Friday, January 13, 2017

Pittsburgh’s National Day of Action for Immigrant Rights draws a rally for local undocumented immigrant

Posted By on Fri, Jan 13, 2017 at 5:39 PM

  • Image courtesy of United We Dream
On Jan. 14, immigrant-rights groups will be gathering in their respective cities across the country to protest President-elect Donald Trump and his campaign promises to carry out mass deportations. Demonstrations are planned in at least 20 states as part of national immigrant-rights group United We Dream’s #HereToStay campaign.

In Pittsburgh, ralliers will gather in Beechview to protest not only Trump’s campaign promises and the practices of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, but also the in-process deportation of one of the city’s undocumented immigrants, Martín Esquivel-Hernandez.

“Tomorrow people are going to stand with immigrants and refugees and stand with Martín Esquivel-Hernandez,” says Christina Castillo of the advocacy group the Thomas Merton Center. “Because he was a community leader and father, and this is the time to tell ICE that Martin belongs here in Pittsburgh.”

Esquivel-Hernandez is currently in ICE custody in the Seneca County Jail in Northwest Ohio. ICE officials told City Paper last week that they intend to deport him, even though he accepted a plea deal to lower his felony re-entry charge to a misdemeanor, had no prior criminal record other than minor traffic violations, has a young family (including a U.S. citizen son), and has been an advocate for Pittsburgh’s Latino community.

Castillo says she expects more than 100 protesters to join in and they will recreate the last immigrant-rights march that Esquivel-Hernandez took before he was detained by ICE in May 2016. They will stop the march the last place he was photographed, because “we can't continue this march without Martín,” says Castillo. “We will only march a short distance in the hopes that he will be able to rejoin us the next time.”

For those interested in attending, the rally will start at 2:30 p.m. on Jan. 14 at St. Catherine of Siena Church at 1810 Belasco Ave. in Beechview. Castillo says for those unable to attend, they can do their part by calling the office Detroit ICE Field Office Director Rebecca Adducci at 313-568-6036 and request she practice “prosecutorial discretion” and release Esquivel-Hernandez.

Esquivel-Hernandez’s wife, Alma Brigido, will be speaking in Detroit on Jan. 14 in hopes to be reunited with her husband. ICE has hinted that Esquivel-Hernandez could be deported sometime next week.

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Pittsburgh police chief stands by officer in altercation with Steelers coach Joey Porter; DA wthdraws most charges

Posted By on Fri, Jan 13, 2017 at 5:35 PM

  • Photo by Rebecca Addison
Earlier today, Pittsburgh Bureau of Police acting chief Scott Schubert reaffirmed his support for officer Paul Abel who was involved in an altercation with Steelers assistant coach Joey Porter over the weekend.

"I fully support the officer and the action he took during this incident," Schubert said. "I support what he went through and the arrest that he made, just as I would support any officers given similar circumstance to what occurred that night."

Following an altercation where police say Porter was psychically combative with a South Side bouncer and officer Abel, the Steelers coach was initially charged with aggravated assault, simple assault, resisting arrest, defiant trespass, disorderly conduct and public drunkenness.

But yesterday the Allegheny County District Attorney's office announced they were withdrawing the assault charges against Porter. In a statement, the district attorney's office said:
  • City Paper File Photo
"Today our office was able to view surveillance video showing multiple angles of the events that led to the arrest of Steelers coach Joey Porter. Following that review, it is the position of the office that the only charges supported by the video are summary disorderly conduct and summary public drunkenness. Our office will proceed on those charges, and barring any additional evidence that is brought forward, we will withdraw the other charges at the appropriate time."

In a statement on Tuesday, Schubert disagreed with the district attorney's office when he said he "concluded that the officer's account of the incident is accurate" based on his review of the video footage available. Before the press today, Schubert would not comment on the the disparity between his and the DA's statements and said he believes Abel filed the appropriate charges.

"I have a lot of respect for District Attorney Zappala," Schubert said. "I'm not going to go in the media and do anything that counters that relationship."

City Paper also questioned why media outlets listed Porter's previous troubles without also mentioning Abel's. Today, the Steelers announced Porter's suspension was lifted and the linebackers' coach will be on the sidelines for the Steelers playoff game Sunday night in Kansas City.

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Pittsburgh fans cheer on Steelers at Friday's playoff rally downtown; game time moved to 8:20 p.m. Sunday evening

Posted By on Fri, Jan 13, 2017 at 4:17 PM

  • Photo by Kevin Shepherd
Steelers fans filled the courtyard of the County Courthouse in Downtown Pittsburgh earlier today, wearing black and gold and chanting the familiar anthem, "Here we go, Steelers, here we go!"

