Beth Pittinger, Executive Director of the Citizen Police Review Board and longtime friend to local activists, seems to have changed her tune of late. Usually on the frontline defending members of the Pittsburgh Organizing Group and other local activists from police-driven infringements on their right to assemble, Pittinger's sensibilities have been offended by local animal rights activists who protested at Dan Onorato's church in response to his decision to kill geese in North Park.
“We’re concerned about the disruption that occurs to the person’s family and neighbors,” says Beth Pittinger, executive director of the CPRB, who called a recent protest by animal-rights activists at the church of county chief executive Dan Onorato “offensive.”
“There are plenty of other places a group can take their protest,” she says.
To protect the home as a “safe haven,” Pittinger wants Pgh City Council to make pickets at dwellings illegal.
Well, that's an interesting twist. It is certainly debatable whether protesting at someone's home is tactically sound or in good taste, assuming one is concerned about such things. But at last check, the Constitution wasn't designed to protect friends and neighbors from being offended.
I'm perplexed that Pittinger has championed this cause. She shows up at just about every peace and justice event in town to keep an eye on police conduct. She pushes for transparency on police procedures regarding crowd control (and the use of tasers). She seems to actually be trying to protect the civil rights of city residents, even when her organization is dismissed as ineffective and powerless.
Unfortunately, I believe that Pittinger has failed to deliver on a promise she made to the LGBTQ community in the fall of 2005 when she agreed to work with the Mayor's office to appoint someone from our community to the CPRB. That was three mayors ago. So I'm skeptical of her ability to deliver. (It would be great if someone could prove me wrong and identify a current member of the CPRB who was appointed to represent the LGBTQ community.)
I'm even more skeptical of her motive for restricting free speech. What does she say to housing and community groups that show up at the front door of slumlords who have refused to take responsibility for their properties? Does the disruption to the neighbors outweight the disruption to the neighbors of the blighted rental properties?
Is it possible that Ms. Pittinger is looking ahead to a potential City-County merger and what that might mean for her organization? Is it just a coincidence that she has spoken out when the protest involved the County Chief Executive, the most powerful Democrat in the region?
I should disclose that Ledcat has ties to the Department of Public Safety, so I fully expect that Ms. Pittinger's defenders would use that to suggest bias on my part. That is probably true. However, I also used to work for a statewide agency that served adults with developmental disabilities and Ms. Pittinger was the former divisional director and ongoing legal guardian to consumers while I was there, giving me ongoing indirect contact with her over civil rights issues. More room for bias? Probably true. Just want to get that out there.
Personally, I think protesting at a church over the geese issue wasn't tactically sound. I think killing geese was a stupid option given that there are proven dog herding methods that are more humane and just as effective. However, I doubt the church folks see it that way. That being said, they had a right to assemble there.
But where would it end? Would survivors of sex abuse at the hands of priests be unable to protest at a church that harbored a perpetrator? What is a so-called Christian politician engaged in political activity in direct conflict with his or her professed faith?
If someone showed up to protest my neighbor harboring her drug-dealing, gun toting son and his incessant need to hurl glass bottles all over the street, I'd bring them glasses of ice team and an assortment of pastries. Alas ///
My favorite example is Fred Phelps of www.godhatesfags.com. He protests at the funeral of soldiers, believing that God is mowing them down to punish America. Laws are being passed to protect the families of soldiers. Unconstitutional laws, but perhaps well intended. Too bad Beth Pittinger and every elected official in the United States didn't feel so moved to restrict free speech when Phelps showed up at the funerals of gay men and women, bearing signs that said “Your son is in hell.” What's more offensive — geese lovers in the parking lot after Mass or a grieving mother faced with personalized hatred directed at her dead child?
The degree of offense is not the point. The point is that Beth Pittinger and the City Council are not in a position to protect people from being offended. Unlike the bubble zone ordinance, this is not a matter of balancing two constitutional rights. If the protestors prevent people from attending their religious services or trespass on private property, enforce the law. But don't strip the protestors of THEIR rights.
One can only imagine that police misconduct must be non-existant if Ms. Pittinger has turned her attention to the woes of Onorato's neighbors. If only that were the case …