Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Pittsburgh officials investigating officer-involved shooting of homeowner who was trying to fend off robber in Larimer

Posted By on Wed, Jan 25, 2017 at 5:30 PM

  • Photo Illustration
On Jan. 22, 57-year-old Christopher Thompkins was shot and killed by Pittsburgh police responding to a burglary in his home. Thompkins was an African-American man, living in Larimer, a predominantly black neighborhood and the incident has sparked the usual racial tensions between the black community and police.

"My initial reaction was here we go again because there's been a narrative across our country that when black people call the police for help, they end up killed and it has happened many times," says Brandi Fisher, director of the Alliance for Police Accountability. "And sometimes or most times, it's because of that bias that some officers have who assume the black person is the criminal."

But there has been something different about this officer-involved shooting. Usually, Fisher struggles to find out information in the wake of a controversial police incident and can't get the police to return her calls. However, this time, the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police called her.

"I don't know how many cities can really say that when there's a police shooting, the police are reaching out to grassroots organizations that fight police brutality," says Fisher. "It was a testament to the relationship I think we have built and a testament to our work as well."

Officials are still sorting out the facts of the Jan.22 homicide. The two officers involved, whose names have not been released, are on paid administrative leave and the Allegheny County District Attorney's office is investigating.

But according to the bureau statement on the incident, "Officers were in the process of attempting to gain entry into the residence, a male inside of the home began firing shots in the direction of officers who were on the front porch. The officers returned fire and the 57-year-old homeowner was shot."

A suspect, 23-year-old Juan Brian Jetter-Clark, believed to be the burglar, was taken into police custody and charged with criminal trespass.

The Pittsburgh Citizens Police Review Board is waiting until any criminal investigation involving the incident is completed until they determine any possible action. But CPRB Executive Director Beth Pittinger says investigation into the incident hinges on what information was conveyed to the officers involved.

"You have to go back to the very beginning, which would be the call. What was conveyed to the 911 call taker? And then what did that call taker convey to the dispatcher and then what did the dispatcher convey to the police officers," says Pittinger. "You have to understand what they knew when they arrived. And then decide were their actions reasonable."

In a statement Acting Cheif Scott Schubert said:

"A horrible chain of events unfolded on Finley Street in Larimer this past Sunday. It's difficult to find the words to describe the amount of empathy that I have for both the family of Christopher Thompins and the two officers who were involved in the shooting. There are a lot of questions that we cannot immediately answer because we are currently reviewing the incident with the oversight of the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office. We have already reviewed the 911 call and video from the scene, and have scheduled interviews with the officers involved. We hope to offer details about the circumstances of the incident as soon as possible."

While Fisher might be encouraged by the bureau's response to the officer-involved shooting she says questions remain. Among them are whether the police officers announced themselves, was the homeowner already shooting when they arrived, was Thompkins shooting in the direction of the officers and ultimately, was he shooting at all.

"There's no doubt in our minds that this situation was not a malicious one. That doesn't mean there was no negligence," Fisher says. "We're still waiting to find out the facts to see what needs to be changed because this is a situation that should never happen.

"We are still concerned about this case because no one should ever call the police for help and end up killed by the police. We need to find out why that happened and how that happened."

And despite her more favorable view of the way the police have handled the incident, Fisher is disappointed by the media's response, especially a KDKA report detailing the homicide victim's criminal past.

"It seems totally irrelevant. That type of reporting just keeps the divide between the community and law enforcement," says Fisher. "All it does is anger people and it makes it appear as if the police are trying to discredit the victim, to sway people's focus off of the issue and to criminalize and demonize the person who was shot by police, even though it's the media reporting it."

Fisher has worked hard to improve community-police relations over the years, an effort that was strengthened under the leadership of former Chief Cameron McLay who left the city last year. Some worried progress made under McLay — a chief dedicated to improving the relationship between the police and the black community — would be lost.

Overwhelmingly that hasn't been the case according to Fisher. But she does worry about the department backsliding on some of the internal work Cheif McLay was doing.