The large crowd had gathered for a playoff rally to cheer on the team after last weekend's win against the Miami Dolphins moved them one game closer to the Super Bowl.

The rally included Terrible Towel and Steelers hats giveaways, an appearance by mascot Steely McBeam, The Pittsburgh Steeline drumline, and former Steelers Craig Wolfley, Chris Hoke and Tunch Ilkin.

The Steelers face the Kansas City Chiefs at 8:20 p.m. on Sunday. The game was moved back due to inclement weather expected in the Kansas City area.
  • Photo by Kevin Shepherd
  • Photo by Kevin Shepherd
  • Photos by Kevin Shepherd
  • Photo by Kevin Shepherd
  • Photo by Kevin Shepherd

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Grand opening tomorrow for Pittsburgh’s City of Asylum Books

Posted By on Fri, Jan 13, 2017 at 1:51 PM

The long-awaited North Side bookstore specializing in works in translation and world literature opens tomorrow with attractions including an all-ages children’s story hour at 11:30 a.m.

City of Asylum bookstore
  • City of Asylum bookstore
The store is run by Lesley Rains, who previously owned East End Book Exchange. Rains says the store has 8,000 books (some used, but mostly new). The stock includes poetry, classic literature, children’s books, graphic novels, and titles from such prestigious small presses as New York Review of Books, Copper Canyon, and Dalkey Archive Press.

Stopping by earlier today, I also spotted contemporary fiction and nonfiction, and works by such local talents as poet Terrance Hayes.

The store is part of City of Asylum’s new headquarters, Alphabet City, located on West North Avenue, two blocks from Allegheny General Hospital. The building's big, day-lit first floor also includes a performance space and a soon-to-open restaurant.

City of Asylum, founded in 2004, is a nonprofit that shelters and supports writers persecuted in their home countries. It also offers a year-round slate of readings, concerts and other cultural events.

The book store's grand opening tomorrow will include discounts, giveaways, coffee and snacks, and more.

It will not, however, be the first official public event at Alphabet City. In keeping with City of Asylum's international mission, that milestone occurred just a couple hours ago, with the swearing-in of 18 new American citizens from 13 countries by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. Among the new citizens was Silvia Duarte, the native of Guatemala who is City of Asylum’s assistant director and also managing editor of its online publication Sampsonia Way.

City of Asylum books will be open tomorrow 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Starting next week, says Rains, it will keep regular hours of 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, and noon-4 p.m. Sundays.

Alphabet City is located at 40 W. North Ave.

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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Pa. Attorney General-elect Josh Shapiro pledges to address fraud against consumers

Posted By on Thu, Jan 12, 2017 at 5:01 PM

  • Photo courtesy of campaign
Approximately one year ago, Margaret Pietz, of Pittsburgh, received a call from a man claiming her grandson had been in a car accident. Allegedly, the boy had been driving a friend's car, and the man on the phone told Pietz he could make the problem go away if she sent money for repairs.

Many people have heard about scams like these. Whether it's a person calling asking for money to help with a family emergency, or someone claiming to be an official agency like the Internal Revenue Service, the scam artists are looking for easy targets who won't ask questions. But Pietz wasn't one of them.

"The more I thought about it, the more I knew it was a scam," Pietz said at a forum earlier this week.

The Jan. 10 forum, held in Squirrel Hill, was hosted by Pennsylvania Attorney General-elect Josh Shapiro to discuss consumer protection and frauds against consumers. There, Shapiro pledged to fight against instances of fraud like Pietz experienced.

"There are scammers out there," Shapiro said. "We need the tools to go after them."

Other types of fraud and consumer-protection issues discussed included payday lending, fraudulent contractors, rent-to-own properties, and entities that take advantage of veterans. Ben Stahl, executive director of Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania, says veterans often fall victim to for-profit education institutions and dishonest VA home-loan lenders.

"You'll see veterans see their GI bill completely drained," Stahl said.

"That's disgusting," Shapiro replied.

Another big topic at the forum was the conflict between Highmark and UPMC. The two health-care providers have been at odds for several years, and Lois Campbell, an organizer with the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network, says senior citizens using Highmark insurance worry about being being barred from UPMC facilities. A consent decree that allows for access across the networks ends January 2019, a date Shapiro said he is well aware of.

