By Charlie Deitch and Haley Frederick
Pittsburgh Current Staff Writers
We are aware, of course, that news actually happened prior to July 11, 2018—the day the Current’s inaugural issue hit the streets—but we thought we’d do our 2018 Year in Review issue straight from the pages (print and web) of the Pittsburgh Current. A lot has happened in our first year of operation. Here are the moments and stories that made an impact on us and the city.
The launch of the Pittsburgh Current
On June 6, 2018, our really poor-looking website went live with a story about how we were here, independent and begging for money via Kickstarter. We were overwhelmed by everyone’s response. We surpassed our goal of $15,000 and we were well on the ill-advised road to starting a print newspaper! Our first print issue hit the street July 11 and we haven’t looked back. The paper begins offering a weekly comics section in Issue 2 and adds to powerhouse contributors when the cartoons of fired Post-Gazette political cartoonist Rob Rogers begin showing up in the Current and nationally known sex columnist and activist Dan Savage leaves his old Pittsburgh paper and begins publishing his column in the Current. Also we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that on Aug. 2 we got a visit from Nick “Fucking” Nolte.
The killing of Antwon Rose
Unarmed and just 17-years-old, Antwon Rose Jr. was shot in the back by an East Pittsburgh police officer on June 19. Rose was a passenger in a vehicle that was stopped by police because it fit the description of a car used in a drive-by shooting. Rose jumped out of the vehicle and began running away when Officer Michael Rosfeld opened fire, hitting Rose in the face, arm and back. On June 26, Rosfeld was indicted on criminal homicide charges.
Rose’s death was a catalyst for protests that lasted more than a month. At a massive protest downtown June 22, those in attendance began calls for justice, fearful that this case of a young black man assaulted by a police officer would end up like others.
“This is a referendum on District Attorney Stephen Zappala, he has always stood with the brutalizing police officers and he’s never stood with the oppressed black and brown people of Allegheny County,” said Jasiri X. “He didn’t prosecute police officers, but he put charges on Jordan Miles. He didn’t prosecute those police officers that brutalized Leon Ford but he put charges on Leon Ford.”
Later on June 22, hundreds of protesters shut down the Parkway East hours after they began protesting at the East Pittsburgh Police Department. Protests continued with the intent to disrupt commerce and transportation lines in the city until charges were filed against the officer.
Said one protester: “We shut down the whole damn Interstate. Nobody got to work; nobody got home. Yesterday, we shut down the whole downtown; then we went up and shut down a Pirates game. We had a group in Homestead that shut down a bridge. This is what unity looks like when black people…plan and organize. Until we get justice for Antwon, we will shut shit down everyday.”
Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner also wrote in an exclusive op-ed in the Current: “It is far more important that we all take ownership of our racial divide more than we do the superficial designations that land us on the best-of lists.”
Recently, Rose’s family sued the University of Pittsburgh, where Rosfeld worked as an officer prior to joining East Pittsburgh. The lawsuit claims the university let Rosfeld quietly leave his old job without documenting “prior misconduct.”
Death of Mac Miller
The news broke that hip-hop star and Pittsburgh native Mac Miller died suddenly in his California home on Friday, Sept. 7, at the age of 26. Miller, born Malcolm James McCormick on Jan. 19, 1992, made music a part of his life almost from the beginning. The artist, who scored big with records like Blue Slide Park, K.I.D.S., Watching Movies With the Sound Off, The Divine Feminine and this year’s Swimming, seemed destined to it at an early age.
But, like so many others, he struggled with substance abuse. On Nov. 7, officials announced Miller’s official cause of death: an accidental overdose from a fatal mixture of fentanyl, cocaine and alcohol.
Four days after his death, thousands of fans gathered to celebrate his life and music at Squirrel Hill’s Blue Slide Park, the namesake of his first full-length record. Miller loved Pittsburgh, and Pittsburgh loves him back.
Tree of Life
A gunman opened fire on the morning of Saturday, Oct. 27 at Squirrel Hill’s Tree of Life Synagogue killing 11 people who were attending religious services there and injuring several others, including responding police officers. The victims were Joyce Fienberg, 75, of Oakland; Richard Gottfried, 65, of Ross; Rose Mallinger, 97, of Squirrel Hill; Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, of Edgewood; brothers Cecil Rosenthal, 59, and David Rosenthal, 54, of Squirrel Hill; Bernice Simon, 84, and Sylvan Simon, 86, of Wilkinsburg, who were married; Daniel Stein, 71, of Squirrel Hill; Melvin Wax, 88, of Squirrel Hill; and Irving Younger, 69, of Mt. Washington.
Later that day, the shooter would be identified as Robert Bowers, 46, of Baldwin. His anti-semitism and racism are well-documented online, as well as overheard by witnesses in the things he shouted at the scene.
