Category Archives: Violence

In This Pennsylvania Town, Racism ‘Was Quiet.’ Then Trump Stoked Fears of Violence

Above: Troy Johnson of Aliquippa speaks up on election turmoil

MILTON, Pa. — Kareem Williams Jr. sits on a park bench in the center of town and waits for the racists to attack. He tells himself he is ready. It’s a cool Saturday morning in fall, and the valley is alive with the rumble of pickups.

When the trucks stop, here at the red light at the corner of Broadway and Front Street, drivers gun their engines. Some glare directly into Williams’ eyes.

Williams is a Black man. The drivers are white. All their passengers are white. Williams returns their gaze with equal ferocity. He tells himself he is ready. He is not. His back faces the Susquehanna River. His car is parked a block away. If these white men jump from their truck, fists or pistols raised, Williams has nowhere to run.

The light turns green. Engine roar blasts the river. Williams follows each truck with his eyes until it’s gone.

“I always knew racism was here. But it was quiet,” said Williams, 24, a factory worker and a corporal in the Pennsylvania National Guard who grew up in Milton. “Now, in this election, people are more openly racist. The dirty looks, middle fingers, the Confederate flags.”

To Williams, and to many non-white people he knows in central Pennsylvania, this rise in overtly racist behavior is linked inextricably to the reelection campaign of President Donald Trump. In yards up and down the Central Susquehanna Valley, Williams sees Confederate flags and Trump flags flying side by side. People with the most Trump bumper stickers seem the most likely to shout hateful things.

As the presidential election approaches, Williams said, such threats grow more common, more passionate.

“On election day I’m going to be in my house. I’m not going anywhere,” said Williams, known by his nickname K.J. “If these racists are looking to protest, they’ll go to Harrisburg or Philadelphia or D.C. If they’re looking to kill people, this will be the place. They’re gonna come here.”

Experts on American racial history agree. For Black people living in towns like Milton, they say, the threat of white terrorism is the highest it’s been in generations.

“Historically, most acts of racial terror have been enacted in rural communities, small towns or medium-sized cities,” said Khalil Muhammad, a history professor at Harvard University. “The conditions for wide-scale anti-Black violence are today more likely than at any point in the last 50 years.”

‘That’s a powder keg’

Within a month, 230 communities in Pennsylvania organized 400 anti-racism events, said Lara Putnam, a historian at the University of Pittsburgh who studies grassroots movements.

“That is an insane number,” Putnam said. “It’s an order of magnitude larger than the number of places that ever held a Tea Party event.”

Many protests happened in towns where African Americans and other non-white people constitute a tiny minority, surrounded by rural communities with virtually no people of color at all. Those areas are overwhelmingly conservative, said Daniel Mallinson, a political science professor at Penn State Harrisburg. Out of 6 million votes cast in Pennsylvania in 2016, Trump won the state by 42,000.

But in Milton he dominated, carrying the surrounding Northumberland County by 69%. In front yards and country fields, Trump flags and Confederate flags comingle.

“Traditionally when we think of political candidates, we think of yard signs. But a lot of Trump flags went up in 2016, and in a lot of places they didn’t come down. It’s a visual representation of tribalism in our politics,” Mallinson said. “There’s a lot of implicit and explicit racial bias in central Pennsylvania.”

As local critics and defenders of the white establishment grow more engaged, state and national politics raise the stakes. Pennsylvania is the likeliest state in the nation to decide the presidential election, according to FiveThirtyEight, a polling and analytics aggregator. Statewide polls place Democrat Joe Biden ahead of Trump by 7%, the same as Hillary Clinton’s lead in Pennsylvania three weeks before the 2016 election.

Large-scale voting fraud has never been detected in modern American politics. Yet Trump often claims he can lose only if the 2020 election is fraudulent, which stokes fear and anger among his core supporters, experts said.

“They fully expect Trump will win,” said John Kennedy, a political science professor at West Chester University outside Philadelphia. “When they hear the results on election night, that’s a powder keg.”

Trump also appears to encourage the more violent factions of his coalition. The president repeatedly has declined to promise a peaceful transition of power. He defended Kyle Rittenhouse for killing an unarmed protester in Kenosha, Wisconsin. During the first presidential debate, Trump appeared to encourage white terrorists, urging the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” and insisting that “somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left.”

Some white people in central Pennsylvania appear to be following the president’s lead.

“Do I worry about right-wing vigilante violence against peaceful protests if people are protesting Trump after the election? Yes,” Putnam said. “It’s happening. And there’s every reason to think more of it will happen.”

