Monday, August 27, 2012

An open letter to Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl

Dear Mayor Ravenstahl,

Your public attack on me in the reception line at the Cookie Cruise – berating me for criticizing your promotion of George Trosky to assistant police chief, screaming that I was a "hypocrite," and threatening to "go public" with what you perceive to be my failure to support all domestic violence survivors – was bizarre, to say the least. Coming on the heels of the same threat made to me on your behalf by City Councilmember Theresa Kail-Smith the day before, it was clear you intended to silence me.

That's not going to happen. Three women are murdered by spouses or ex-spouses in this country every day, and it must be stopped. I believe that promoting Trosky will make the problem worse here. Not just for women, but also for other police officers, and for the city as a whole. But you insist on taking actions like this promotion – actions that harm our city – just because they serve your personal needs and desires.

When my phone started ringing with reporters seeking comment about the Trosky promotion at 5:05 Monday afternoon (after your office apparently released the news at 5:01, a classic and blatant move to avoid press coverage), I was shocked by the news. After all, we've been through this before. Trosky's record – multiple incidents of battering, violent on-camera attacks on concertgoers, his failure to make lieutenant, and his spotty record that included serious disciplinary actions – was one of the flashpoints for the women's rights community when you promoted him directly from sergeant to commander in 2007.

Working with City Council, women's advocates demanded and held public hearings, brought in experts, and Council wrote and passed new policy for dealing with domestic violence by police officers.

You then agreed to further negotiations. You said you wanted a policy of zero tolerance and would be a champion against violence against women and children. The negotiations resulted in more agreements, including education and assistance programs on domestic violence for all city employees. You also agreed that you would consult with domestic violence professionals prior to promotions, especially if any police officer up for promotion had a family violence issue.

Until Monday, it appeared you were keeping your agreement, dealing with domestic violence by city employees as the serious and deadly crime it is.

I really was shocked by the news that you were promoting Trosky again, this time to assistant chief – even though his record as commander included failing to protect at least one woman from her abuser, letting him loose after arrest to return to attack her again.

So I spoke out against the promotion. Your excuse is that Trosky hasn't beaten up a woman he claims to love in a long time – that it's in the past. Last I checked, being a batterer isn't something you out grow, like acne or allergies. Your administration also pointed out that Trosky's victims withdrew the charges – something that happens often according to studies, given the ability of police officers to use their professional knowledge and connections to rig the system against the victims.

Assaulting anyone is a serious crime, and Trosky has done this repeatedly. We wouldn't promote someone who had a history of other crimes, like arson or burglary. We don't allow child molesters to teach, even if their crimes were in the past. Trosky's history should have automatically kept him from this promotion.

There are a number of great officers – women and men – who have played by the rules, worked their ways up through the ranks, and would make a great assistant chief. But they don't necessarily fit the one condition you obviously require. In our conversation, Councilwoman Kail-Smith told me, "If you were mayor, you'd want someone who had your back." I'm astonished that you actually believe you need your own personal command staff officer – paid for by taxpayers – to protect you. Not, apparently, as security in carrying out your mayoral duties, but for some other amorphous protection need.

The message to the rank and file police officers is clear: it's who you know, and a willingness to do all you can to protect those in power, not your skills, your record, your abilities, or your commitment to protect all Pittsburghers. Perhaps this is the reason that Director Huss was opposed to this promotion, especially at this time.

Trosky's promotion also sends a message about your lack of concern about officer safety. Having an assistant chief who is at best indifferent to arresting batterers has to worry officers as they deal with these situations. We know domestic violence are among the most dangerous calls to go on; now our police have an additional concern that command staff won't provide the support they need.

But enough with the refresher on domestic violence 101. Because this is actually about politics, and your need to destroy anyone you believe is your enemy. Because I have insisted that batterers should not be police officers (as federal law requires) – and certainly should not be promoted – you think this is personal, and that I am your enemy. You should know better. I am acting on principle, as part of my life-long activism for women.

Your attempt to bully me and your threat to destroy me is ludicrous. If you thought I would be frightened, you are sadly mistaken. And if you thought destroying me would mean no one else would take up the fight for women's safety, and transparent and fair promotions in the police force, you are even more mistaken.

While you were screaming at me at the Cookie Cruise, I finally realized what was behind that threat. You yelled at me, "Where were you when I fired other batterers, like firefighters?"

