no one has ever been shot by the police at a Steelers game, either. So why was Bruce Kelley killed while quietly and harmlessly pursuing a similar taste for alcohol? Could it be because he is Black? Could it be that the antics of thousands of fun-loving whites is simply youthful excess, but that a father and son drinking alone in a public space are suspicious and socially threatening when they are Black? Drinking while Black?

There were no transit police shooting five white youth last May when they were terrorizing a 54-year-old Black man at a T station after a Kenny Chesney concert. Apparently, beating up and stealing from an older man who is Black is just “boys being boys.” After leaving the annual trash-fest celebration of whiteness and bogus country music (Kenny Chesney ain’t no Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, or Waylon Jennings) at Heinz field, the suburban ersatz cowboys were jacked up into “good old boy” racist thugs by Chesney’s typical flag-waving bluster. So they decided to engage in a Pittsburgh-style lynching. Unfortunately for them, the attack was caught on videotape.

This left our ethically-challenged judicial system in a bit of a quandary: since the assault was caught on video, how would these misguided lads (one was the son of a suburban mayor) be kept from answering for their sins? The prosecutors answered the call by plea bargaining the felony charges on four of the five down to probation. It surely wasn’t difficult for the thugs to accept such a generous deal.

The judge– the imperious Jeffrey A. Manning– quickly dissociated himself from the dirty deed; according to the Pittsburgh P-G, he was “unhappy with the plea deals that the defense worked out with the Allegheny County District Attorney’s office but felt compelled to accept them.” This may be the first time that the long serving, arrogant judge has ever felt “compelled” to do anything in his sanctified court room.

Judge Manning is the same Judge Manning who escaped the charge of blatant racism in 1998 thanks to a finding of his “honorable” peers. Accused of verbally assaulting an African-American woman airport employee in 1995, Manning appeared before the Court of Judicial Discipline of Pennsylvania, the foxes guarding the judicial hen house. Supposedly, Judge Manning made the employee his personal valet by handing her his wardrobe while he was being scanned. When he later claimed that the wardrobe was damaged, he allegedly announced, “that’s what you get when you hire a N—–.” Despite the fact that the airport security employee had six other (white) employees who witnessed the event and testified that Manning, his girlfriend, and his son were generally obnoxious and specifically racist towards the Black employee, the seven learned jurists engaged in a truly astounding and petty round of evidential nit-picking, finding that the panel could not “sustain the burden of establishing by clear and convincing evidence the allegations made by…[the] complainant.”

A decade later, the Feds investigated Manning for his habit of joining trial attorneys on the golf course and on elaborate trips. His attorney responded: “We don’t deny that he got appointments, nor that he went on vacation with people, but I can tell you there’s no doubt in my mind that he has without a doubt the highest ethical standards there are.”

So in Allegheny County six witnesses are insufficient to render justice to a Black woman, just as video camera evidence is inadequate to bring justice to a 54-year-old Black man beaten by thugs.

Kevin Lockett– the T station victim– understood this travesty when he reluctantly attended a “restitution” hearing before Judge Manning and disgustedly asserted: “I never agreed to whatever bargain. Five felony charges got dropped. That would never happen to a black guy, and I’m not racist. The system is.”

An unusually humble Manning responded: “The court’s holding this hearing for your benefit. We attempt to make the victim whole.”

Kudos to Lockett for placing justice ahead of a judicial pay off.

Everything they’re saying is lies,” Lockett concluded.

— Greg Godels

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Millionaire vs. Billionaire

Tuesday’s primary election results bring us closer to the inevitable November match-up: Hillary “Corporate” Clinton versus Donald Trump, the idiot billionaire.  With the Pennsylvania primary more than a month away, those of us sane enough to oppose Trump or any candidate of the GOP are urged – almost expected – to close ranks behind Clinton in a show of “unity” and a nod to “reality” or the “real world.” But it’s precisely the accepted lamestream version of reality that should be opposed.

Sanders’ opposition to the power of the big corporations and the wealthy has been consistent throughout his political career. Why should he give up now with delegate-rich states like Pennsylvania, Maryland, Washington, Wisconsin, New York and California on the horizon?  The contest isn’t over until June, or until Clinton wins a majority of delegates.

The pundits respond that since Sanders can never win against Clinton in places with substantial numbers of black voters – because Hillary just loves black folks and they adore and trust her – he may as well hang it up now so that Clinton can concentrate her fire on Trump and the Republicans.

But some of us have noted the cynical paternalism at the heart of this argument and alleged love affair, which saw the Clintons appoint and befriend a few successful African Americans, while publicly maligning – as well as locking up and denying social benefits to – huge masses of black folk. You remember: they called it crime and welfare “reform.”  And many more in the middle were squeezed by a Clinton recovery characterized by a low-wage jobs market.

Corporate Black Caucus

Despite all the pathetic antebellum-preacher-style pandering of Rep. John Lewis, neither he nor the Corporate . . . er, uh, Congressional Black Caucus opposed President Bill when he was getting his neoliberal agenda on, back in the 1990s. Instead of criticizing Sanders for being too white (as if it’s his fault that his home state is 95 percent white) or not being where John Lewis was when he got his head split open (as if John Lewis’ particular freedom ride was the only place to be in the 1960s), Lewis and the CBC should have been closing ranks with an independent congressman named Bernie Sanders.

Back in 1988, during his first run for Congress, Sanders – white and from Vermont though he may have been – supported Jesse Jackson for president.  Sanders lost but made it to Congress two years later.  In 1992, Clinton swept into office – destroying the incumbent George H.W. Bush – and the historically progressive Black Caucus swelled from 25 to 38 members.  Looking good, right?

Wrong. Clinton did what all the Republican presidents since 1971 hadn’t – he tamed the CBC and tamed them good, while keeping the black vote for the Democrats.  Lewis – and probably a few other CBC members – almost wanted to commit suicide over deciding to support Obama over Hillary in 2008, but does he shed tears for the millions and millions of black people who have languished in prisons, substandard housing, abandoned schools and otherwise suffered for lack of a humane safety net?

Sanders has been consistent over the years. He has the common sense (not so common these days), integrity and decency that deserves any progressive person’s vote. If he were president, he’d most likely listen to his black allies rather than try to co-opt them.  Sanders has the money and the organization to keep fighting, so he should.  The longer he fights, the longer we’re spared the sickening spectacle of Hillary Millionaire vs. Donald Billionaire, and the longer we keep talking about economic justice.

Yes, Trump is a proto-fascist and it would behoove us to do everything possible to stop him in November. But it’s not November yet: on April 26, why not vote for Sanders?

And three cheers for the young people, who have sense enough to support Sanders for all the right reasons. These are the same people, more or less, who gave us Occupy Wall Street, and before that the anti-globalization movement.  Young people today are tolerant; love children, animals and the earth; and they hate war.  They’re often criticized for their lack of intellectual rigor in the policy and endgame-forecasting arenas, but I humbly suggest that we older folks take a look around and ask ourselves what our efforts, sincere as they are, have gotten us.  I’m ready to follow the youth.

Lest we forget

There’s still no state budget and at this point, it’s safe to say that we’re experiencing a GOP-spearheaded lockout of social spending – keeping money from us that is really ours. This money has already been collected, banked and allocated, but it can’t be spent because the GOP opposes a return to pre-Corbett spending levels.  As a result, people have suffered.

I still haven’t heard any accounts or allegations of actual deaths that were caused by the crisis, but I don’t believe it. One of Governor Wolf’s line-item vetoes affected funding for close to 80 hospitals, including 13 critical access facilities, located mostly in rural areas and serving a high percentage of people on Medicaid.  No possible harm there.

Meanwhile, the wealthy continue to benefit from low income and corporate state taxes, while consumption and income taxes for regular people keep going up. And the Department of Education helpfully issues guidelines on how to shut your school district down.

Unions in this state and country used to know how to battle a lockout. If they still do, they might consider sharing that expertise with people and communities who don’t know how to organize a fight back.  Who knows, maybe forcefully aligning itself with community interests might help reverse the failing fortunes of Pennsylvania labor.  Maybe?

