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View Article  A Decidedly Unpopular Question About the Tasering of Andre Thomas

I know everyone hates the police for using tasers and anyone who challenges that position is considered a insensitive clod for supporting a police state that brutalizes unarmed citizens.  Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Today's PG features a tidbit about the deceased Mr. Thomas who died after being tased by Swissvale police.  Battles ensue over cause of death. Lawsuits are filed.  Advocates speak out. 

What I learned in the PG is that he had a similar experience four months ago in New Kensington after exhibiting bizarre behavior.  Now it is hard to believe that the New Ken police are in a conspiracy with Swissvale (a bastion of police craziness tis true) so this is what keeps running through my head ...

What has his family been doing for the past four months to get Mr. Thomas some help?  He clearly had some issues, be they mental health or D&A.  Your typical person does not rip out a debit card keypad and use it as a cell phone. 

The police encountered Mr. Thomas for a few minutes.  His family was (hopefully) part of his everyday life and witness to the choices and causes underlying his behavior.  Did anyone try to help him?  Was the money they raised to pay for a private autopsy available for a stint in rehab or a consult with a good psychiatrist? 

Maybe they did everything possible to help Mr. Thomas.  Maybe it was the systems that let him down as funding shrinks and programs close and opportunities shrivel up. 

I'm not justifying the police use of the taser or their behavior afterwards. I'm simply saying that the tragedy of Mr. Thomas' death is much larger than his final moments.  There's a lot of gray here when it comes to his life leading up to those final moments. Where were all the activists and protesters and lawyers when he was struggling through the criminal justice system prior to 2008?  Did anyone write columns about his life back then?  Did he even register on the radar of the local social justice community until he became another piece of evidence on the anti-taser crusade?

Andre Thomas is dead for reasons for more extensive than the brutality of the Swissvale police.  Pick that as your issue if you may, but I am firsthand witness to how the systems have let down another young man with a similar background.  He's barely 20 years old with two jail terms behind him and all of the magical programs set up to help kids in his position are doing nada.  His family enables him to continue living the high life, even counting on his badass reputation to intimidate neighbors.  He's a human being and has demonstrated moments of compassion and decency, even courtesy to me.  That doesn't offset the impact of his drug dealing, drug use and mostly inconsiderate behavior on the quality of life and safety for my family and our neighbors. 

I don't want him or any other young men to die, at the hands of the police or as a result of their own choices.  But I can't help wondering more about Andre Thomas' background.  Who reached out to him?  If he fell through the cracks, should some of the media spotlight be on those cracks, too? 

If we ask how Mr. Thomas died, shouldn't we be asking how he lived, too?  And considering if there is something WE could have done -- we the family, the neighbors, the friends, the community -- something we could have done before his encounter with the Swissvale police?  Or the New Kensington police?  

Yes, the police systems need reform.  The profession attracts some crazy power hungry bastards and what seems to be an inpenetrable union keeps them employed.  Are tasers less brutal than piling up on someone with those beat down sticks?  I don't want to ever be in a position to make that call.  Does the police accountability system set up at the people's behest work in Pittsburgh?  If not, is it always someone else's fault?

These are questions I cannot answer.  I can say that the MH system and the D&A system and the criminal justice system are underfunded and overextended.  I can say that an adult with a criminal record may not find a job with health insurance.  And an adult without health insurance is gonna have a tough time accessing the services that do exist.  Or making a decent enough living.  I can say that having a strong family support network when you are struggling with recovery from a mental illness or an addiction, or when you are reentering society from incarceration, makes all the difference. 

We need better systems.  We need anti-gang programs that return phone calls.  We need COLA adjustments to reduce staff turnover in programs that work.  We need to strengthen families so they can be a source of support for members who need a bit of tough love.  We need better after school programs and more adult male mentors and job opportunities with health insurance benefits and so on and so on.

The tragedy of Mr. Thomas' death is lost if we simply focus on those last few moments.  They deserve scrutiny, but the lives of those who continue to struggle in this Grey area demand that we also consider the bigger picture. 

