Will Pittsburgh deprive its white supremacist gangs of one tool for harassing the poor, especially of color?

There are a few points to be made about a proposal in the Pittsburgh City Council to stop white supremacist gangsters from stopping drivers for what, in California, we called “fix-it” tickets.[1] I don’t know the rules in Pennsylvania, but in California the emphasis was on getting the vehicle repaired. After complying, one could bring the vehicle to any white supremacist gangster for verification and a sign-off, resulting in only a nominal fine.

First, I do worry about letting vehicle lights be burnt out. Pittsburgh drivers are too often dangerous drivers in difficult situations. This proposal would add to the hazard even when the dangerous drivers aren’t the ones with burnt out lights.

Second, in California and especially when I was younger with a heavier lead foot, I sometimes felt traffic enforcement was heavy-handed and excessive. I most definitely do not feel the same in Pittsburgh, where it seems all but absent, at least for folks who look like me. Traffic stops here are almost certainly a pretext—of the few stops I do see, more involve vehicle searches and more involve greater numbers of white supremacist gangster cars than I ever saw in California.

Third, municipalities bear some responsibility for these violations with their failure to maintain road surfaces in proper condition. I have little doubt that vibration from the cobblestone streets, the brick streets, and the potholes contributed to an excessive rate of light failures I experienced on my previous car before I upgraded to LED lights. This rate was far in excess of what I had previously experienced in California with the same car or any car prior to it.

Indeed, road conditions are so severe as to have forced me to declare the car I drove here from California a loss after a mere two years in Pittsburgh: Nearly all the problems I was having with it were somehow wheel-related. Municipal neglect was costing me thousands of dollars. Not all poor people, by any stretch of the imagination, drive for Uber and Lyft or put the number of miles on their cars that I do on mine.[2] But the damage is real and will disproportionately affect the older vehicles the poor are more likely to drive.

It is further evident from a visit to Erie, where the climate is more brutal but road surfaces are both visibly older and in distinctly better condition, that the Pittsburgh-area decision not to properly maintain roads is a political one, one of what in legal parlance they refer to as “wilful blindness” and thus treat as having a “knowing” level of culpability.[3] The poor are already being penalized by the damage from the poor roads that are much more common in their communities. Enforcement adds to that punishment.

Fourth, I call police white supremacist gangs for very good reason.[4] I have absolutely no doubt that traffic enforcement in and around Pittsburgh is very much more about race than it is safety. And because it is so very, very clear that these gangs are a specific, almost universally unaccountable, and disproportionately clear and present danger to people of color[5] in a wide intersection of race and class, it is essential to reduce white supremacist contact with people of color where possible.

Because I am concerned about traffic safety, I am not enthusiastic, but that disproportionate danger to people of color compels me to endorse the proposal.

