Join 3,574 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


His name was Johnny Gammage
October 12, 2005 2:43 PM   Subscribe

"Keith, Keith, I'm only 31!" Those were the last words of Johnny Gammage, a black motorist who died just inside the city limits of Pittsburgh, when he was pulled over by police from from some of the Steel City's wealthiest, whitest suburbs, some time between 1:47 and 2:10 AM, 10 years ago today. It made national headlines at the time, but now you won't even find "Johnny Gammage" in Wikipedia--and while the nation fixes on a more recent incident, even the city that was torn apart by the scandal of it is passing the tenth anniversary virtually unnoticed.
posted by jefgodesky (37 comments total)

 
It's odd that you point out it's not an article on Wikipedia. Why don't you write the article yourself?
posted by about_time at 3:04 PM on October 12, 2005


I'm surprised, I'd never even heard of this event nor this person - thanks for the post, jefgodesky.
posted by jonson at 3:07 PM on October 12, 2005


Robert Davis was lucky.
posted by Kwantsar at 3:09 PM on October 12, 2005


Officers heard it who were on the scene at two o'clock and officers who arrived between 2:15 and 2:20 heard Vojtas make that same remark. Vojtas told one officer, "We just got another one." How do you take that? You just got what? Another bad incident? Or you just killed another Black guy? What does that mean? Vojtas made that statement to a Black officer.
*shakes head*

thanks for the post

.
posted by matteo at 3:12 PM on October 12, 2005


Stephen Lawrence makes Wikipedia. Still not sure of the point.
posted by Frasermoo at 3:13 PM on October 12, 2005


I grew up with one of those officers as a playmate and neighbor. Didn't surprise me when I heard about it.
posted by StickyCarpet at 3:15 PM on October 12, 2005


Even I don't know enough about the case to write up a decent Wikipedia article--and I lived through the whole fiasco. The point is that Wikipedia has entries on pretty much everything--but Gammage is so forgotten he doesn't even show up there.
posted by jefgodesky at 3:16 PM on October 12, 2005


Interesting post. I was tempted to pile on the Wikipedia scarcasm-fest this will invite but I see your point.
posted by StarForce5 at 3:19 PM on October 12, 2005


Sticky Carpet -- I grew up in Carrick, and went to Bishop McDowell in 8th grade, so I knew a few playmates and neighbors of some of those officers myself.

I wasn't too surprised, either....

I also wrote about Gammage on my own blog, with more depth and commentary, of course ... and frankly, I'm probably be slightly paranoid the next time I drive through Brentwood. Good 'ole boys specialize in that kind of payback. Vojtas especially is a real piece of work....
posted by jefgodesky at 3:19 PM on October 12, 2005


Johnny or Jonny?
posted by Eideteker at 3:25 PM on October 12, 2005


Oh and I should say the reason it did not surprise me was that his family was into corporal punishment. He was a real sweet toddler and turned mean.
posted by StickyCarpet at 3:30 PM on October 12, 2005


What a sad story. I'd never heard of it. Nothing quite so infuriating as murders with badges.
posted by teece at 3:39 PM on October 12, 2005


Since Gammage's death, there have been 12 police-involved killings of Black men in Allegheny County.

Fuck me. In one county? What the hell is going on there?
posted by dash_slot- at 3:43 PM on October 12, 2005


nothing quite so infuriating....or terrifying, to me, as a 31 year old black male.

i spent most of my young life in bad neighborhoods. i spent 9 - 12 grade in a hood so bad, people in other projects called it vietnam. yet, i used to walk down the streets at night alert and cautious, but not afraid.

i am, however, afraid whenever i'm in a place with no witnesses and i encounter a police officer, even if i'm minding my own business and doing nothing illegal.

i'm convinced that any police officer(s) -- of any race -- can beat me to death and get nothing more than a slap in the wrist, if that.

this story saddens me so much because it's a variation on a theme we've been hearing for years, and we'll keep hearing it. and for every case we hear about, there are probably dozens more that go completely unreported.
posted by lord_wolf at 3:48 PM on October 12, 2005


Thanks for posting this jefgodesky. The Pittsburgh area is amazingly segragated, outside of the city itself and maybe Wilkinsburg, Homestead and Penn Hills, it's all white folks. And this is not the far suburbs we're talking about here, Brentwood is less than two miles out the the city limits and it's 97.95% white.