View Article  Here's What I Just Want to Just Ask Cat: An Open Letter

Dear Cat,

I'm a 37 year old lesbian living and working in the City. Two years ago, I looked out my back window and caught a truck from a local company dumping excess cement into the lot behind my house.  I did all the responsible things -- calling both 911 and the property owner.  Sadly, I had to call the Post-Gazette to get any action on the matter.  Still, the culprit did confess on the front page of the region section of the PG. 

Now, according to local ordinances, I should be entitled to collect a $500 reward for providing information that could have led to the arrest and conviction of the driver and the company.  I've been informed that it is up to the City Solicitor to determine if I deserve my reward.  He won't return my calls. 

Cat, you often advise people to do the right thing from how they treat their loved ones to how they treat themselves.  Tony Norman even praised your sense of community:

 She believes the burden of living a good life means acting generously, even when it's against her best interests.

Has it been in my best interest to spend so many hours trying to address dumping and property maintenance in my little City neighborhood?   Those are hundreds of hours I could have spent visiting with my grandmother, playing with pets, reading, or cleaning out my attic.

While everyone would like $500, it has become a symbol to me -- a sign that it does matter and that our leaders do care and that people should speak up.  How can these same leaders expect people to speak out about violent crime - at personal risk - when the City is so blase about non-violent crime? 

Cat, should people turn in dumpers?  Should the City step up and honor the reward language in their ordinance?  And should your Dad's office return my phone calls? 

Thanks. 

Sue

 

View Article  Sassy Marie's, The Tribune Review, and Smash ... the Lesbians Sum It Up

Wow ... lots to share.

First, we had one of the most delish meals in a long time this weekend at Sassy Marie's on the Northside.  Seriously.  The Cajun pasta I had was super reminiscent of my years in Louisiana.  They made the most delicious version of kettle chips with blue cheese and scallions.  And ... there was bread pudding. Not quite as good as the late Muriel's restaurant, but only this much away.  It was awesome.  AND Sassy Marie's is open on Sundays making it a perfect place to take parents, in-laws and assorted friends.  So that was awesome.

Now I have a confession to make.  I went to see Tropic Thunder. I felt so guilty with every laugh. It was so satirical, but a part of me despised myself for laughing.  As punishment, I opted not to have a drink or popcorn. I still felt really guilty.  It just seems wrong to laugh at someone flinging a child off a bridge.  Like someone should take my social work cred away or something. 

Not to worry.  When we pulled back into our driveway, I discovered that someone had smashed a window in my car.  Yikes!  The police arrived in record time and that's when I discovered that while nothing was actually stolen, the jackasses had tried to steal the car and my ignition was toast.  So I spent the next hour filing a report, talking with neighbors and duct taping a black plastic bag to my car.  Fun. 

Sunday was relatively uneventful. Went to celebrate the 94th birthday of Ledcat's Grandma (my Grandma is only 92).  Hung with the niece and nephew and five kittens.  Big fun.  Plus, cake. 

Today, the Tribune-Review published a little piece on my battle with PennDOT.

"All I wanted to do is report illegal dumping," she said. "They're not being a very good neighbor because they don't maintain the property, which leads to the dumping."

At most, PennDOT cuts the lawn there once a year, she said.

"If they kept the lot reasonably well-maintained, there wouldn't be any cover for people to dump," she said. "The state should set the bar high."

PennDOT is aware of the dumping problem but the overall condition of the property is not too bad, spokesman Jim Struzzi said.

Poor Mr. Struzzi.  It was his office that I called first.  If the woman who answers his phones had simply taken a message about the dumping rather than trying to pass my call on to someone else within PennDOT system, perhaps this whole mess could have been avoided.  Ah well ... this won't really make any difference.

I did, however, think of how much cover those really tall weeds gave to the jackass who tried to steal my car.  It was perfect cover.  Ironic, no?

So, now I have this rental car from Enterprise.  It kind of sucks cause the brakes make noise and the windows aren't electric.  Plus, I had to pick it up downtown.  In rush hour.

Still, my car wasn't actually stolen.  Nothing inside it was stolen.  Maybe it was karma tweaking my liberal guilt? 

I saw Gab Bonesso today.  She mentioned that Tropic Thunder is one of those movies that seems funnier in the rearview mirror than in the theater.  I can see what she means.  I was probably loopy from my bread pudding high, but oh how I laughed.  No such excuse today when I was peeing my pants as we revisited some of the more memorable scenes. 