"I was worried about the internal work on culture that he was working on not continuing and [worried] that there was not going to be a vocal and aggressive resistance to the [police union] and I'm still concerned about that," says Fisher.

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Report reveals Trump’s infrastructure priorities; two Pittsburgh-area projects make list

Posted By on Wed, Jan 25, 2017 at 2:56 PM

  • Photo courtesy of wikicommons
  • Charleroi Lock and Dam
Okay infrastructure nerds, don’t get too excited. A report obtained by the Kansas City Star and McClatchyDC reveals President Donald Trump’s top 50 infrastructure project priorities, totaling $137.5 billion.

Pittsburgh-area projects are listed at 45 and 46 on the list and come with a $2.6 billion price-tag. But sorry to those North Hills residents, who voted for Trump in troves, you are not getting that light-rail line to Pittsburgh you have always wanted. In fact, the two Pittsburgh projects are more of the necessary, but boring variety.

Priority number 45 is a much-needed upgrade to the locks and dams on the Ohio River in Emsworth, Moon, and Beaver County. According to the report, these facilities are the “oldest and smallest lock chambers” on the Ohio River. And priority number 46, is also a lock and dam upgrade, this one on the Monongahela River in Charleroi. Not the sexiest of projects.

However, combing through the list shows Trump does have an inkling for supporting some pretty exciting infrastructure plans. A proposed high-speed rail line between Dallas and Houston is on the list at number 13. Also some green infrastructure plans make the list, including a wind farm in Wyoming and a storm water reduction plan in Cleveland.

And while Pittsburgh's plans are comparatively dull, both of the lock-and-dam projects would surely be a boon to the economies of these river towns (they could provide up to 2,600 jobs,according to the report). But even though Trump campaigned on providing $1 trillion in infrastructure spending, that doesn’t mean any of the projects are close to a reality.

Any large infrastructure bill would need to get U.S. Congressional approval before going through, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) stated after Trump’selection victory that a big infrastructure plan was not a big priority to Congressional Republicans, who control both the House and Senate.

Regardless, Pittsburgh is in need of an infrastructure boost. According to a 2011 Transportation for America report, Pittsburgh has the highest percentage of structurally deficient bridges in the country at 30.4 percent. Oddly, number 6 on Trump's priority list is a project to address 15 of Philadelphia's structurally deficient bridges. Classic, Philly, always getting all the Pennsylvania attention.

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Uber donates $10,000 to the Women's Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh

Posted By on Wed, Jan 25, 2017 at 1:56 PM

  • CP Photo by Rebeca Addison
Each year, the Women's Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh spends an average of $10,000 on transportation for their clients. This can mean transporting them from their homes or other dangerous living situations to the shelter, but can also mean transportation to and from various medical or legal appointments while they're living in the shelter.

Earlier today, Uber announced they were donating $10,000 to the local shelter to  help offset these transportation costs for victims of domestic violence. In turn, the shelter will request rides for their clients using the Uber ride-hailing application.

"When you hear about Uber in Pittsburgh, you generally think of our self-driving cars and the efforts we make toward the future of transportation. But Uber's investment in Pittsburgh goes much deeper than that," said Shari Shapiro, senior public affairs manager for Uber Pennsylvania. "Affordable and reliable transportation is especially important for the Women's Center's clients. At this moment in their life they are under extraordinary stress, their worlds have been turned upside down and the last thing we want them to have to worry about is how to get to the shelter or how to get to the many appointments they need to put their lives back together."

Shapiro said Uber has developed similar partnerships with homeless shelters, but believes this is Uber's first partnership with a woman's shelter. Asked by Pittsburgh City Paper if Uber would pay the difference if the cost of the shelter's 2017 Uber rides exceeds the $10,000 donation, Shapiro said, "We'll have to jump off that bridge when we come to it."

The center serves more than 6,000 victims of domestic violence every year, more than 500 of whom include women and their children entering the shelter.