Even in the city, the lines are pretty striking, most neighborhood lines could be trenches since no one crosses them. I find it very weird. There was in incident about five years ago in Mt Lebanon (Which is just south of these two towns) where a couple refused to let house painters into thier house because two of them were black. They said that since the contractor was white, they assumed that all his workers would be white too and wanted their deposit back.
posted by octothorpe at 3:55 PM on October 12, 2005


Thanks for this post, even though it gives me a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. These things should be remembered.
posted by languagehat at 4:07 PM on October 12, 2005


They hate our freedoms.
posted by Max Power at 4:26 PM on October 12, 2005


Was that the story where the rationale was choke holds work differently on black people?

Not that it matters.

I enjoy how folks who are on the far right say they want smaller government (I agree), don't trust the fed with their money (I agree), etc. etc. yet completely trust the police when they say a fight broke out and the black guy died by accident (WTF?)

It's pretty much where I lose touch with those other folks in my neighborhood.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:47 PM on October 12, 2005


Even in the city, the lines are pretty striking, most neighborhood lines could be trenches since no one crosses them. I find it very weird.

Well, physically they are trenches (and hills). It seems to me that the geography of the city is such that it lends itself to everyone isolating themselves into their own enclaves.
posted by deanc at 4:48 PM on October 12, 2005


Well, someone’s done it now.



Great post. From the first link, does it seem that the juror being interviewed, Richard Lyons, believes that the cops planted a bag of marijuana as evidence?
posted by ijoshua at 4:51 PM on October 12, 2005


The white people in Pittsburgh gave me the creeps when I visited a few years back. Them appalachian folk can be scary.
posted by shoepal at 4:56 PM on October 12, 2005


I enjoy how folks who are on the far right say they want smaller government (I agree), don't trust the fed with their money (I agree), etc. etc. yet completely trust the police when they say a fight broke out and the black guy died by accident (WTF?)

Don't buy into the right-left con, brother! Marxists and Libertarians both fear the police. It's the obeisance of those fucking mealy-mouthed centrists that's the problem.
posted by Kwantsar at 5:10 PM on October 12, 2005


Don't buy into the right-left con

Well, yeah, but then I get bitched at in stereo.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:17 PM on October 12, 2005


what would pittsburgh's blackest *suburb* be, then? (trick question!)

shoepal, I'm with you on that one.
posted by kcm at 5:59 PM on October 12, 2005


Just want to say that most police officers are awesome. We need them. I wish we paid them more. These people, however, are sick fucks, and I wish they would get sent to jail where they'd be pummeled in a fashion similar to the beating they gave Gammage. The bigger picture, though, is that they did what they did because they could get away with it, and their community would protect them. You have a community that demands accountability of their police officers, you don't get shit like this.
posted by billysumday at 6:03 PM on October 12, 2005


Honestly, I don't think race had all that much to do with it. Don't get me wrong; when I show outsiders my fair city, I introduce Brentwood as "the local headquarters of the KKK." But I don't think we've ever fought a war for religion, either. Racism and religion aren't motivators, they're excuses. They're things we invent afterwards to explain our behavior--half the time, to ourselves as much as anyone else.

Why does it happen, then? I have no doubt that most people who enter the force genuinely want to help people, and are really out to save the world. But how can anyone still be a normal human being behind that shield? How can anyone resist that kind of power trip?

The victims aren't always black, and the perpetrators aren't always white. But the perpetrators always have incredible, nigh-unimpeachable power--and the victims are always the most powerless.

In a white-dominated, racist America, "black" and "powerless" have a lot of overlap, of course. And there are a lot of racist cops, so mistaking the window dressing for the window is an easy mistake to make--especially since it's a mistake we want to make. We don't want to think that this is the unavoidable dark shadow that's cast anytime one person has power over another--we don't want to think it's a systemic flaw. We want to think it's a few bad apples. We want to think we just need to punish a few bad guys, and everything will be fine, and we won't have to change a thing about ourselves and how we live.

We find out about it only when they miscalculate. When a video tape gives leverage to the powerless, or when they don't realize until it's too late that they just asphyxiated the first cousin of a professional football player.
posted by jefgodesky at 6:20 PM on October 12, 2005


Thanks for this post. As a member of the Thomas Merton Center, this deserves continuous discussion and reflection, which it sadly hasn't gotten.
posted by allen.spaulding at 7:19 PM on October 12, 2005


but now you won't even find "Johnny Gammage" in Wikipedia--and while the nation fixes on a more recent incident, even the city that was torn apart by the scandal of it is passing the tenth anniversary virtually unnoticed.

