by Bram Reichbaum
A letter of demands is being pointedly and precociously circulated throughout Pittsburgh in reaction to the Zimmerman acquittal, viewed by many as a fresh and chilling demonstration of racial inequality. Such comprehensive disparities have long been roiling on the City’s front-burner.
Let’s take a gander at this fresh playbook. What could go wrong?
1. We demand an official public step forward against injustice denouncing:
- the now state-sanctioned murder of Trayvon Martin,
- the initial lack of response by the police,
- the inequitably enforced laws and judicial system that allowed George Zimmerman to be found NOT GUILTY of all charges.
That’s a proclamation. One with which I do not have much of an objection. It may be problematic for public officials to solemnly declare that a citizen who has been acquitted by our system is a “murderer,” but language is a wonderful thing.
2. We demand the City of Pittsburgh to denounce Pennsylvania’s version of the Stand Your Ground law.
The Castle Doctrine? That’s another proclamation, and another one that seems fine. There is already a right to self-defense. It’s dangerous to have additional extraneous laws floating around suggesting to random non-legal scholars that it’s increasingly okay to shoot people when they bother you.
3. We demand the Pittsburgh legal system begin in-depth investigation of its own verdicts and systemic criminalization, abduction, abuse and murder of Black people, demonstrated by countless cases of injustice including Jordan Miles, Avis Lee and Terrell Johnson.
This one may be the most problematic of the fourteen. Government attorneys naturally and understandably recoil from admitting institutional fault, and from publicly investigating the possibility of fault without overwhelming necessity for doing so. And government leaders are very prone to heed the strenuous counsel of their attorneys.
There is also a manpower concern. Who would be suitable to work on this (the District Attorney’s office?) and what tasks would these specially skilled individuals be dropping in favor of this project?
Problematic though it may be, it’s still a good idea. Surely someone could wrangle a Blue Ribbon Commission of some sort. I would be curious to see how it proceeds – and unlike these proclamations, it would focus and educate the public mind over time.
4. We demand continuous commitment to allocating the resources necessary to support the self-determination of Black communities particularly insuring the safety and freedom of movement for all residents.
This one I understand least upon reading it. But if we’re talking about doling out the City’s standard allotment of economic development petty cash to support self-determination, that sounds a bit in line with the community-based grassroots small-business incubating bottom-up flip-the-paradigm damn-the-torpedoes redevelopment policies promised at length by candidate Peduto.
“Safety and freedom of movement,” within the context of resources, sounds a bit like complete streets or public transportation? Or possibly policing guidelines? We shall have to learn more, but at any rate, no red flags here. We like self-determination and freedom.
5. We demand continuous commitment to allocating the resources necessary to support Black communities’ self-determination in regards to property and land use, including but not limited to vacant properties and abandoned school buildings. We demand the halt to any development in historically Black neighborhoods that does not include community consensus or benefit as determined by the Black and senior residents themselves. We demand the financial and technical support necessary for community-directed development.
See my reaction to #4.
It bears acknowledging that many in the audience will now be sighing, “Resources, resources! They want money, money, money. It’s a shakedown, they want a nanny, cradle-to-grave.”
What may not be as widely understood, is that there already is ample provision in law and funding from state and federal government to provide resources flexibly to poor communities. Community Development Block Grants (CDBG funds) are only the single clearest example, as these are issued according to how many poverty-stricken census tracts exist in an area. The only policy difference is, these protesters are proposing that we use these funds as actually intended – gasp! – and with greater innovation and sensitivity.
6. We demand all development in Black neighborhoods directly benefit that community and be decided upon with meaningful neighborhood consent, participation and leadership.
Would this Larimer redevelopment plan qualify or not? Probably not to these particular protesters’ standards of participation and leadership – but I suppose there is time for debate.
Again, this proposal strikes a similar chord to that which elected the City’s next leader. Moving forward on this should be non-problematic, though forging that community consent in ways that satisfy most everyone’s appetites for jobs and development will be an ongoing challenge / opportunity.
7. We demand the City of Pittsburgh actively support the creation of Black economic initiatives through policy, funding and other resources.
Is this in other words ensuring these issues become a structurally ongoing priority? As in starting, funding and appropriately utilizing a new Office of Urban Affairs? This too we have already been assured is on the way.
Another demand to file under “non-problematic” (this is getting routine).