"We are so thankful that this partnership will be an incredibly easy and safe way to help the victims of domestic violence we serve," said Nicole Molinaro Karaczun, director of services for Women's Center and Shelter of Pittsburgh, "

The partnership between Uber and the shelter was spearheaded by Pittsburgh City Councilor Dan Gilman.

"As Pittsburgh moves to a new economy and brings in new economic partners, we have to work together to also realize the importance of corporate and social responsibilities and make sure we're reaching out to the people of our communities when they need it most," said Gilman.

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One last look: A slideshow of the Pittsburgh Steelers AFC Championship loss to the New England Patriots

Posted By on Wed, Jan 25, 2017 at 12:25 PM

  • CP Photo by Vincent Pugliese
If you're like me, there's nothing worse as a football fan than seeing Tom Brady congratulated for yet another big win. Here's hoping we get a shot at these guys next year... For now, GO FALCONS!!!

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Playwright and actor on his play about race, opening Friday at Pittsburgh’s August Wilson Center

Posted By on Wed, Jan 25, 2017 at 12:22 PM

  • Michael Phillip Edwards in "I Am Not Sam"
“With places I’ve grown up in the world, and things I’ve seen, it seems to be a shuffling thing: What is black?” says Michael Phillip Edwards. Edwards’ 2015 play I Am Not Sam constitutes an investigation.

“One of the things that fascinated me is, at one point the Irish in America weren’t considered white, but then after awhile they were allowed to be white,” says Edwards by phone, shortly after arriving in Pittsburgh from his home in Los Angeles. That cultural shift, and the questions it poses about the nature of race and racial identity, fascinated Edwards. He decided to explore it through three generations of a fictional interracial family: an elderly black man, his white son-in-law, and his mixed-race grandson.

Edwards plays all three characters. He cites as inspirations performers like Richard Pryor and Anna Deavere Smith, in particular Smith’s 1992 play Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992.

“She performs people and portrays their mannerisms. She doesn’t come intellectual," says Edwards. "She lets people talk. When you embody these people, when you unify the voices and shapeshift into them, something else happens. If you separate them, it’s a whole other type of statement. There’s a statement in unifying characters and shape-shifting. One of the most basic ways of saying it is: We are all one. It’s a statement to say we are all one.”

Edwards is an actor and playwright perhaps best known for his semi-autobiographical radio play and 2005 feature film Runt. The solo stage version won the Scotsman Fringe First Award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Edwards says that researching race for him is actually a lifestyle, and wasn’t particularly attached to I Am Not Sam. “We’re in the information age, and I research daily! We literally can stop and ask a question. I consider it a joy. And then talking to people. Listening. I was writing something else, for another actor, and we were exploring race with that. And that spawned this play.”

Edwards grew up in Canada, but his explorations are perfectly timed toward his adopted country’s current political climate. “I’m amazed at Janice Burley Wilson [of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust] bringing me in now with the election just complete and the country talking to itself right now. There are so many things in this play that are on time to that. The play's on time. I’m nervous about things that are said in this play.”

I Am Not Sam, directed by Tamika Lawson, runs at 8 p.m. both Friday and Saturday night.

Tickets are $28.25 and are available here.

The August Wilson Center is located at 980 Liberty Ave., Downtown.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Animal Rescue League moves animals to new shelter during Moving of the Animals Parade

Posted By on Tue, Jan 24, 2017 at 12:11 PM

  • Photo by John Colombo
Pittsburgh’s Animal Rescue League, in the process of moving from its shelter in Larimer to a new larger location a third-of-a-mile down the road in Homewood, invited the public to watch a Moving of the Animals Parade Monday afternoon.

Staff members and volunteers walking adoptable shelter animals to their new home were joined by shelter mascots, Animal Control and local politicians, including Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Mayor Bill Peduto and Pittsburgh city councilors Dan Gilman and Corey O’Connor. After the parade, Peduto held a ribbon-cutting ceremony outside the new shelter, and guests were invited inside to meet the animals and have congratulatory cake, which featured dog- and cat-shaped decorations.