In September, Trump proposed designating the KKK and antifa as terrorist organizations. Antifa is not an organization, however, but rather an idea shared by some on the left to aggressively challenge fascists and Nazis, especially during street protests.

“President Trump has unequivocally denounced hate groups by name on numerous occasions but the media refuses to accurately cover it because that would mean the end of a Democrat Party talking point,” said Samantha Zager, a Trump campaign spokesperson. “The Trump campaign will patiently wait for the media to develop the same intense curiosity on these actual threats to our democracy as it has with regard to hypothetical scenarios from the left.”

In July, neo-Nazis rallied in Williamsport, 20 miles north of Milton. In August, a white person fired into a crowd of civil rights marchers in Schellsburg, Pennsylvania, wounding a man in the face. At a recent event for police reform in Watsontown, three miles north of Milton along the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, white counter-protesters yelled that Black people “live off white people.”

Overlooking the protest, on the balcony of the Mansion House restaurant, white men stood armed with assault rifles.

“They looked like snipers,” Williams said. “Trump is the motivator in all of this. He has a huge following here.”

The last time America witnessed such an open embrace between white supremacists and the White House was the administration of Woodrow Wilson, said Muhammad.

“You have to go back 100 years,” Muhammad said. “We have every reason to be extremely vigilant about the possibility for violence over the next several weeks. Anywhere where people are flying Confederate flags are places where people ought to be mindful of where they move in public.”

Racism in the land of Chef Boyardee

The side streets of downtown Milton end in rich river bottomlands where the autumn corn grows 7 feet tall.

Continue reading In This Pennsylvania Town, Racism ‘Was Quiet.’ Then Trump Stoked Fears of Violence

Over A Week Of Black Lives Matter Protests Expose Pittsburgh Police’a Weakness In Safely Managing Demonstrations

By Ryan Deto
Pittsburgh City Paper

June 10, 2020 – There have now been more than a dozen protests across the Pittsburgh region for George Floyd, a Black man killed by Minneapolis Police, and Breonna Taylor, a Black woman killed by Louisville police. The protests are condemning police brutality against Black people; the tens of thousands of Pittsburghers who have marched are calling for swift and decisive reforms to police departments.

The vast majority of the protests have concluded without incident or serious confrontation with police. But there has been a lot of confusion around what happened during protests that took place on May 30 and June 1, both of which ended in confrontations with police and police firing tear gas and sponge rounds or rubber bullets.

Many reports have largely relied on information solely from police. And considering that police admitted lying about using tear gas during the protest on June 1, Pittsburgh City Paper is attempting to document what happened on May 30 and June 1 through its own reporting, videos on social media, and other reports from journalists on the ground during these events.

University of Pittsburgh criminology professor and national policing expert David Harris also provided insight after CP informed him in detail of both what has been reported and what CP witnessed on both May 30 and June 1.

Here is what is known from the protest and events following on May 30:

More than 3,000 people marched for about two hours Downtown to PPG Paints Arena without incident. Shortly after they arrived outside the arena, a 20-year-old white Shaler man allegedly damaged an empty police vehicle, spray-painting it and smashing its windows. Shortly after, more young men, both white and Black, continued to damage the vehicle with blunt instruments like baseball bats. Then, several police officers arrived on horseback and surrounded the vehicle, causing the crowd to recede. Some protesters threw a few water bottles at the officers, hitting at least one in the back. The police officers then rode away from the car toward Downtown.

After mounted officers left, more damage was done to the empty vehicle and then it was set on fire. Calls began for the protest to disperse from some apparent protest organizers. At this point, the vast majority of the crowd left. However, about 200 people remained and began demonstrating on Washington Place in front of several police officers, who had already lined up, in riot gear such as face shields, helmets, and batons. Protesters kneeled en masse, and then were instructed to disperse. Then, one or two tear-gas canisters were fired in front of protesters. Many retreated, but then shortly returned. At that point, police broke their line and retreated from the scene entirely. One empty undercover police vehicle was left behind. A small group of protesters then smashed it and set it on fire.

After this, more protesters dispersed and left the scene, but a group of about 100 remained and marched back Downtown. WESA reported that “store windows were shattered along Smithfield Street, and some looting was reported” and that “police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse crowds, as demonstrators again used signage to erect barricades.” Pittsburgh Mayor Peduto tweeted at the time that “those vandalizing Downtown … will be arrested” and protesters who continued Downtown had “turned on the very mission, and more importantly — the people, you supposedly marched for two hours ago.”