Then I realized what the problem was. You are livid because I did not praise you publicly when you kept your promise and followed the policy you agreed to.

You should know that I have never subscribed to the "everybody gets a trophy" school – not as a parent, not as an activist, nor in my work life. So your expectation that you must be praised when you do keep your promises, and you do your job as required, is baffling. Yes, you did the right thing with other batterers. But that's what you were elected to do. It's what you are supposed to do. It's what adults do.

Your allegation that I condemned the Trosky promotion for personal political gain is off the mark, and totally ignores my history as an activist. But it is an interesting claim, since in that calculus, you admit that the majority of Pittsburghers agree with the women's rights advocates, not you, on this matter.

But there's another, unspoken threat. People who disagree with you find themselves harassed and targeted by city employees. The building inspector suddenly files a complaint for weeds on your opponent's property. His/her car keeps getting parking tickets or the vehicle is towed. She/he is followed and investigated. City services suddenly disappear. Her/his employment is threatened.

But I will not give you a free pass to harass me or other women's rights advocates. In case you forgot, I ran a women's health center for nine years. My house was firebombed. My son was shot at. I traveled in a bullet proof vest. And I learned that bullies thrive on secrecy.

So know that I will go public if anything happens to any women's services, to other advocates, or to the people I love. You can guarantee it.

In terms of our records and behavior, both public and private, I am more than willing to have the public judge both of us. I'm not sure you can say the same thing.

I didn't ask for this fight. I only asked that you do your job and keep your promises. Do that, and you won't hear any criticism from me.

Jeanne Clark


Sunday, August 19, 2012

The union rides to the rescue -- again

The yes vote on the new four-year contract by the members of Local 85 of the Amalgamated Transit Workers – the drivers, mechanics, and supervisors of the Port Authority – is another heroic example of our public servants voting for the best interest of the people they serve, even when it means a personal loss.

And these workers took quite a personal hit. They gave back another $60 million dollars in wages and benefits, on top of the concessions from the last four-year contract, adding up to more than $100 million in concessions in the last five years. To save public transit, the workers have agreed to work for and with less.

Their courageous vote will save our region's economy, environment, quality of life, and our future.

Without this vote, massive public transit service cuts and fare increases would devastate our community. With little public transit and a huge influx of cars on the roads, businesses would lose. Their customers would not be able to reach them, and neither would their employees. Travel times for ambulances and fire trucks would vastly increase, meaning the difference between living and dying for some. Just as we are starting to grow our population after decades of loss, our region would be far less attractive to students, workers, and new employers. And the addition of more vehicles on our streets would make our air quality dangerous on far too many days.

These workers cannot – and should not– do it alone. County Executive Rich Fitzgerald led the negotiations, and has pledged to do his part. Gov. Corbett has apparently promised – behind closed doors, as he does most things – to pay the state's fair share temporarily.

But we need to solve the funding issue permanently, and stop demanding more and more concessions from our public workers.

Our state leaders need to stop demonizing both the people who rely on public transportation, and the hard-working people who run it, and pay their fair share.

It's fashionable in many quarters – including some progressive areas – to say that our public workers are out of control, that they demand too much.

People forget that they are our teachers, our police, our firefighters, our bus drivers – and they are all our neighbors. They make our society run.

And we made a pact with them. We agreed to pay them a decent wage, health benefits, limited job security, and to allow them to pay into a pension plan that will allow them to live with dignity after their years of service. They agreed to work hard, and to serve under many restrictions, which varied by group. In most cases, they have limited promotion opportunities, and really good wages come only after decades of service. Many have restricted rights on their political activities. And all agreed to serve the public to their best.

But then came the destruction of our economy. The collapse of the financial industry – caused by the collusion of voracious and gluttonous megabanks that were "too big to fail," and elected officials and regulators who dismantled all protections for the people – meant the pension funds were no longer as healthy. The massive tax cuts to the wealthy during two wars plus a near-depression meant trickle down tax increases in every local community.

Led by the braying rightwing and echoed by the news media, "greedy workers" became the problem. And when no one in Harrisburg would act like an adult, take responsibility, and work to save our vital public transportation system, it was up to the union and its workers to ride to the rescue.

So next time you ride a bus or the T, or even pass one, give those terrific heroes a wave and say thank you. They didn't cause the problem. But they are solving it.

The fare you put in the box is nothing compared to the cost these public servants paid to keep our transportation going. We all owe them a big one.