In September, City Paper brought you the news that the Animal Rescue League and Western PA Humane Society were merging. The Humane Society is scheduled to remain open on the North Side, as is the Animal Rescue League Wildlife Center in Verona.

The new Animal Rescue League shelter will hold its official grand-opening celebration at 4 p.m., Sat., April 22, at 6926 Hamilton Ave., in Homewood.

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Monday, January 23, 2017

Two local female-led marches filled Pittsburgh streets this weekend

Posted By on Mon, Jan 23, 2017 at 4:18 PM

  • CP photo by Katey Ladika

Pittsburghers took to the streets on Jan. 21 in two separate marches: The Women's March on Pittsburgh Downtown and the Our Feminism Must Be Intersectional Rally/March in East Liberty. The Women's March was a sister march to the national March on Washington and coincided with marches in cities around the country and abroad. The East Liberty march focused on black feminism.

Check out our slideshows from the events below.

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Two world-renowned sumo wrestlers put on exhibit at Stage AE for charity

Posted By on Mon, Jan 23, 2017 at 2:31 PM

  • Photograph by Luke Thor Travis
Byamba (6'1", 370 lbs) and Yama (6'4", 600 lbs) are two of the most prominent names in sumo wrestling. You may recognize Byamba as the sumo figure skater from the recent Geico commercial, or Yama from the forthcoming film, John Wick: Chapter 2. Yama is believed to be the largest Japanese human being in history.  

On Saturday night at Stage AE, Byamba and Yama put on an exhibit at Sumo Showdown, a charity event benefiting the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh. In addition to the two pros, some local notables — former Steeler Josh Miller, comedian Jim Krenn, among others — donned robes and mawashi to give sumo a shot for themselves.

All photographs by Luke Thor Travis.

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Friday, January 20, 2017

Donald Trump Inauguration Day Live Blog: Here's how Pittsburghers are fighting back

Posted By on Fri, Jan 20, 2017 at 3:16 PM

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Regular City Paper contributor Renee Rosensteel was at the People's Inauguration today in the Hill District and sent back this shot worth sharing.
  • CP Photo by Renee Rosensteel

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The day has finally arrived. Today Donald Trump will be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States.

It almost feels like overkill at this point to list all the reasons many are unhappy today, but in case you forgot, here's just a few of the xenophobic, racist and sexist things our new president has done and said since he launched his campaign.

When Trump kicked off his campaign in June 2015 he set the tone for the next year when he said: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best. They’re not sending you, they’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists… And some, I assume, are good people.”

In a statement last December Trump said he would combat terrorism with a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on."

And October brought the release of Trump's now infamous "Grab them by the pussy" comment, found in a 2005 audio recording.

Based on statements like these and his selection of running mate Gov. Mike Pence, who has a record of anti-LGBT policies, following Trump's election, protests rang out in Pittsburgh and throughout the country. And they're not stopping. A slew of inauguration alternative events and anti-Trump gatherings are scheduled today and more will continue throughout the weekend.

Pittsburghers are far from the only ones unhappy with Trump. Polls indicate Trump has the lowest favorability ratings of any incoming president in the last four decades. According to an ABC/Washington Post poll released earlier this week, less than half of Americans, 40 percent, have a favorable view of Trump. And a survey from Fox News published yesterday found that 37 percent of Americans approve of Trump. Compare that with the 76 percent favorable opinion President Barack Obama had when he took office in 2009. His predecessor George W. Bush had 58 percent favorable opinion when he took office in 2001.

Local law makers are expressing their disapproval as well. This week Congressman Mike Doyle (D-Forest Hills) joined more than 50 other House Democrats in declaring they wouldn't be attending the inauguration today.