8. We demand the elimination of food deserts within the City of Pittsburgh and access to fresh and healthy food for all
A specific and appropriate policy goal. I don’t remember if it was Ruth Ann Daily or Heather Heidelbaugh, but one of those conservative pundits said during a round table years ago about grocery stores in poor communities, “This is what government subsidies should actually be for.” We are not a geographically large City and the costs of helping to underwrite grocer needs, relative to many other things, is not “nominal” but it’s acceptable.
Besides which there are models like community gardens and farmers’ markets, which are all the rage. Now that they’ve gotten specific in their demands, they could have chosen worse than “Make it easy on families to eat good.”
9. We demand a coalition of medical and wellness professionals, provider organizations, agencies and community activists to address the extreme disparities in the physical well-being of Black people as compared to whites in Pittsburgh which is demonstrated in part by the current Black infant mortality rate and the abysmal life expectancy of Black women.
That sounds ambitious, but we have enough academics and non-profits in the region who probably would love to work on this, were it organized and funded. It’s a longer-term goal, but with continued advocacy I can see this easily taking care of itself. Perhaps I should hasten to note that if medical and wellness professionals are organized and present in a Black community, they probably won’t kick White people out the door.
10. We demand Pittsburgh institutions attend organizational anti-racist training, conduct an examination of white supremacist tendencies and demonstrate equitable internal and external dynamics and distribution of power.
11. We demand all employees of government and service institutions attend anti-racist training and are held accountable for demonstrations of white privilege and supremacy.
Let me tell you, a lot of people do not like hearing or seeing the words “white privilege” or “white supremacy,” to the point of lashing back or switching off. I’m not sure why. Clearly in this country, white persons enjoy more routine social privilege and are culturally and socially supreme, and at least a part of that is due to self-reinforcing cycles.
I am skeptical that “anti-racist training” is very effective, or that it can be conducted with motivated and properly educated professionalism on a large scale. But on the flip side, I honestly don’t mind throwing the words “white privilege” and “white supremacy” in front of public representatives, making them engage with it, encouraging them to argue about it, and having somebody present who is accustomed to fielding the emotional objections and interactively illustrating what is meant by it. It’s not about making white people feel bad or guilty, it’s about coaxing them into examining their own routine experiences versus those of others.
12. We demand culturally-relevant emotional support for Black communities in response to trauma.
To me this emphasizes, “the things going on in our communities, they can be traumatic. And given our other problems, trauma is dangerous.” Putting some thought into how to address traumatized groups of residents seems fine and of minimal expense.
13. We demand the City of Pittsburgh create a Human Rights Bill as an active demonstration of the inalienable right for all to be, the immeasurable value of the lives, bodies and minds of all oppressed people and a commitment to true physical and emotional justice for oppressed people within the City of Pittsburgh.
Sounds like an ambitious and worthy project, though not one that is conceptually far-along yet. Rather than yet another quick-and-dirty proclamation, I wonder if the City could even pass a Human Rights Bill guaranteeing actionable rights and meaningful despite State and Federal law. This one seems a bit like a dream, but determined dreamers interested in framing such a bill can surely do so, as City leaders periodically meet with them to provide an awareness of prevailing senses of practicality, and to get inspired themselves.
14. Finally, we demand the City of Pittsburgh hold the tragic death of Trayvon Martin as a wake up call to the culture of white supremacy that produces, protects and inflicts emotional, institutional, legal, economic violence on Black lives and bodies.
They make a bonus demand:
We demand Pittsburgh renounce “America’s Most Livable City” title until these demands are met.
Pittsburgh has so much going for it nowadays, we can do without one particular and dusty marketing slogan – one which rings increasingly dissonant internally (by which I mean, within the City, as well as in the mouth). City salespeople can dream up a fresher, more strategically advantageous bumper sticker – and meanwhile the City can make a momentous, unusual statement acknowledging challenges. I think a lot of people would be surprised by it and appreciate it. Spun correctly, we might even get another round of good press – as we remind everyone how Livable others find us, and demonstrate just how earnest and thoughtful we are these days.
In short, this is impressive work for residents gathered in the middle of a street and at a slumber party in City Hall.
Besides, why not confront the City’s single biggest, toughest challenge head-on with proportionate intentionality and concentration?
This Pittsburgher has yet to see a better blueprint for making civic headway, so until further notice, let’s all just work off of this. The recently initiated Pittsburgh Black Political Convention also just provided some great material in its Agenda. Ideally the two should merge at some point, but we recommend working that which is unique to the PBPC agenda into this new outline, because we’re rude that way.