"Anytime I'm in Pittsburgh, the issue of Highmark and UPMC comes up," Shapiro said.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Shapiro announced for the first time that he would be creating an office of public engagement to provide consumers with better service from the attorney general's office.

"We can no longer be an attorney general's office that just looks inwards, just sitting in our office," Shapiro says.

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Community-led business incubator to launch in Wilkinsburg

Posted By on Thu, Jan 12, 2017 at 2:51 PM

  • Image courtesy of New Sun Rising
While to outsiders Wilkinsburg is mostly known for its problems with crime (most notably the mass shooting that happened there last spring), those who live in the community see many of the positive things happening in the borough. New shops have moved into town over the last couple years and the borough is planning a big restoration of their old train station.

And to capitalize on this momentum, New Sun Rising, an organization specializing in community-based business incubators, is opening a 12-month long business incubator called Launch Wilkinsburg in partnership with the Wilkinsburg Chamber of Commerce. New Sun Rising has had previous success with this model in communities like Pittsburgh’s North Side, as well as Millvale.

“Together, our work will activate the self-identified priorities of community members,” said New Sun Rising director Scott Wolovich in a press release, “while inspiring creativity, fostering innovation, and strengthening networks within Wilkinsburg.”

Launch Wilkinsburg will provide people looking to start businesses in the borough access to experts and consultants, connections to partners, potential funding opportunities all in a physical space. The incubator, to be located at 900 Wood Street,  will also include teams of residents who will guide businesses on how to best impact the community, with an emphasis on improving community engagement, vacant lots, Main Street development, the arts and culture.

“I believe now is a great time to invest in Wilkinsburg,” said Wilkinsburg Chamber of Commerce president Yvonne James in a press release. “As we watch our community revitalize it is exciting to see a new generation of folks ‘reinventing’ our business district while still preserving our beautiful architecture and realize small walkable business districts are the new norm and are anxious to be a part of this great affordable change.”

Interested parties are encouraged to apply to the year-long program before the deadline on Jan. 18 at 11:59 p.m. To submit an application and learn more about the program, please visit the Launch Wilkinsburg website.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

“Tomorrow’s Parties” launches "Strange Times" series at Pittsburgh’s New Hazlett Theater

Posted By on Wed, Jan 11, 2017 at 11:44 AM

What is the future?

Claire Marshall and Richard Lowdon in "Tomorrow's Parties"
  • Claire Marshall and Richard Lowdon in "Tomorrow's Parties"
After seeing this stage work, performed last night by England’s acclaimed Forced Entertainment, I have the sense that the future is an empty box we can’t help opening, again and again.

The show consists of just two performers, Richard Lowdon and Claire Marshall, standing in one spot and for 80 minutes delivering visions of what life on Earth will be like some years from now.

The prognostications often contradict each other: Their predictions of Earth’s population, for instance, range from zero humans to so many people that life resembles a perpetual subway ride. And over the course of the evening, everything is addressed from what and how we’ll eat, and whether we’ll need to work, to alien invasions and attempts to colonize space (and the ocean floor). Complete surveillance or utter lawlessness? Suicide pills or climate-controlled paradise?

It’s a brilliantly simple concept (OK, deceptively simple, too), cogently executed with near deadpan sincerity, and often very funny. It was also a great way to kick off the Carnegie Museums’ series Strange Times: Earth in the Age of the Human. The four-month, 10-event program features performances, talks and presentations that ask, as the Carnegie puts it, “Will we survive ourselves?”

I’m still mulling over Tomorrow’s Parties (with its title's wry Velvet Underground reference), but part of what I found fascinating was the way it played with how any scenario of the future someone wants to spin always seems at least vaguely plausible, if only because it invariably feels like an extrapolation of some half-remembered news item about gene-splicing, pandemic disease, mass extinction or space travel.

“The future,” in other words, is this repository for all our hopes and fears, and Lowdon and Marshall (working from a concept co-devised by them with Forced Entertainment's other four troupe members) bring out the myriad of ways it teases, taunts and scares us.

The stage is a pair of stacked wooden pallets, dressed with a simple and sad string of fairground lights. There’s no music or other effects, and Lowdon and Marshall are costumed like your suburban in-laws stopping by after church. Over the course of the evening, subtle flashes of interplay emerge between the two actors, suggesting how one’s personality influences how one sees the future.

But what’s perhaps most plangent about Tomorrow’s Parties is that there’s never any sense that the future is something we can make, or even change: It’s just something, for good or ill, that will happen, and we’ll have to live in, or with.