Stay tuned throughout the day as we report on a number events through the city.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Regional ICE office ignoring supporters of Pittsburgh undocumented immigrant, advocates to take case national

Posted By on Wed, Jan 18, 2017 at 3:35 PM

Martín Esquivel-Hernandez's son, Alex, at a immigrant-rights rally in Beechview in September 2016. - CP PHOTO BY LUKE THOR TRAVIS
  • CP photo by Luke Thor Travis
  • Martín Esquivel-Hernandez's son, Alex, at a immigrant-rights rally in Beechview in September 2016.
A full voicemail box, more than 1,400 signatures, and dozens of letters all in support of releasing Martín Esquivel-Hernandez, a Pittsburgh resident and undocumented Mexican immigrant currently facing deportation. That is what has been sent to the Detroit regional office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer Rebecca Adducci.

And, according to Guillermo Perez of the Pittsburgh Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, there has been no response from Adducci. Perez says LCLAA has not only informed ICE of Esquivel-Hernandez’s support and his personal story (he had no local criminal record other than two minor traffic violations, has three young children including a U.S. citizen son, and has been an advocate for Latino and immigrant rights during his five years in Pittsburgh), but the agency has not responded to any of LCLAA’s outreach.

But Detroit ICE field office sent a comment to City Paper last week, indicating they have every intention of deporting Esquivel-Hernandez. “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 CP on Jan. 9. “As a result, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has designated Mr. Esquivel-Hernandez’s case as a priority for immigration enforcement.”

Perez still doesn’t understand why ICE hasn't been in communication with him and his group. “We don't feel they have given any serious consideration to our requests,” says Perez.

To add insult to injury for LCLAA, ICE issued its comment to CP while LCLAA was filing an official stay request for Esquivel-Hernandez, which included LCLAA having to purchase a $1,400 one-way plane ticket from Mexico, as required by the stay application.

Esquivel-Hernandez has garnered high-profile support throughout the campaign to keep him in the country, including from Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, U.S. Congressman Mike Doyle (D-Forest Hills) and Bishop David Zubik, of the Pittsburgh Roman Catholic Diocese. Now LCLAA and the advocates at the Thomas Merton Center are going over the Detroit ICE office's head and making their case to national ICE Director Sarah Saldaña.

“There is still time for ICE to do the right thing for the Esquivel family and Pittsburgh’s Latino community,” said Perez in a press release. “We need Director Saldaña to intervene and ensure ICE follows their own policy to reunite [Esquivel-Hernandez with his family.”

ICE officials responded to a request for comment from CP and said, “We stand by our earlier statement and have nothing further to add at this time.” Esquivel-Hernandez is still being held in the Seneca County Jail in northwest Ohio, according to the online ICE detainer database.

“[Esquivel-Hernandez’s] deportation will serve no important federal interest, and instead causes injury to his family and the larger Pittsburgh community,” said Christina Castillo of the Thomas Merton Center in a press release.

Additionally, it appears ICE and the federal government is spending top dollar to deport immigrants like Esquivel-Hernandez. A Daily Mail Online investigation showed that it costs ICE an average of $1,962 to remove an undocumented immigrant via ground and air transportation. In 2015, ICE spent $116 million to transport and remove immigrants from the U.S., sometimes using private jets or commercial airlines just to remove a single immigrant. ICE is a branch of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Esquivel-Hernandez will allegedly be taken via a plane to Mexico, according to Perez.

Regardless, Perez says this is LCLAA’s and Esquivel-Hernandez’s advocates final push to keep him in the country, given the uncertain nature of President-elect Donald Trump's administration which begins Jan. 21. Perez believes there is hope for Esquivel-Hernandez because nothing in his record makes him a “priority for enforcement” under the DHS guidelines for deportation that were issued in 2014.

“Given the new administration is going to begin on Friday,” says Perez, “this is our last best chance to get someone in a leadership office to intervene. … Our hope is with this final push, that somebody will look at this case, and say that [Esquivel-Hernandez] was detained under the [President Barack] Obama administration and they should comply with that administration's policy.”

For those interested in voicing their support for Esquivel-Hernandez, Perez says they can visit the "Bring Martin Home" website and contribute an online letter.

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