Police Accountablity: Pittsburgh Trailing Saudi Arabia?

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I have never seen a situation so dismal that a policeman couldn’t make it worse.
Brendan Behan


The recent revelations by the City of Pittsburgh of an apparent clause which requires male officers seeking promotion to have a documented history of battering their loved ones or run the risk of never wearing the white shirt would barely register as news, if not for a bit of strangeness from Saudi Arabia:

Three members of Saudi Arabia’s powerful religious police face trial Saturday for the death of a man who died in custody. The case is the first of its kind in this conservative nation. The trial involves the death of a Saudi man the police arrested for being alone with a woman who was not a relative – an act considered an offense in the kingdom. It will be held in the northern city of Tabuk, close to the Iraqi border.

It isn’t clear how long the trial will last or what punishment the men might face if found guilty.

Police trial? Punishment? Guilty? Having lived in Pittsburgh for the majority of my life, the notion of police accountability seems as strange as cardamom in your coffee, ritualized hospitality or archaic alcohol laws. OK, not so much the latter.

Of course in many ways, we’re light years ahead of the Saudis. After all, our local religious judge (Mullah? Mullette?) is an unveiled woman and the State subsidizes gambling, as well as an independent body charged with high school debate matches regarding police misconduct (with its own myspace profile).

A government is the gang with the monopoly on violence for a given area, and the police are entrusted with carrying out the violence, in exchange for betraying their social class, like any other low-level manager. This doesn’t change, except by degree. The NYPD is the Stasi, is the RUC, is the Saudi Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, is the mellow Dutch cop who patrols the red light district. Pittsburgh cops have a reputation for corruption and violence, even amongst US police forces, who are considered by some to be the worst in the world. You wonder about the ‘land of the free’ when Egyptians and Chileans and Turks, express horror at the conduct of US cops.

The thin blue line is very thick in Allegheny County, with countless municipal fiefdoms, and a DA, who will do damn near anything to avoid charging police with violent misconduct, even engaging in comical conflict of interest duels with the coroner. If DA Steven Zappala Jr. were merely being realistic, and correctly pointing out that a cop’s job is violent misconduct by definition, but his hardline against police accountability comes across as that of a groupie or political opportunist, who needs the police support to be attorney general or federal prosecutor or senator.

Is it any surprise that cops like George T. Trosky, Charles Rodriguez, and Gene Hlavac abuse their loved ones? No more surprising than in any of the professions where violence is rewarded, such as the military or professional sports. This is even less surprising to those of us who are related to cops or live with ill-behaved dogs or in a base town. What is surprising that someone risked their lives and freedom by dialing 9-1-1 despite the threat of retribution by one who can kill you, if they happen to have the right uniform on.

Personally, I can’t fault George Trosky for his videotaped beating of Grateful Dead fans in 1989. Who hasn’t considered wading through a Dead show parking lot, swinging sticks? Apparently, Trosky’s lack of self-control paid off, since he was hand selected to be Jerry Garcia’s personal bodyguard for the 1995 Pittsburgh dead show. Or was it Trosky’s access to heroin?

Bureaucracy make take on local characteristics, but it’s still the same animal, and the the trial for the Saudi religious police has been postponed, as court proceedings often are, but what is remarkable is that regardless of the outcome, charges were filed in Saudi Arabia, something that is still a dream in Allegeheny County. Just ask the families of Charles Dixon, Bernard Rogers, Michael Ellerbe, Damian Jordan, and thousands whose names we will never know.

UPDATE (now with Video): Gene Hlavac is the asshole who attacked a group bike ride in Pittsburgh last Spring

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1 Comment

  1. You obviously do not know what a kind man George Trosky is


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