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Police brutality goes colorblind

Friday, September 25, 1998

By Tony Norman

Ah, autumn, the season of muted outrage and casual miscarriages of justice. There's a nip in the air and common sense has abandoned Allegheny County politics.

So, what exactly can we look forward to as we emerge from a sticky summer of do-nothing shenanigans on Grant Street?

Coroner Cyril Wecht could well be our next county executive. The possibility of tax discounts dominates the front page. There's giddy anticipation over the reopening of Lazarus on Fifth Avenue and the subsequent rerouting of buses along Downtown's perimeter. In other words, things are as boring as they could possibly be.

Still, these are salad days for our economically depressed hamlet. Once the new stadiums are built, our benign county overlords insist, our economic engines will be in full sputter. We'll all get rich when the hot dog concessions are doled out.

After 11 years of living here, I finally understand the best way of surviving life in the 'Burgh. It's all about embracing absurdity. Knowing one's place in the scheme of things takes the edge off the grossest idiocies better than complaining or protesting ever did.

That's why I'm going to let the indecency of the Evan Gross case slide. What's the point of getting on some high horse about some schnook's videotaped beating at the hands of state troopers if such beatings are considered "reasonable" by a D.A. rumored to be progressive deep down in his soul?

Still, I hadn't realized to what extent community standards had changed since the Gammage case.

I almost spit out my coffee while reading about another motorist who was kneed, slammed face first onto the hood of a car, and sprayed with mace while submitting to arrest after a pursuit that ended on the Carnegie exit of the Parkway West -- and I don't even drink coffee.

It's a sign of immaturity that I'm even bothered by such adrenaline-fueled hijinks in this day and age. It's a truism, really, that if the cops have to chase you, your rights as a human being are immediately subject to negotiation. It's all about the dehumanization of the perp, and we're all perps until proven innocent.

That's the way of the world, and I accept it. But according to eyewitnesses and what is alleged to be on the videotape, Gross was knocked around while surrendering. Yet his every act of submission was interpreted as "menacing" when reviewed by the experts. They convinced a grand jury that beating the hell out of a guy with his hands in the air really is fair play. He would've been shot if he'd waved a white flag.

But from where I sit, Gross made two grievous errors that night: driving fast and driving while white (DWW). Where's the community outrage when a white guy is beaten up by the cops for speeding? If Gross were black, the NAACP would've been all over D.A. Stephen Zappala like white on, oh, never mind.

So what's a man with Zappala's tender conscience supposed to do with an election to worry about next year? His grand jury said drop it. He feels his evidence is too weak to go after the cops even for lying on their police reports.

In a way, we've finally achieved equal opportunity brutality in Pittsburgh. Even white guys can get beaten up by cops on videotape and nothing come of it. Justice, just as in that Dylan song, finally has "no top and no bottom."

Then again, I suppose it really depends on what we mean by justice.

Tony Norman's email is: tnorman@post-gazette.com

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