A minor trespassing incident in Polish Hill in June could have turned into a win for the community, say a neighborhood leader and the property-owner's family -- if it weren't for television news trying to scare the crap out of everyone.
On July 15, WTAE-TV broadcast an "Only on 4" report raising alarms about trespassing charges filed a month before. The report began with Andrew Stockey noting that six people, "three of whom are from Europe," had broken into a vacant building in the neighborhood. And it wasn't just any building: Stockey noted it was "the kind of structure police say protesters from all over the world will be looking for" during the G-20 gathering of world leaders, coming to Downtown Pittsburgh in September.
Reporter Shannon Perrine agreed, saying that "Six people -- six young people -- were arrested for breaking into this vacant school building," the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic School. Perrine said that "the European connection has authorities concerned," because the structure could be "a perfect training center for those who would like to cause damage to Pittsburgh ... just like they did in London and other cities."
Or not. The real story, says Krystyna Haberman, is much less sinister.
Haberman owns a house across Paulowna Street from the school. She was holding a party for visiting Swedish rock band Nitad on June 15, when its members suggested exploring the school building.
"We went over to check it out because it's an awesome view" of the city, Haberman says.
But locals spotted them entering through an open window, and called police. Arrested were Haberman, a local friend, two band members, a Swedish crew member and their Texas driver. Building owner Peter Tanzer dropped the charges at the urging of his son, Joshua. Haberman and others helped Tanzer secure the building and clean up the grounds days later.
But instead of telling that story, bemoans Polish Hill Civic Association head Terry Doloughty, WTAE-TV came in a month after the arrests, spreading fears about a wave of enemy infiltrators preparing to sow chaos.
"The school was not really secured -- you could walk right in," Doloughty notes. But "[a]s far as this building being used for some kind of training center -- absolutely false. And I made that very clear. That is what I find most disheartening about the WTAE report."
Doloughty is quoted in Perrine's piece urging "everyone to be aware. No matter what street you live on, you're a neighbor, and we all watch out for each other." That quote follows Perrine quoting police speculation about G-20 demonstrations, and Doloughty says the report "spun" his remarks to make it sound like he shared G-20 fears. In fact, Doloughty says, he was just urging vigilance to head off regular street crimes: Polish Hill has seen several burglaries and an armed robbery so far this year. Doloughty calls WTAE's story "sensationalism": Joshua Tanzer, the building owner's son, agrees that the story was "irresponsible."
When reached by City Paper, Perrine said she was instructed by WTAE News Director Alex Bongiorno not to discuss the story.
The WTAE report admits that "[t]here were no protest materials found in the school," but nonetheless kept speculating about G-20 anyway. Unnamed "authorities" were uncertain about the "motive" behind the trespass, Perrine reported.
Their uncertainty, Haberman says, was evident. Police "brought it up to us in jail, in this weird way ... saying, 'Hey, I bet you guys are with these G-20ers,'" Haberman says. "We said 'No, the last thing on our mind right now is the stupid G-20.'"
City police did not respond to questions about the incident by press time.
Haberman acknowledges having participated in local anti-war marches. She also protested a 2003 international trade meeting in Miami. But she's no longer politically active, she says: "Here I am at my house, hanging out, and that's when I get in trouble."
In fact, Haberman represents a new face for Polish Hill. Doloughty says there's been an influx of new, young residents investing time and money in distressed homes. But their punk or pierced appearance sometimes alarm Polish Hill's long-time residents, he adds: "We've had a few of our residents profiled because of the way they look."
"Unfortunately, at our last meeting the [Zone 2 city police] officers were outwardly fearful about what they assume will happen when the G-20 occurs," Doloughty says. "The police are a part of our community, and we do need them. [But] I don't want to see our population segmented."
"You look a certain way and suddenly you have news cameras in front of your house," laments Haberman, who describes her own look as "punk rock." As for her plans during G-20: "I'll be at a wedding ... I'm going to be wearing a bridesmaid dress and silver shoes."