James Collins

Sports Team Doormats

Yes, Pittsburgh is a sports crazed city. And that’s OK. It may be odd to gift terrible towels to distant cousins in far away cities, but maybe that’s what you do when your city has lost its identity. All the “most livable city” awards are empty victories when the name of your most venerated sports team—the Steelers—has lost all meaning since the steel industry has unceremoniously pulled up stakes and moved away. We’ve lost the jobs, but we still have the symbol!

Even the often shameless cheapness of local professional teams—ask Troy Polamalu or Gerrit Cole—doesn’t tarnish fan loyalty. The fact that sports management demonstrate little loyalty to its ascending or descending stars leaves rabid fans unfazed.

Of course Pittsburghers have every right to pay outrageous prices for seat licenses or aftermarket tickets. They can tolerate having seats held for generations arbitrarily moved to obscure locations. And they can ecstatically throw themselves at the feet of retired sports legends. That’s the fans’ business and not a worry of the community at large.

But the city as a whole should have a different relationship with the sports teams: a relationship that should insist that the sports teams act like good citizens; a relationship that balances the passion of fans with the interests of the rest of the populace.

The institution entrusted with guaranteeing that sports teams do not abuse their popularity with unreasonable demands or neglected responsibilities is the Pittsburgh Stadium and Exposition Authority. This unelected body negotiates in our interest with sports team management.

But too often, the Authority appears to operate solely in the interest of the sports teams; too often, Authority executives surrender to the teams without a fight.

The stadium wars of the 1990s demonstrate that despite fan loyalty, our region does not want to be a financial chump for wealthy team owners. The local voters had to be hoodwinked into going along with a stealth funding plan for new stadiums. They had to stand by helplessly while stadium contracts went to out-of-town and out-of-state contractors, sham “minority” contracts were enacted, and a RAD tax that threw 10 million dollars of public funds at the stadiums for 30 years.

But the Stadium Authority never got the message of public outrage. Over a decade ago, they gifted the development rights to the adjacent lands to the North Side sports teams and their chosen developer, a Columbus, Ohio firm. Yet the Steelers/Pirates designated developer has done little. The ever generous Stadium Authority has granted them four extensions while allocated land goes unpurchased and unused.

Parking lot titan Merrill Stabile offered the Stadium Authority $10 million in 2011 for a parcel twice the size, but including the Steelers/Pirates land. The Authority turned him down, choosing to hold the 1.3 acre parcel vacant for another 5 years so that it could honor its deal to give it away for $900,000. The Steelers/Pirates have yet to exercise that option.

Stabile is the same local mogul who kicks in money to support free rides on the tunnel, to and fro the North Side, which benefits his lucrative parking lots. The Steelers and the Pirates, who benefit even more from the tunnel, refuse to kick in. Good neighbors.

Last November, the Stadium Authority agreed to move ahead with a $15 million dollar parking garage directly benefiting the two sports teams. The garage is an attempt to appease the teams’ complaints about lost parking from the long-awaited Steelers/Pirates development.

But recently, the Steelers/Pirates managements have lodged a further complaint, arrogantly demanding a “global solution” to North Side development without which they are “very, very unhappy.” After dragging their feet for over a decade, the sports teams are very unhappy?

Even the normally compliant Stadium Authority recoiled from this howler, reminding a Steelers spokesperson that they have a deal in place. When pressed– after a Stadium Authority meeting– if they want to renegotiate the contract, the Steelers spokesperson rambled on about parking access, other undeveloped parcels, etc. Clearly the sports teams are really “unhappy” about their December deadline—their fourth.

It is just as clear that the Stadium Authority is a sports team doormat. The only cure for this failing is fresh air. The appointed board—like Port Authority, and other agencies—needs citizen advocates who are not in awe of powerful interests.

Last year Allegheny County controller Chelsa Wagner proposed to conduct an audit of county agencies and authorities, including the Stadium Authority. County politicians howled in protest, refusing to permit it and forcing her to unsuccessfully appeal to the courts. One can only wonder what she might have found.

Greg Godels