Does Alleged Misconduct by Pgh Police Department Impact Local LGBTQ Community?

Yes.

I’ll explain.

Police relationships with the LGBTQ community have never been “good”, but certainly have been sliding downhill for the past several years.

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Pgh police were present at the Dyke March for the first time in 2010. The Dyke March started in 2006 – with permits – with no organized presence by the police. Photo: Sue Kerr

Unfortunately, there’s been an escalating “vicious cycle” of non-responsiveness to LGBTQ hate crimes in the City. Police don’t respond appropriately. People don’t report or follow through with reports. Crimes remain unsolved and everyone is unhappy about it. Lots of finger pointing and a very clear unwillingness for the mainstream LGBTQ community to tackle these issues. IMHO, the disconnect reflects a larger disconnect between what we might call “Gay, Inc” of Pittsburgh and the more marginalized members who identify with the queer community. That’s a generalization, but there’s no denying (to me) that socioeconomic status and racial/gender privilege are part of the problem both within the community and with the situation with the police department.

For example, the special events office issues permits for events like the Dyke March. This office failed to tell event organizers that they were fee exempt and failed repeatedly to provide police escorts. For FOUR YEARS. I actually handled the permit myself one year and dragged City Council and the Mayor’s LGBT Advisory Committee into the scenario and there was FINALLY a response. But that’s because it was me and I’m not being cocky – I’m being honest – I knew the ordinance, I am white, I knew what to say and who to call and what pressure to exert. All of that should have been unnecessary. Women who identify as dykes should be free to assemble without being mowed down by tractor trailers on Fifth Avenue regardless of who fills out the paperwork – that’s why the Special Events Office staff are paid – to serve the public, including dykes. So I documented the emerging pattern and raised a royal ruckus because I knew my privilege would generate some attention – and that’s simply wrong. But it was necessary b/c people bring their kids to these events and they deserve to be safe as do all of the attendees.

This sort of recent history is just one cog in a story of “miscommunication” that fueled the bad relationship. But it had a negative impact – it restricted people’s Constitutional right to assemble, to dissent, to speak because their safety was not secured. And that’s wrong.

Emprez & JourDyn were attacked in Pgh bar in Jan 2013
Emprez & JourDyn were attacked in Pgh bar in Jan 2013

BUT, I was heartened even ecstatic when I learned that two women who were allegedly assaulted at Margaritavile on the South Side in mid-January filed police reports. Not only that, but they filed those reports when it happened. They did everything right (including being in the bar in the first place, right?) and have been cooperating with the police to see that justice is done. They worked with our City Councilor, Bruce Kraus. They have done everything that’s been bandied about in the past when it comes to hate crimes.

And they deserve – as do all survivors and victims of crime – justice. They deserve a competent and thorough investigation. And by the looks of things that was happening. How do I know?

  • Ted Hoover from Persad Center has been involved a bit; he works with the local FBI on hate crimes and recently organized a CLE session about hate crimes and available resources.
  • City Councilor Bruce Kraus was personally involved – the alleged assault took place in his District so he has two significant reasons to want a thorough investigation.
  • The survivors, JourDyn and Emprez, are cooperating with the police investigation. Heck no, THEY LAUNCHED the investigation by calling the police from the scene of the alleged crime.

It appears that justice should prevail because the manager of Margaritaville told the City Paper that he had information about the identity of the alleged assailant. That adds up to a good chance to literally – find the guy! And encourage other survivors of hate crimes to report, report, report.

The current chaos in the police department throws a huge monkey wrench into the mix. I’m not suggesting that anyone involved with the investation is involved with the “credit union slush fund” scandal, but having almost the entire upper command staff turned upside down in a weeks time is simply bizarre and certain to have an impact on the day to day work.

gaypolicebadgeWhat I’m questioning is whether a leaderless ship can actually operate efficiently, especially when it comes to such a tenuous issue as a possible hate crime against LGBTQ women? NOTE: There is no hate crime law in Pennsylvania that covers crimes based on sexual orientation or gender identity. There is a federal hate crimes statute (hence, the FBI has been notified) and there is some possibility that if the crime could be connected with GENDER itself which would fall under the current state law. This is speculation on my part and I am not a lawyer. I however believe when JourDyn and Emprez (and other) state that the alleged assault was motivated on hate and prejudice.

This is after all just two assault crimes amongst hundreds of crimes being investigated. With so much chaos and uncertainty and a very much unfinished investigation of various possible criminal conduct at the top, what can we expect on a day to day basis? Each day brings new revelations – what qualified individual in their right mind would take the helm of this ship three months before a primary election? or while the current Mayor has not yet been fully exonerated?

Whatever happens to the command staff or the mayoral race, there is no question that there is an immediate need to reassure the public, including the LGBTQ community, that public safety will not be compromised. Remember, a percentage of the crimes in our community seem to take place where the secondary details are working – bars, special events, etc. This is relevant. 

Is that remotely possible when the acting Chief oversaw the special events office when it was not providing police coverage to the Dyke March?

During her times as assistant chief of administration, Chief McDonald oversaw the special events office and, until Chief Harper took control of it in 2010 for undisclosed reasons, the personnel and finance office (h/t Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Something to think about. I don’t know if the “miscommunication” over the Dyke March was driven by homophobia or incompetency or corruption. Certainly, the police have been present at other events and by all reports, done their job well. And when they *did* finally turn out for the Dyke March – they did their job. One officer even told me about his lesbian daughter, etc.

Finally, let’s remember that these private details are paid for with some of our money – we fund Pridefest and Dyke Marches and other LGBTQ events with our dues, our ticket fees, our donations and our tax dollars. We patronize businesses that use off-duty police officers to provide security. We have an investment in a system that’s fair and accountable to ensure our money is well spent on public safety, both at our events and in a general sense.

So what do we want? When do we want it?

  • I want the assailant in the Margaritaville incident found, arrested and charged with assault and whatever charges the hate crimes law permits.
  • I want him to have a trial and I want the community to turn out to urge that he NOT get a plea bargain to disorderly conduct.
  • I want him to be assigned to some sort of community service where he learns a bit about the LGBTQ community.
  • I want justice for JourDyn and Emprez and for all the nameless victms who have endured this type (and worse) behavior in the past. I want the next survivor – and there will be one – to also call 911.

And I want a stable police department that is focused on public safety, not scandal and slush funds.

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  • Sue, you make great points. One I want to reiterate is the LGBT community must report hate crimes where and when they happen. So few have been reported in resent years that the head of Public Safety was not aware of a problem. We must call 911 immediately if we are assaulted for being LGBT.

    • @WendiMiller Wendi, thank you for commenting. However, if what you are saying is true –
      that would make the director of public safety a fool.
       
      Perhaps he should make sure the Margaritaville assault is being thoroughly investigated and the assailant is arrested. It has been reported that the survivors had photos and the manager of the bar knew the identity of the assailant. An arrest and prosecution would be the most effective way to encourage other LGBTQ folks to report crimes. 
       
      JourDyn and Emprez reported. Hopefully, the system will prove you are right and justice will be served. I realize it takes time to complete an investigation – but I think that’s where Mr. Huss’ attention should be – proof is in the pudding? 
       
      Thanks again for responding.

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