Continue reading Over A Week Of Black Lives Matter Protests Expose Pittsburgh Police’a Weakness In Safely Managing Demonstrations

Rape, ‘Football Culture’ and an Ongoing War on Women

In Steubenville, Hundreds Protest Police, Social Media Response to Alleged Rape

By Marylynne Pitz
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

STEUBENVILLE, OH Jan 6, 2012 — For more than three hours Saturday, chants, signs and speeches filled the cold air outside the Jefferson County Courthouse as a crowd of 800 to 1,000 people demanded a more thorough investigation into the alleged rape of a 16-year-old West Virginia teenager by football players from this economically depressed Ohio Valley community.

Two members of the Steubenville High School football team, Trent Mays and Malik Richmond, both 16, have been charged with assaulting the young woman last summer and face trial in February.

The case has attracted national attention because of recent Internet postings, including a 12-minute video of a former Steubenville student recounting the alleged sexual assault in graphic detail. Initially, online conversations focused on a series of alcohol-fueled parties attended Aug. 11 by football players in which the girl, who was inebriated and largely unresponsive, was carried from place to place, photographed and assaulted, according to witnesses. Later postings featured criticism of the teenagers’ behavior and the investigation that followed.

"I will not stand idly by and let a young girl’s life be ruined because she believes everyone is apathetic," said Sable Foster, a 23-year-old Kent State University senior who spoke to the crowd using a bullhorn.

Continue reading Rape, ‘Football Culture’ and an Ongoing War on Women

Tragedies, Crimes and Trayvon Martin

How Newt Played the ‘Race Card’ Against Obama’s Decency

By Carl Davidson
United Steel Workers Blog

Every so often an outrage happens that lights up the sky, like when lighting strikes at night, and all of a sudden everything previously hidden in darkness and shadow stands out in sharp, bright relief.

The murder of Trayvon Martin was such an event, even though it took a while for the rolling thunder of its full impact to spread across the country. Slowly at first, and then in greater leaps, the news media, after being nudged, picked it up.

Continue reading Tragedies, Crimes and Trayvon Martin

End Game: Time to Leave Afghanistan—the Sooner, the Better

Blown Away: How the U.S.

Fanned the Flames in Afghanistan

By Tom Engelhardt and Nick Turse
Beaver County Blue via Tomdispatch.com

Feb. 28, 2012 – Is it all over but the (anti-American) shouting — and the killing? Are the exits finally coming into view?

Sometimes, in a moment, the fog lifts, the clouds shift, and you can finally see the landscape ahead with startling clarity. In Afghanistan, Washington may be reaching that moment in a state of panic, horror, and confusion.  Even as an anxious U.S. commander withdrew American and NATO advisors from Afghan ministries around Kabul last weekend — approximately 300, military spokesman James Williams tells TomDispatch — the ability of American soldiers to remain on giant fortified bases eating pizza and fried chicken into the distant future is not in doubt.

No set of Taliban guerrillas, suicide bombers, or armed Afghan “allies” turning their guns on their American “brothers” can alter that — not as long as Washington is ready to bring the necessary supplies into semi-blockaded Afghanistan at staggering cost.  But sometimes that’s the least of the matter, not the essence of it.  So if you’re in a mood to mark your calendars, late February 2012 may be the moment when the end game for America’s second Afghan War, launched in October 2001, was initially glimpsed.

Continue reading End Game: Time to Leave Afghanistan—the Sooner, the Better

‘City of Steel’ by Jasiri X, Our Own Rapper

By Jasiri X and Paradise Gray

According to the New Pittsburgh Courier, “The average homicide victim in 2010 was a 33–year-old Black male with four prior arrests, most likely shot on the North Side, in the Hill District or the East End with a 9mm semi-automatic pistol in the early morning hours of a Saturday in July. The average shooter was a 29-year-old Black male with four prior arrests. The motive was likely retaliation. And according to the clearance-rate data, there is a 46 percent chance that he is still at large.”

This is why we decided to dedicate our latest video to the problem of violence in our community.

“City of Steel” was filmed on Pittsburgh’s Northside at, Northview Heights housing project, Allegheny County General Hospital, Zone No.1 Police Station, Union Dale Cemetery, and the newly reopened state prison, SCI Pittsburgh.

“City of Steel” was produced by Rel!g!on and directed by Paradise Gray.

This is the third video, in the four video series entitled “The Pittsburgh Press”, which was made possible by a generous Seed Award from the Sprout Fund.

LYRICS

Continue reading ‘City of Steel’ by Jasiri X, Our Own Rapper