It was satire, damnit.

View Article  Neville Aggregate is dumping in Manchester

Here you find today's crop of photos from the truck dumping in the lot on Faulsey Way. 

** Mistake: the truck is clearly marked NAC, not MAC as I originally reported. I called and the company is called Neville Aggregate. **

 

 

 

 

View Article  Reviled Pet Store Moves Into Eastside

Well, the yuppies have certainly done it now.  Not satisfied with their choice of hundreds of homeless pets available through the nearby Animal Rescue League and the wonderful pet products offered by Smiley's Pet Pad on Highland Avenue, developers have brought in what is possibly the most low-rent tenant possible for this up and coming part of town - Petland. 

Petland is the ickiest of the pet store chains because they sell dogs and cats and have a horrible reputation for purchasing their animals from puppy mills.  And, yes, a puppy mill is just as awful as it sounds ... almost literally grinding out dogs, designer and otherwise, for consumption by oblivious members of the general public.

It comes down to this ... there are tens of thousands of pets available through our local shelters and rescue groups. If you want a specific breed or a dog that has been tested with small children or what have you, then you can find that special pet with the help of experts who make it their life's passion to rehome unwanted pets.  You can go to www.petfinder.com and search for dogs in the Pittsburgh area as well as find contact information for the breed rescues.  You can go to www.pghdogs.com for similar information.  You can go to Animal Rescue League, Animal Friends and the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society.  You could even go to a reputable breeder, many of whom rescue their breeds, too. 

Don't go buy a dog and contribute to a market system that flourishes on the back of poor little breeding animals living miserably in cages.  You aren't saving the dog in the window of Petland -- you are creating a vacancy for another poor puppy.  Don't buy your toys there, your food there or your leashes and collars. 

Protestors are turning out on a consistent basis at the Petland Store to draw public attention to their ickiness.  The City Paper ran a nice little story which gave the owner ample room to demonstrate what doofus he is.  Yes, I called him a doofus. Anyone who chooses to make a living at the expense of animal welfare deserves far worse.

"We encourage people to adopt animals from shelters," says Eric Caplan. But "Those animals are not for everybody -- if they don't find the right pet [at a shelter], should they not have a pet?" Caplan says Petland's animals are checked by vets, and their temperament is examined before they're sold. And even pet lovers who get their animals from the shelter have reason to celebrate Petland's arrival, Caplan says: Pet guardians need a place to buy food, treats and toys, he points out, and ARL sells only very basic supplies.

Pet guardians?  What the hell is that?  First of all, you can typically find the right animal at a shelter or through the rescue world with just a little patience.  Second, while ARL only sells basic supplies, Smiley's is right around the corner on Highland Avenue with all of your needs.   Not to mention Petco is at the Waterworks and a lot of supplies are available at the local Giant Eagle right across the street.  Most people I know fall into one of two categories -- those who buy pet stuff at the grocery store or those who drive 800 zillion miles to get a very specific type of food.  No one on the East End was suffering for lack of pet supply access. 

I think Caplan sounds like a real genius and I hope the protests grow.  I'm sure many local folks will be duped into shopping at the store without realizing they are damaging the upscale climate they aspire to create on that end of town.

Can you find just the right dog?  Yes.  When we lost Mona, we waited until the time was right and made a list of the attributes we needed in our next pet for her to fit into our household.  Our trainer friend gave us some advice.  She needed to be a female and younger than our other dogs for the sake of peace.  She had to be okay with other dogs and with cats.  We were looking for about a 30lb female around 2 years of age.  We ended up with a 9 lb female around 2 years of age b/c we discovered Ana.  Ana lived in a foster home with five other very large dogs, bigger than our boys even.  That was a huge plus.  Ana had lived around cats.  Another plus.  Ana was housebroken.  Plus.  The drawbacks were that Ana was socially backward and very nervous in new social settings.  We could work with that.  Ana had been kicked by someone in her original home and had a broken pelvis that had healed.  That sealed the deal for us b/c it was very similar to Mona's backstory.