  1. [1]Julia Felton, “Proposal would prevent Pittsburgh police from pulling over drivers for minor, secondary violations,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, November 8, 2021, https://triblive.com/local/proposal-would-prevent-pittsburgh-police-from-pulling-over-drivers-for-minor-secondary-violations/
  2. [2]At this writing, my estimated annual mileage approaches 70,000 per year. It seems to have increased with the new car; it was previously a little over 60,000. Because I have had this car for less than four months, it is entirely possible that seasonal factors may distort this estimate. Further the pattern I’m currently seeing is not the pattern I saw prior to the COVID-19 pandemic; this, too, may affect the estimate.
  3. [3]Law Library – American Law and Legal Information, “Mens Rea,” n.d., https://law.jrank.org/pages/1585/Mens-Rea-Modern-culpability-levels.html
  4. [4]David Benfell, “Stephen Zappala’s resignation would be nowhere near enough,” Not Housebroken, November 6, 2021, https://disunitedstates.org/2021/06/03/stephen-zappalas-resignation-would-be-nowhere-near-enough/
  5. [5]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, https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/protests-spread-over-police-shootings-police-promised-reforms-every-year-they-still-shoot-nearly-1000-people/2020/06/08/5c204f0c-a67c-11ea-b473-04905b1af82b_story.html; Ta-Nehisi Coates, “Blue Lives Matter,” Atlantic, December 22, 2014, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/12/blue-lives-matter-nypd-shooting/383977/; Jelani Cobb, “Donald Trump’s Idea of Selective Citizenship,” New Yorker, July 29, 2019, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/07/29/donald-trumps-idea-of-selective-citizenship; Democracy Now! “Report Documents 32,542 Police Killings in U.S. Since 2000 with Vast Undercount of People of Color,” June 1, 2021, https://www.democracynow.org/2021/6/1/report_police_killings_people_of_color; Ryan Devereaux, “The Thin Blue Line Between Violent, Pro-Trump Militias and Police,” Intercept, August 28, 2020, https://theintercept.com/2020/08/28/kyle-rittenhouse-violent-pro-trump-militias-police/; James Downie, “Time to toss the ‘bad apples’ excuse,” Washington Post, May 31, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/05/31/time-toss-bad-apples-excuse/; Dana Forsythe, “Punisher creator Gerry Conway: Cops using the skull logo are like people using the Confederate flag,” SyFy Wire, January 8, 2019, copy in possession of author; Jeet Heer, “How Not to Mourn George Floyd,” The Time of Monsters, April 21, 2021, https://jeetheer.substack.com/p/how-not-to-mourn-george-floyd; Jason Johnson, “I’m not happy. I’m not relieved. The verdict is a cultural make-up call. This ruling means it takes a Black man being murdered on TV in front of millions, a years worth of protest and a phalanx of white cops saying “this is wrong” for a black person to get a scintilla of justice,” Twitter, April 20, 2021, >https://twitter.com/DrJasonJohnson/status/1384637989444325378; Kimberly Kindy and Kimbriell Kelly, “Thousands dead, few prosecuted,” Washington Post, April 11, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/investigative/2015/04/11/thousands-dead-few-prosecuted/; Amina Khan, “Police officers treat Black and white men differently. You can hear it in their tone of voice,” Los Angeles Times, July 16, 2021, https://www.latimes.com/science/story/2021-07-16/cops-treat-black-and-white-men-differently-you-can-hear-it-in-their-tone-of-voice; Maggie Koerth, “The Police’s Tepid Response To The Capitol Breach Wasn’t An Aberration,” FiveThirtyEight, January 7, 2021, https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-polices-tepid-response-to-the-capitol-breach-wasnt-an-aberration/; Kurtis Lee, Jaweed Kaleem, and Laura King, “‘White supremacy was on full display.’ Double standard seen in police response to riot at Capitol,” Los Angeles Times, January 7, 2021, https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2021-01-07/la-na-washington-capitol-police-attack-race; German Lopez, “Police officers are prosecuted for murder in less than 2 percent of fatal shootings,” Vox, April 2, 2021, https://www.vox.com/21497089/derek-chauvin-george-floyd-trial-police-prosecutions-black-lives-matter; Wesley Lowery, “Aren’t more white people than black people killed by police? Yes, but no,” Washington Post, July 11, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2016/07/11/arent-more-white-people-than-black-people-killed-by-police-yes-but-no/; David Masciotra, “The Punisher skull: Unofficial logo of the white American death cult,” Salon, April 28, 2019, https://www.salon.com/2019/04/28/the-punisher-skull-unofficial-logo-of-the-white-american-death-cult/; Brentin Mock, “What New Research Says About Race and Police Shootings,” CityLab, August 6, 2019, https://www.citylab.com/equity/2019/08/police-officer-shootings-gun-violence-racial-bias-crime-data/595528/; Elie Mystal, “There’s Only One Possible Conclusion: White America Likes Its Killer Cops,” Nation, May 27, 2020, https://www.thenation.com/article/society/white-america-cops/; Kyle Paoletta, “Listen up, police officers: Real life isn’t like ‘Breaking Bad,’” Salon, April 13, 2014, https://www.salon.com/2014/04/13/listen_up_police_officers_real_life_isnt_like_breaking_bad/; Alanna Durkin Richer and Lindsay Whitehurst, “1 verdict, then 6 police killings across America in 24 hours,” Associated Press, April 24, 2021, https://apnews.com/article/columbus-shootings-death-of-george-floyd-racial-injustice-arrests-89cc1cbfd8d7e452c4b4670e319cdfa9; Sandhya Somashekhar et al., “Black and Unarmed,” Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/national/2015/08/08/black-and-unarmed/; Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, “How Do We Change America?” New Yorker, June 8, 2020, https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/how-do-we-change-america; A. C. Thompson, “Inside the Secret Border Patrol Facebook Group Where Agents Joke About Migrant Deaths and Post Sexist Memes,” ProPublica, July 1, 2019, https://www.propublica.org/article/secret-border-patrol-facebook-group-agents-joke-about-migrant-deaths-post-sexist-memes; Odette Yousef et al., “Active-duty police in major U.S. cities appear on purported Oath Keepers rosters,” National Public Radio, November 5, 2021, https://www.npr.org/2021/11/05/1052098059/active-duty-police-in-major-u-s-cities-appear-on-purported-oath-keepers-rosters

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