Forced Entertainment plays the Hazlett again tonight, but with a different show. Real Magic, the troupe’s newest, looks to be a rather more antic work, a largely comedic piece about “optimism, individual agency and the desire for change.”

Real Magic starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $12-15 and are available here.

The New Hazlett is located at 6 Allegheny Square East, on the North Side.

Strange Times continues on Feb. 16 with Big Farms Make Big Flu, an evening with visiting author Rob Wallace and Carnegie Mellon University art professor Richard Pell (founder of the Pittsburgh-based Center for PostNatural History), who’ll discuss the drawbacks of globalized food systems.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Volunteer Fair on Thursday night at Pittsburgh’s Spirit

Posted By on Tue, Jan 10, 2017 at 12:00 PM

If you’re eager to improve your community but aren’t sure how to begin, a good place to start is Help or High Water.

The evening-length volunteer fair at the popular Lawrenceville gathering place will feature representatives from dozens of local nonprofit groups working on everything from feeding people to reproductive justice, and from environmental issues to immigrant rights.

Groups include: 412 Food Rescue; the American Civil Liberties Union; Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh; Gay for Good: Pittsburgh; Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council; Islamic Center of Pittsburgh; New Voices Pittsburgh; PennFuture; Pittsburgh Action Against Rape; Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania; and many more.

The groups are looking for volunteers, financial contributions and more. The evening also includes raffles for prizes from a long roster of local shops, restaurants and cafes; a DJ; drink specials; and more. For updates, see Facebook.

Help or High Water is organized by Alicia Carberry. She's a legislative assistant for Pittsburgh City Councilor Dan Gilman whose own volunteer activities involve groups including Allegheny CleanWays.

Help or High Water runs 5-11 p.m Thu., Jan. 12. Admission is free.

Spirit is located at 242 51st St.

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Monday, January 9, 2017

Following arrest, media lists Pittsburgh Steelers Coach Joey Porter's past legal trouble but ignore those of the arresting officer

Posted By on Mon, Jan 9, 2017 at 6:19 PM

  • City Paper File Photo
  • Joey Porter
By now you've most likely learned that Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebackers coach Joey Porter was arrested Sunday evening following the Steelers' playoff victory over the Miami Dolphins. According to ESPN, the former Steelers player was arrested outside of a bar in the South Side after an altercation with a bouncer and off-duty police officer Paul Abel.

The team has placed Porter on leave during the investigation.

According to ESPN's article and other local publications like the Pittsburgh Tribune Review and Pittsburgh Post Gazette, this isn't Porter's first run in with the law. Porter was arrested under suspicion of drunken driving, assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest in California in 2010. And according to the Trib, "In September 2006, Porter was cited when two of his dogs got loose from his Pine home and killed a miniature horse at a neighbor's farm."

But the articles fail to add that this isn't Pittsburgh Police Officer Abel's first high-profile altercation either. In 2008, Abel was arrested on charges that he pistol-whipped and accidentally shot a man he mistook for someone that he had an altercation with in a bar. He was also allegedly intoxicated and had been driving drunk. While Abel was initially suspended without pay, Judge Jeffrey Manning cleared him of criminal wrongdoing although he said, according to the Post-Gazette that Abel's actions were "inappropriate, imprudent and ill-advised." Even though he was trying to detain the wrong man, Abel said he was trying to make an arrest, not retaliate. Manning said, "It is not the obligation of this court to police the police department." As we're sure you can deduce, Abel went back to work on the police force. The city, however, paid the victim, Kaleb Miller, a $44,500 settlement.

Abel was also the subject of at least three other complaints made to the Pittsburgh Citizens Police review board. One involved Abel's wife alleging that her husband forced her to accuse the grandparents of her children of sexual abuse during a custody dispute. Another involved Abel fighting with his brother-in-law in the hallway of the Allegheny County Courthouse and still another alleged that Abel slammed a man's head into a wall when he asked the officer not to shoot his grandfather with a Taser. No criminal charges have ever been filed in any of the cases.

According to a report filed by Abel in the Saturday incident, the officer attempted to restrain Porter after the Steelers coach lifted Flats on Carson doorman Jon Nesgow off the ground. Abel says Porter than grabbed him by the wrists, after which Abel called for backup and Porter was arrested.

According to the report Abel was wearing a body camera but he didn't turn it on until after he was grabbed by Porter.

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ICE deems Pittsburgh undocumented immigrant a priority; supporters scrambling to save him from deportation

Posted By on Mon, Jan 9, 2017 at 5:37 PM

Martin Esquivel-Hernandez (center) at an immigrant-rights rally in Beechview - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Martin Esquivel-Hernandez (center) at an immigrant-rights rally in Beechview
At 3:30 p.m. on Jan. 9, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers made their intentions known on how they intend to handle the case of Martín Esquivel-Hernandez, a Pittsburgh resident and undocumented immigrant from Mexico.

“Mr. Esquivel-Hernandez has two misdemeanor convictions, one from 2012 and 2017, and federal authorities removed him to Mexico four times since 2011, with the latest removal taking place in 2012,” wrote ICE officials in an email to City Paper. “As a result, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has designated Mr. Esquivel-Hernandez’s case as a priority for immigration enforcement.”

Esquivel-Hernandez has lived in Pittsburgh for more than four years, with his wife, three children (including a U.S. citizen son). He supports his family by working in the residential construction industry. He is active at two Pittsburgh churches and has become a volunteer and advocate in the region’s Latino community. Other than two minor traffic citations (driving without a valid license, which he can’t legally obtain in Pennsylvania), Esquivel-Hernandez has no local criminal record. His only two aforementioned misdemeanors are illegal entry and intentionally falsifying identification; he did both these crimes to escape his gang-riddled Mexico City slum and reunite with his young family, who had moved to the U.S. before him.

Mount Lebanon Police, who cited Esquivel-Hernandez for driving without a valid license, contacted ICE shortly after citing him. He was picked up by ICE the day after participating in a immigrant-rights rally on May 2. He has been in custody ever since, mostly at a for-profit, private prison in Youngstown, Ohio.

Guillermo Perez, of Pittsburgh Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, who has spent months advocating on behalf of Esquivel-Hernandez, says ICE should not make any decisions regarding Esquivel-Hernandez before it learns more about him. LCLAA filed a stay on behalf of Esquivel-Hernandez on Jan. 9, in hopes that ICE officers have more time to review his case before deporting him.

"It’s puzzling to us why ICE would issue this statement on the same day that they know [LCLAA is] filing an application for a stay for [Esquivel-Hernandez's] order of deportation," wrote Perez in an email to CP. "It suggests that they’re not interested in hearing from the many local faith, labor, and community leaders who have submitted compelling letters of support for Martín, or from the more than 1,000 Pittsburghers who have signed the online petition urging that he be returned to his family and community."

For the first eight months of his detention, Esquivel-Hernandez was under the jurisdiction of the Philadelphia ICE field office and was only transferred to the Detroit field office in late December 2016.

After a seven-month campaign, during which advocates for Esquivel-Hernandez held rallies; received support from politicians like Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and Congressman Mike Doyle (D-Swissvale); and participated in prayer circles with faith-leaders, Esquivel-Hernandez’s lawyer Sally Frick was able to negotiate a plea deal that would lessen his initial felony charge to a misdemeanor and give him the best chance at avoiding deportation.

“This case was resolved in a way to avoid deportation consequences for [Esquivel-Hernandez],” says Perez. “The U.S. attorney [Soo Song] and district judge [Donetta Ambrose] are with us, that he should not be deported.”

During Esquivel-Hernandez’s sentencing hearing in December, Ambrose said “[Esquivel-Hernandez shows] nothing that threatens society in any way. I believe [his] motives were pure in coming here.”

In response to the news Esquivel-Hernandez could be deported Jan. 10, a group of Pittsburghers are pulling out all the stops to get ICE Detroit field officer Rebecca Adducci to drop the detainer against Esquivel-Hernandez and allow him to return to his family in Pittsburgh. Dozens of phone calls have flooded the voicemail of Adducci.

“We are racing against the clock,” says Perez. “We are trying to show the best that we can that [Esquivel-Hernandez] should not be deported. I don’t know what else we can do.”

Perez says LCLAA has submitted a request for prosecutorial discretion to Adducci that details how Esquivel-Hernandez doesn’t fit into the current ICE guidelines for priorities for enforcement. (He has not been convicted of a felony, has been present in U.S. since before 2014, and was not discovered near the border.)

Esquivel-Hernandez's advocates fear his fate may be sealed due to Seneca County Jail's bad reputation in terms of how they treat ICE detainees; according to stats from Syracuse University, the facility deports immigrants at a higher rate than the national average.

However, Perez says that people should not give up the fight. He says people can still call Adducci at 313-568-6036 or sign a petition and ask her to drop the detainer. “Now is the time, to sign the petition, and call Rebecca Adducci and demand that we need Martín Esquivel-Hernandez back," Perez says. "Now is the time.”

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