So we found the 'perfect' dog with a little effort and some patience.  It cost us $150 for her adoption fee which gave us a spayed dog up to date on all vaccinations, housebroken and relatively healthy.  It took us two weeks to fully integrate her into the household -- righ tnow she's draped across Xander's back legs, sleeping peacefully.  She may have longterm consequences of her injury, but there's no way to predict long term health consequences/expenses for any pet -- even the most high end bred dog can develop cancer or something equally awful.  

Eric Caplan and his wife made a choice to make their living at the expense of helpless animals.  They could have affiliated with another chain or gone the independent route.  Every dog they sell means another local homeless pet dies.  Every cat they sell means another litter is being coaxed from a mama cat living her entire life in a cage. Does Caplan really think the puppy mill owners are "pet guardians?"

Spare me.  He's a capitalist jerk making money and not too many rungs down from Michael Vicks on the evil people ladder.  Hopefully, East Liberty residents and their neighbors will make the smart choice and avoid this business. 

View Article  The Lot That Ate Manchester: Chelsa Wagner, the Trib and the PG weigh in

This is great.  I put forth great energy to make phone calls, take pictures, share information and draw as much attention as possible to the whole PennDOT situation.  The end result?  PennDOT's Jim Struzzi promises Wagner's people that he will send out inspectors to investigate the piles of gravel and sand as well as have them removed. 

In other words, it worked.  The downside is that PennDOT has reinforced the notion that being a very squeaky wheel gets you some grease.  This time, I used photos, a blog, email lists and communiques with two journalists.  Wagner's people picked up the thread from an email list and took action (Kudos for that leadership).

What's next?  Videotape and soil samples? 

I tried the direct route of calling Mr. Struzzi's office myself and it was his staff that send me on the wild goose chase of talking with 8 other people at PennDOT.  It was the women who answers his phone and some man in the background whom was not identified that told me to call 911. 

Now, Struzzi's camp is trying to paint me as being hysterical over two small piles.  That's a typical response from bureacrats -- the community folks are overreacting, they are being unreasonable, see how quickly we responded when someone important calls us?  It is a page right out of the book of how to govern patriarchically -- treat your subjects/taxpayers like poor, misguided 1950's housewives and be sure to keep them in line.  Hmmm.

Struzzi did tell Wagner's office that PennDOT does not have a maintenance schedule for the property; they cut on an as needed basis.  Apparently, "need" is not affiliated with the City regulations.  And, as we discussed yesterday, BBI is not going too enforce those regulations so we are basically at the mercy of whatever PennDOT staffer is responsible for measuring the grass height. 

Do you think they have a big stick some intern drives around to measure the various properties?  Or is that a union job? Does it require two people to determine the grass needs cut?  Do they have to audition by practicing on the Governor's lawn?  Does it involve one of those little yard gnomes?  In a hard hat and orange safety vest?  Cause that would be one cool job. 

I have property in West Mifflin and if I let the grass grow one quarter inch too long, the Borough sends me a certified letter with about 72 hours to fix the problem before the fines pile up on me.  I don't even leave it to the tenants, but pay a trusted lawn guy to take care of things so I don't have any risks.  It would be great to have an "as needed" policy, but that would make me very unpopular neighbor.  One might say a thoughtless, even a bad, neighbor.

Hmmm.

View Article  Is all this dumping a big anti-gay conspiracy?

I could not friggin believe my eyes when we returned home today and found ANOTHER pile in the field.  This time it was gravel. 

I have several possibilities rolling around in my head.

1.  PennDOT has authorized a subcontractor to store materials on the property, but won't admit it.  It isn't consistent with the gentleman at their press office telling me to report the dumping to 911, unless they are certain that once again the police would not issue a citation.  If PennDOT knows the materials will be gone soon, they may just be foisting me off so they don't have to be acknowledge their disregard for our community (and our tax dollars).

2.  A contractor is using the property without permission and knows PennDOT won't do anything about it.  Or, more importantly, that the materials will all be gone by the time they get around to forcing them to clean it up.  And, apparently, they are aware that the City doesn't impose fines.

3.  Someone is simply dumping excess materials in the lot.  Because they can. 

The key seems to be that the City's lack of enforcement of dumping laws (and fines) creates a general FU sensibility among those who would use City neighborhoods as their trash heap. 

