By Alex Meins
A Pennsylvania grand jury released findings last month accusing the Pittsburgh Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 1 president Robert Swartzwelder of deliberately obstructing or “interfering with” investigations into multiple “officer involved shootings” in the city, specifically the police murder of a black man in his own home in the neighborhood of Larimer and the non-fatal shooting of a man allegedly carrying a shotgun down the street in East Liberty.
As head of the FOP, Swartzwelder defends the brutal practices of the police, both publicly as on the radio show Blue Lives Radio “Screwed Blue” and more recently in a complaint sent to the PA Labor Relations Board where he defends an email he sent to FOP members, criticizing the trial of Pittsburgh police Sgt. Stephen Matakovich, as “union” activity. Matakovich is currently serving 27 months in federal prison for assaulting a teenager outside a high school football game.
The grand jury report accused Swartzwelder of instructing police officers under his charge to withhold evidence from investigators and of directly preventing investigators from interviewing an officer at the East Liberty shooting scene.
The report did not recommend criminal charges against Swartzwelder, showing the impotence of the State in upholding even its own standards of justice in the face of police impunity.
Mayor Peduto and Allegheny County DA Stephen Zappala have sparred publicly over the police’s obstruction, showing that the cover-ups and impunity runs much deeper than Swartzwelder alone.
In 2017, Zappala accused the Pittsburgh Police of obstructing his investigation into the Larimer police murder. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh’s faux-progressive mayor Peduto defended the FOP and the Pittsburgh Police, saying the DA “could have intervened to stop the FOP President’s interference at the scenes, but did not do so.”
The contradictions within the state have sharpened in the wake of multiple police murders and shootings in and around Pittsburgh in the last few years. The East Pittsburgh police department even closed down after the police murder of teenager Antwon Rose Jr last June.
Following mass protests and street blockages, as well as the outspoken anti-people sentiment coming from government officials in the Pittsburgh area, the counter-insurgency forces of the legal left and NGO apparatuses have moved to quash rebellion through their work to set up a toothless county-wide Citizens Police Review Board.
Red Guards Pittsburgh called the machinations of the legal left “devil’s arithmetic” and “bartering with the people’s lives,” a “false solution to [the people’s] rage, a sugar-coated yet nonetheless deadly bullet shot by the liberal reformers and well-meaning sell-outs into the hearts of the people in struggle.”
One can see in the gloves-on battles between Zappala and Peduto and the grand jury and Swartzwelder the contradictions of the bourgeois state grinding against each other. In gentrification, the people’s demands for safety and for life with dignity become twisted into displacement and the construction of “playground neighborhoods” for the rich, while the state twists the demands for an end to police violence and impunity into petty power-plays and toothless reforms like the Citizen’s Police Review Board. Furthermore, Peduto’s defense of the FOP actions serves the interests of gentrification by protecting its enforcers: the police.
Developers are rapidly gentrifying East Liberty, forcing the displacement of over 2,000 black, poor, and working class residents from the city. Larimer, just east of East Liberty, shows signs of being next in the real estate developers’ and Mayor Peduto’s gentrification crosshairs.
Massively increasing police presence, including surveillance technology like the “shots fired” automated audio systems which entered the people’s consciousness after the police murder of Mark Daniels in Homewood in early 2018, often signal the beginning stages of gentrification of popular and working class areas of a city.
Gentrification and police violence are linked — with increasing police presence acting as shock troops to clear an area before developers move in like vultures.