For the victims and their loved ones, as well as the larger jewish community, in the days and weeks following there was an outpouring of support across Pittsburgh and the nation. There were of course the funerals, and then there were vigils, memorials, marches, fundraisers and tributes.
For Bowers, there were charges. He is accused of 44 federal crimes, 32 of which carry the maximum sentence of the death penalty. He is now awaiting trial.
Pittsburgh protests President Trump’s visit to Tree of Life
Despite being specifically asked not to visit Tree of Life in the days following the massacre because of comments he made, President Donald Trump came any way. He was met by scores of protesters who felt Trump’s attitudes and words helped breed the kind of hate that was on display at the Tree of Life. Members of Bend the Arc PGH, a coalition of progressive Jewish citizens objected to Trump’s visit writing in a letter: “For the past three years your words and your policies have emboldened a growing white nationalist movement,” they read. “You yourself called the murderer evil, but [Saturday’s] violence is the direct culmination of your influence.”
Pregnant Chargers fan choked at Steelers game
A San Diego woman was choked by a Steelers fan more than twice her size Dec. 3 when she tried to stop the man from continuing to assault her husband. Pittsburgh Current learned about the assault when it saw a photo taken by freelance photographer Shelley Lipton. The San Diego couple said they had been harassed all night by the man and despite requests for help from security, they were ignored. In fact, no security personnel ever arrived on the scene of the fight. The case is under investigation and details about the assault and the photo were picked up by news sites nationwide. Despite a clear photo of the attacker’s face, Pittsburgh Police would not confirm whether they’ve received any information about who the man is.
Pittsburgh DIY Punk Ambassador Jessi Flati dead at 40
Flati was an outstanding musician and fervent cheerleader for Pittsburgh’s DIY punk scene. Just a few months before his death Oct. 26, Flati and his wife, Steph, who performed collectively as The Lopez, held a record release for their new single, “Like a Prayer.” A new album was due out by year’s end. Flati is remembered for his talent and dedication to the music scene as well as his sense of humor and love for his wife/bandmate. “I remember Jesse playing his noisy guitar leads, leaning his whole body into Steph with a wide-legged stance as she screamed into the microphone, then stepping back in silence as soon as they were finished so she could field questions,” said recording engineer Madeleine Campbell. “Their powerful chemistry and partnership were instantly recognizable to everyone who met them.”
Silk Screen Film Festival shut down amid harassment allegation
Less than a week after the close of Silk Screen’s 13th annual film festival, the non-profit organization appeared to have shut down amid allegations of workplace and sexual harassment against its executive director, Harish Saluja. Sereny Welsby, a programming and operating assistant at Silk Screen contacted the Pittsburgh Current on Oct. 1, a day after the festival closed. On Aug. 29, Welsby filed a formal complaint about Saluja with Silk Screen’s board, which included several statements from former employees and interns alleging a history of inappropriate conduct by Saluja.
Following Welsby’s call for Saluja’s termination, in early September Silk Screen staff were told that he was resigning effective Dec. 31. Until that time, when he worked in the office, Saluja was to be chaperoned by a board member and have no direct contact with interns. However, Welsby says, the board has never investigated her complaints or complaints by previous women. Unhappy with the way the board had handled the complaints, which she learned are a part of a pattern going back several years, Welsby decided to take the story to the media. On Oct 2, Welsby says she arrived at work and was fired. She was offered $1,000 severance if she signed a document agreeing not to make “disparaging, insulting or critical” comments about her former employer. The agreement also required that she give up her rights to any sort of legal redress, including the filing of a lawsuit and any other future claims. She declined the cash payment. “From day one it was an uncomfortable work environment,” Welsby says.
The festival has since shut down citing “financial challenges.”
Rap music apparently banned at Arsenal Lanes
Peter Guellard, a DJ at Arsenal Lanes was fired after he posted a picture of a sign in the DJ booth telling jocks: “do not play RAP/HIP-HOP.” “I can totally understand if the note said, ‘No explicit lyrics’ or ‘Play Rock’n’Roll music,’ which is supposed to be the theme, but I think the picture of the note that I posted stinks of racism. I also felt very uncomfortable explaining to people who were requesting hip hop that the owners don’t want me to play it,” Guellard told the Current. The establishment’s owner told the Current that there was a ban on offensive lyrics, not hip hop.
Republicans contest Lindsey Williams’ victory
In a year when women candidates made a splash by running and winning in what seems like record numbers, Lindsey Williams has had one of the toughest treks to victory. Williams ran against right-wing zealot Jeremy Shaffer. Shaffer was a typical far-right Republican, bad on issues like LGBTQ rights. He ran a dirty campaign which included tricks like posting phony signs claiming WIlliams was a socialist. She beat him in the General Election and is currently dealing with more horseshit from the GOP, who is challenging her residency.