If the City doesn't care enough to enforce the law and PennDOT doesn't care enough to take preventative action ...what's your average inner-city lesbian to do?

View Article  311 Confirms that the City of Pittsburgh doesn't really investigate illegal dumping

I just spoke with 311 about the dumping incident I witnessed yesterday.  She told me that it is very complicated to enforce the dumping regulations so most of the time, Building Inspection just makes the property owners clean it up. 

NOTE:  while i am well aware that the City will deny this or speak in circles about being overwhelmed by all those pesky people complaining about lawbreakers, i am simply reporting what she said to me. 

That sucks.  Why should the property owners get all of the blame, especially when you have eyewitnesses to the dumping?  I mean in this case, PennDOT should share some of the burden b/c they allowed the lot to deteriorate to the point of creating a dumping-friendly zone.  But the City's position means that our state tax dollars go to clean up a mess made by a private company who gets not so much as a slap on the wrist.

Wow.  That's a sweet deal for the City b/c they don't have to expend very many resources and the problem is still solved.  Sort of.  What a great abuse of power! 

I also put in a request for my $500 reward for reporting dumping in 2006.  (See post below for the Post-Gazette link).   I was told that unless the law department has proof of legal action, there is no reward b/c they can't just take my word for it.

Again, sweet maneuver on the part of the City.  In this case, the policeman who responded to the call failed to cite the dumper (and lied to me about his reasons for doing so).  The company cleaned it up, but they still should have been cited.  The fact that the City failed to do so means they save more resources and save themselves a $500 reward.

My bad that I didn't push for an investigation of the police incident at the time.  The City's bad that they have a cop who doesn't follow the rules (shocker!) or devalues the crime of dumping enough to lie for the criminals.  The City's bad that they forced PennDOT's hand to keep their own hands free.  And the City's bad that it took a Post-Gazette article to make something happen.

I did some research and it appears that the "reward fund" is funded by a portion of the fines.  If Building Inspection fails to levy fines, there's obviously no reward monies.  Or is there?

601.15  REWARDS.

(a)   The City Controller is hereby authorized and directed to establish a special trust fund known as the Illegal Dumping Trust Fund for the receipt and deposit of the fines resulting from violations of ? 601.11. A portion of the funds shall be used specifically for rewards, public awareness and costs associated with the investigation and surveillance of illegal dumping activity.
(b)   The Director of Public Safety shall grant rewards up to the sum of five hundred dollars ($500.00) to individuals, organizations or other entities who provide information leading to the arrest and conviction of any individual, firm or corporation violating ? 601.11.
(c)   The rewards shall be granted from the Department of Public Safety Community Crime Prevention Trust Fund, the Illegal Dumping Trust Fund or such other Trust Fund or Code Account within the Department of Public Safety, as the Director shall deem appropriate.

By connecting the reward to the arrest and conviction, the City artfully sidesteps the whole issue if they don't arrest or convict anyone.  Slick, guys. 

The teeny drawback in the equation is losing the incentive to report criminal activity.  My experience with the dumper (MAC and 43rd Street Concerete), the property owner (PennDOT) and the enforcer (City of Pittsburgh) has been like walking upstream wearing rocks in my waders. 

So now I wait on a call back from the City Solicitor's office to inform me if they fined 43rd Street Concrete, the driver, the owner or so forth. (The online Magisterial site doesn't give me that information).  They may have been satisfied with the clean up and let it go at that.  This seems highly inconsistent with the Redd Up crew philosophy.  Why not enforce the dumping law?

On a related note, I find it very sad how many public officials are "complaining" about the high volume of calls on the 311 line, especially those calling to complain about unkempt properties.  Isn't that why the service was created?  You can't cry out "foul" when people remain mum on violent crime and then try to shush them when they do take some actions to reclaim their neighborhoods from non-violent criminals and scofflaws.  If you don't treat our small steps with courtesy and a timely response, why should we trust you when it comes to "snitching" on more serious matters? 

