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