Letter FromrnPittsburghrnby Sarah J. McCarthyrnWhite DevilsrnWith a BadgernJonny Gammage died on the night ofrnOctober 12, 1995, in front of Frank andrnShirley’s paneake parlor, just three milesrnfrom my home. Jonny was a black man, arncousin and business partner of PittsburghrnSteeler Ray Seals, and he died inrnthe custody of five white suburban policemenrnwho had pulled him over for arnminor traffic violation. Gammage’s lastrnwords, according to Whitehall policernSgt. Keith Henderson, were the unforgettablernwords of a man who feared forrnhis life. “Keith, Keith, I’m only 31,” hernbegged as he lay prone on the ground,rnthe officers holding him down. A fewrnminutes later he was dead of suffocationrnfrom the pressure applied to his neck andrnchest.rnSgt. Henderson testified that Gammagerncame out of the ear swinging, andrnthat had he been the arresting officer hernwould have shot Gammage. An eyewitnessrntow truck driver, sitting in Frank andrnShirley’s parking lot, refuted the officer’srntestimony, saying that a Brentwood policemanrninitiated the altercation, attackingrnGammage from behind. One of therncops had a suspicious violent act in hisrnpast, and Jonny Gammage had a couplernalleged incidents, inadmissible in court,rnwhere he had been belligerent to policernofficers in Syracuse.rnThough there is no agreement onrnwhat really happened that night, twornthings are certain. Gammage shouldn’trnhave died during a routine traffic stop,rnand the mutual demonization processrnthat smolders between blacks andrnwhites—especially between black menrnand white cops—created an explosive situation.rnFortunately, as we go to press, violencernhas not followed the acquittal in Novemberrnof one of the white police officersrncharged with wrongdoing in Gammage’srndeath. The Reverend Jesse Jackson didrncall Gammage’s death a “lynching,” andrndemonstrators outside the county courthouserndid protest the all-white jury thatrnacquitted the officer, but so far the cityrnhas escaped the kind of rioting seen recentlyrnin St. Petersburg, Florida.rnThe “officer dragged case,” as it’srnknown in Pittsburgh, is equally explosive.rnIt involves John Wilbur, a police officerrnwho was dragged through the city streetsrnby his hand by a car full of black juvenilesrncareening at speeds of up to 71 m.p.h.rnOfficer Wilbur had first approachedrnthe stolen car because three blackrnteenagers were stopped in the middle ofrnthe street, sleeping at 1:50 A.M. at a greenrnlight. Wilbur opened the rear door of thernchampagne-colored Honda Accord afterrnhe saw one of the boys pop somethingrninto his mouth, which Wilbur correctlyrnthought was drugs. The teenagerrnslammed the door on Wilbur’s hand. “Irnknew my hand was stuck in the door andrn1 was going with this car whether 1 wantedrnto or not,” Wilbur testified later fromrnhis wheelchair.rnDragged bouncing through thernstreets, Wilbur described the terror ofrntraffic whizzing by in the opposite directionrnand the red flashes of police carsrnchasing behind him. The pain in hisrnhand, his feet and his leg—which wasrnscraped to the bone—was horrendous,rnbut with three giant steps Wilbur vaultedrnhimself atop the trunk of the car,rnreached for his gun with his free rightrnhand and blindly fired at the occupants,rnkilling two of them. The third, the driver,rnstopped the car and fled into thernnight.rnLuckily for Wilbur, there were severalrnwitnesses to the incident who contradictedrnthe accusations that spewed fromrnthe black community. Of the many verbalrnassaults on Wilbur, perhaps the worstrnwas from Homewood resident AdamarnTaylor. “Wilbur deserved to get draggedrnup the street,” she yelled at a police civilianrnreview board meeting, “and I wishrnlike hell his legs were broke the hell off.rnFor real!”rnIncredibly, despite the testimony ofrneyewitnesses backing Wilbur’s accountrnof the incident, four out of six of the jurorsrnat the coroner’s inquest said Wilburrnshould be arrested. The three black jurorsrnsaid Wilbur should be charged withrnmanslaughter for the deaths of the twornyouths, and one white juror wantedrnWilbur held for homicide. The remainingrntwo white female jurors thoughtrnWilbur’s actions were justified.rnAllegheny County District AttorneyrnRobert Colville refused to chargernWilbur, despite the findings of the coroner’srnjury, saying: “The law is clear. Anybodyrnbeing dragged at 71 m.p.h. downrnthe street for almost a mile has andrnshould have the right to protect himselfrnagainst those people.”rnThe Gammage and Wilbur cases illustraternthe atmosphere of racial demonizationrnthat permeates American culture.rnAlthough blacks have been thernhistorical victims of racial demonization,rntoday the demonization of whites inrnAmerica has evolved to the point thatrnblack juries are increasingly finding blackrnskin an entitlement to victim status,rnwhether one has dragged a cop throughrnthe streets or cut off a woman’s head.rnValerie McDonald, an African-Americanrnon Pittsburgh’s City Council, respondingrnto black reactions to the “officerrndragged case,” said she was gladrnPittsburgh got to “hear the outrage”rnfrom the black community. “I’m happyrnthat you felt discomfort, very edgy onrnyour seat,” she stated, her voice rising.rn”You needed to hear the anger that’s goingrnon in the community. Not everybodyrnin Pittsburgh is happy.”rnMs. McDonald also recently defendedrnPittsburgh’s drug dealers, claimingrnthat these boys are just selling drugs tornput “meat and potatoes” on the familyrntable. Just in case young black malesrnneed any additional encouragement torndeal drugs, earjack, or drag policemenrnthrough the streets by their hands,rnthere’s always a hallelujah chorus whornwill provide the excuses and lead therncheers.rnIt is understandable that McDonaldrnand others who care about young blackrnmales would want to blame someonernoutside the community for the destructionrnand chaos in their lives. It is understandable,rnbut definitely not helpful tornthese boys who are in ever-increasingrnnumbers ending up murdered, addicted,rnor in jail—not because of racist cops, butrnbecause of the crime spree in which theyrnare so heavily involved.rn”One black male graduates from collegernfor every 100 who go to jail,” statedrnGeneral Colin Powell at a recent graduationrnspeech. In a nation where youngrnblack males comprise less than three percentrnof the population and commit nearlyrnhalf of all homicides and two-thirds ofrnall violent crimes, mostly against eachrnother, it’s time for less rhetoric and somernserious soul searching.rnSarah J. McCarthy is a freelance writer.rn42/CHRONICLESrnrnrn