You should avoid making long-term statements about the Wiki

(The wiki is your GOD)
posted by delmoi at 8:31 PM on October 12, 2005


The record clearly shows that the initial text of the article was made after this post--and with the links this post points to. So, long-term statements about the Wiki are OK--because of all the time stamps!
posted by jefgodesky at 8:55 PM on October 12, 2005


delmoi, Wikipedia is only one of thousands of Wikis. It is not "the" Wiki. That usage is, unfortunately, spreading.

Yeah, I don't see any of the Wikipedia Mefites in that article history -- I'm guessing there was plenty of local coverage in Pittsburgh, though, and that often prompts editors to work on an article. Ah, no, they quoted the post.

I don't think you really should read anything into the fact that the article did not exist, though -- there's a strong systemic bias toward Western white males, for some odd reason, quite unlike the rest of the internet.

By coincidence, I was at a police seminar last night on conflict resolution, and they demonstrated the Taser, which they've been using for about 18 months. (The best part was seeing cops I know test-shocked. They ... swore a lot.) This department, anyway, believes that use of the Taser has greatly reduced injuries to both officers and subjects. We had our own locally infamous death in police custody a little before that -- a white kid with mental problems, who also had a heart arrythmia -- and that was one reason they quickly moved to adopt the Taser.

I'm not so quick to shout racism in these cases -- I think the basic problem is police policies which encourage force escalation, as in this Salon article on the Diallo case. A lot of these situations actually turn out to have black officers involved directly or peripherally, which doesn't seem to affect the outcome. There seems to be greater awareness now of the dangers of physical force in these types of encounters, and a lot of departments have banned the use of batons (although oversize flashlights still seem to slip in a lot). That alone has made a tremendous difference, according to articles I've read.

What is racist, probably, is -- sadly -- the way the community rallied behind an officer who was poorly trained and had poor self-control.
posted by dhartung at 2:17 AM on October 13, 2005


...there's a strong systemic bias toward Western white males, for some odd reason, quite unlike the rest of the internet.

Doesn't that make it stronger evidence for the idea that white males don't want to remember such things?

What is racist, probably, is -- sadly -- the way the community rallied behind an officer who was poorly trained and had poor self-control.

Knowing Brentwood, oh yeah, absolutely no doubt whatsoever.
posted by jefgodesky at 4:25 AM on October 13, 2005


The victims aren't always black, and the perpetrators aren't always white. But the perpetrators always have incredible, nigh-unimpeachable power--and the victims are always the most powerless.

In a white-dominated, racist America, "black" and "powerless" have a lot of overlap, of course.


Excellent point Jefgodesky. We see injustice against all kinds of "less powerful" Americans: the homeless, religious minorities; immigrants; transgendered; gays & lesbians, etc. etc. Not to change the subject here, but your point illustrates the inanity of the cry "reverse racism". Do minorities ever exercise unfair prejudices/hatreds against non-minorities? ...Sure thing! But at this place and time in our society, So what? There's no real threat behind it without the power to subjugate.
posted by applemeat at 5:03 AM on October 13, 2005


I'm not sure that the tenth anniversary of his death went "virtually unnoticed." Yesterday, the Philadelphia Independent Media Center put on four, free public events. 'At each venue there will be a 15 minute introduction, screening of the powerful one-hour version of “Enough IS ENOUGH: The Death of Jonny Gammage” and a 45-minute community forum with Q & A conducted by local experts.'

(By the way, October 12, 2005 was also the seventh anniversary of the murder of Matthew Shepard.)
posted by Carol Anne at 6:54 AM on October 13, 2005


i am, however, afraid whenever i'm in a place with no witnesses and i encounter a police officer

I'm a white male about the same age as lord_wolf, and I feel the same way. Sadly, my race might protect me a bit more, but that doesn't stop me from putting on my best "thank you, massa'!" whenever I meet some douchbag with a badge.

Do smaller local police have any form of IA (internal affairs) that oversee them like the kind that exist in larger cities?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:23 AM on October 13, 2005


The Philadelphia Independent Media Center. Yeah, we had a screening here, too--one no one heard about. That was pretty much it. This is where it happened, right here in Pittsburgh. Down the street from where I used to live.

Maybe things were different a six hour drive to the east, but here, most of us passed the day without ever hearing the name once.
posted by jefgodesky at 8:21 AM on October 13, 2005


As of this morning, WDUQ-FM has broadcasted 3-parts-out-of-4 of a series on the Gammage incident. Listen to the reports on WDUQ's audio site. (Quicktime required)
posted by Parlour Tricks at 8:51 AM on October 13, 2005


Family, community recall Jonny Gammage from the Syracuse NY paper.
posted by maurice at 10:07 AM on October 13, 2005


« Older World's Nation's Tallest Jenga Tower...   |   Visualization of particle phys... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments