Off with their heads

See update for August 19, 2020, at end of post

Pittsburgh has not been at the forefront of racial justice protests, but they’ve been happening here nonetheless, and so in a sense, this city makes a better candidate for a case study than an outlier like Portland.[1] Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto initially responded like an thoroughly contemptible asshole,[2] then improved a bit.[3]

The trouble with the mayor’s response was really that it fell into the pattern aptly described by Bill Moyer (not Moyers) in Doing Democracy, where elites mostly offer fine-sounding words and a bare minimum action meant to seem reasonable—even generous—to the larger population, while deferring substantive progress,[4] in Pittsburgh, a profoundly racist—even white supremacist—area[5] where, especially in outlying areas, “Blue Lives Matters” flags and bumper stickers and “We support our police” yard signs are distressingly common. Moyer’s plan calls for repetition of protest ad nauseum and incremental progress.[6] Particularly when we get to topics like the climate crisis, such an approach is unlikely to be sufficient. Meanwhile, police are killing people,[7] which ought to raise the urgency a bit.

Protesters have accordingly not been mollified. As I have noted, even apart from institutional racism, police are a troubling institution that, even in theory, are unlikely to be a correct solution.[8] Defunding them[9] would be at best a bare beginning to the problems of a foundationally unjust system.[10] And now we have this spectacle:

You have officers in plainclothes in an unmarked vehicle [arresting a protester]. Those are not tactics to be used in the city of Pittsburgh.[11]

Now protesters want the mayor’s head.[12] I certainly don’t blame them, although in the context of the present order, his replacement seems unlikely to me to be any better.

I’m still not seeing how we survive the present crises, namely a pandemic, a recession that threatens to turn into a depression, and economic and racial injustice, let alone the climate crisis, short of a revolution. The elites will not go peacefully. I’m not a fan of violent revolution; I see it as replacing one set of thugs with another. But these elites are clearly not up to the challenge and I’m just not seeing an alternative.[13]

Update, August 19, 2020: Bill Peduto condemned the plainclothes arrest of a protester mentioned in this post and ordered that such tactics not be used in future misdemeanor arrests,[14] but protesters continued to target him, demonstrating outside his home. It would seem the mayor does not appreciate demonstrations that disturb the neighbors in the wee hours. Poor baby. He could have met with them as they demanded, but instead accused one of a felony.[15]

  1. [1]David Benfell, “On sending in the troops,” Not Housebroken, June 2, 2020,; David Benfell, “The authoritarian populist president embraces neoconservatism–to advance his own tyranny,” Not Housebroken, July 21, 2020,
  2. [2]David Benfell, “The reason the status quo is not the answer is that the status quo cannot be the answer,” Not Housebroken, June 4, 2020,
  3. [3]Andy Sheehan, “Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto Proposes Creation Of New Office That Would ‘Allow Public Safety To Step Back’ And Get People Longer-Term Help,” KDKA, June 12, 2020,; Teghan Simonton, “Peduto gives statement on George Floyd and Black Lives Matter movement,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, June 11, 2020,
  4. [4]Bill Moyer, with JoAnn McAllister, Mary Lou Finley, and Steven Soifer, Doing Democracy: The MAP Model for Organizing Social Movements (Gabriola Island, British Columbia, Canada: New Society, 2001)
  5. [5]Colin P. Clarke, “One Year After Tree of Life, We Still Aren’t Talking Enough About Violent White Supremacy,” Rand, October 27, 2019,; Letrell Deshan Crittenden, “The Pittsburgh problem: race, media and everyday life in the Steel City,” Columbia Journalism Review, October 25, 2019,; Eric Heyl, “Neo-Nazi, White Supremacist, Islamic Hate Groups Active In Pittsburgh,” Patch, August 16, 2017,; Moriah Ella Mason, “Pittsburgh Doesn’t Need More Guns — We Need Less White Supremacy,” Forward, October 29, 2018,; Charles Thompson, “Pennsylvania housed 36 active hate groups last year, ranking 8th in the country: report,” Harrisburgh Patriot-News, February 21, 2019,; Jason Togyer, “Fear and Loathing in the Time of Coronavirus,” Columbia Journalism Review, March 25, 2020,
  6. [6]Bill Moyer, with JoAnn McAllister, Mary Lou Finley, and Steven Soifer, Doing Democracy: The MAP Model for Organizing Social Movements (Gabriola Island, British Columbia, Canada: New Society, 2001)
  7. [7]Mark Berman et al., “Protests spread over police shootings. Police promised reforms. Every year, they still shoot and kill nearly 1,000 people,” Washington Post, June 8, 2020,; James Downie, “Time to toss the ‘bad apples’ excuse,” Washington Post, May 31, 2020,; Wesley Lowery, “Aren’t more white people than black people killed by police? Yes, but no,” Washington Post, July 11, 2016,; Brentin Mock, “What New Research Says About Race and Police Shootings,” CityLab, August 6, 2019,; Elie Mystal, “There’s Only One Possible Conclusion: White America Likes Its Killer Cops,” Nation, May 27, 2020,; Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, “How Do We Change America?” New Yorker, June 8, 2020,
  8. [8]David Benfell, “On police,” Not Housebroken, August 12, 2020,
  9. [9]Amanda Arnold, “What Exactly Does It Mean to Defund the Police?” Cut, June 12, 2020,; Zak Cheney-Rice, “Why Police Abolition Is a Useful Framework — Even for Skeptics,” New York, June 15, 2020,
  10. [10]David Benfell, “Defunding the police is, at best, a baby’s first step,” Not Housebroken, June 20, 2020,
  11. [11]Beth Pittinger, quoted in Shelby Cassesse, “Protesters Call For Mayor Peduto’s Resignation After Arrest Of Protester In Oakland,” KDKA, August 16, 2020,
  12. [12]Shelby Cassesse, “Protesters Call For Mayor Peduto’s Resignation After Arrest Of Protester In Oakland,” KDKA, August 16, 2020,; Mary Ann Thomas, “Angry crowd shows up at Mayor Peduto’s home challenging Pittsburgh police arrest of protester,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, August 16, 2020,
  13. [13]David Benfell, “Time for somebody and something new,” Not Housebroken, July 27, 2020,; David Benfell, “We need to do everything different,” Not Housebroken, July 30, 2020,; David Benfell, “The mysterious expectation that elites give a damn,” Not Housebroken, August 1, 2020,
  14. [14]Lindsay Ward, “Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto Speaks Out After Putting An End To Tactics Used In Controversial Arrest At Oakland Protest,” KDKA, August 18, 2020,
  15. [15]Megan Guza And Abby Mackey, “Police disperse overnight protesters at Peduto’s house, mayor decries neighborhood harassment,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, August 19, 2020,

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