View Article  Photos of PennDOT lot in Manchester after being "cleaned up"

I walked over to take some photos of the sand pile that was dumped by a company known as MAC (acronym? full name?  who knows!).  It gave me a chance to see what PennDOT and their subcontractors from the recent jobs on Chateau Street in Manchester and the West End Circle left behind for the residents of Manchester who come near this property.  Of which there more than a few children as this is, sadly, a playground. 

Take a look:

Is it just me or do you see the humor in the juxtaposition of this sign with a bucket of asphalt?

This is the leftover asphalt no one bothered to clean up. 

 

Here's a close up on the bucket from above.  Looks like wholesome goodness, no?

This is the sand which was dumped on the property today by a company that has the acronym MAC.  It is probably the least dangerous thing in the entire field.  Well, assuming it wasn't dug up from some toxic playground.

This is funny.  No one offered me $500 when I tried to report illegal dumping.  Either time.  Hey.  I should get $500 for that last time in 2006. 

This is why I don't let up on PennDOT.  This is the "screen" provided by the weeds and grass that the state doesn't mow.  It is perfect cover for the dumpers.  The only reason I saw the dumping was because I was standing up on my deck.  I repeat my mantra:  If PennDOT kept the property maintained, like a responsible property owner should do, the dumping would be minimal. 

Here's an assortment of goodies, some left by the road crews and some by unknown entities.  This is what will someday remain of our civilization. 

Classy.  If they would put a Port-a-John on the bike path, it would serve humanity.  But in the middle of this field for weeks after the road work ends ??? Eewww. 

The irony just continues.  This is a hole in the road along Faulsey Way.  This is where PennDOT employees parked their personal vehicles and, occasionally, the big machines they used to rip up Chateau Street.  Now there's a hole in the road.  About 150 yards from the pile of leftover asphalt.  A hole that my City tax dollars will eventually repair.  Ha!

Click on my photos link under PennDOT to see the rest of the shots.  Will anything be done?  Does anyone care?  Should I crouch in the field at 9:15 AM tomorrow, digital camera in hand? 

Yes, someone cares. I care.  It is disgraceful that PennDOT is such a bad neighbor to this community.  Just cut the grass.  Come look at the sand pile and make MAC (whoever that is) clean it up.  Then keep the grass cut. 

Sheesh.  I may have to call the hokey-pokey crew or whatever that new post-modern Redd Up group is called.  But I pay my state taxes.  Use those dollars.  God knows, there are plenty of places Pgh can use the ones I give to them. 

View Article  PennDOT and 311: Trying to be a good citizen is a waste of time

My dear lord.  This morning, Ledcat and I saw a giant dump truck dump a load of sand into the PennDOT owned field behind our house (you'll recall that field).  It dumped and scurried.  We saw the truck. 

Now, PennDOT has had some subcontractors using the property so I decided to call them first to determine if this was a legal delivery of sand rather than an illegal dumping.  I was on the phone for 25 minutes and was transferred more than 7 times before someone took my message.  I called the construction department, the maintenance department, the media department and so forth.  That kind lady finally called me back and told me I should call 911, but did not have any way to verify if the dumping was allowed or illegal. 

So I'm supposed to waste precious local 911 resources b/c no one from PennDOT could talk to me or verify the dumping/non-dumping issue.  What?

Then I tried to call 311.  I was on hold for 17 minutes and 22 seconds.  At first, 4 people were in queu ahead of me, then 6, then 2, then 3, etc.  Then I was dumped into a voicemail (even though I kept pressing the option for a person), a voicemail that was full and unable to take messages. 

Then I called Councilwoman Payne's office.  At least a live person answered the phone.  I've now invested over 60 minutes of my time trying to report a possible crime and no one wants to talk with me.  Payne's staffer at least tried to be helpful, but I think she believes I'm complaining about the overgrowth on the property so I hope that message doesn't dilute the real reason I called.

Sheesh.  Why is this so difficult?  PennDOT should contact the company in question and give them XX amount of time to clean up the dumped materials or press charges.  Simple as that.  It should take four phone calls -- me to PennDOT (maybe a transfer or two at best), PennDOT to the company, the company to the department that cleans up their messes and PennDOT back to me to confirm the impending clean up.

Ha.  Paging Diana Nelson Jones for a follow up story. 

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