Correspondence

White Devils With a Badge

Letter From Pittsburgh

Jonny Gammage died on the night of October 12, 1995, in front of Frank and Shirley's pancake parlor, just three miles from my home. Jonny was a black man, a cousin and business partner of Pittsburgh Steeler Ray Seals, and he died in the custody of five white suburban policemen who had pulled him over for a minor traffic violation. Gammage's last words, according to Whitehall police Sgt. Keith Henderson, were the unforgettable words of a man who feared for his life. "Keith, Keith, I'm only 31," he begged as he lay prone on the ground, the officers holding him down. A few minutes later he was dead of suffocation from the pressure applied to his neck and chest.

Sgt. Henderson testified that Gammage came out of the ear swinging, and that had he been the arresting officer he would have shot Gammage. An eyewitness tow truck driver, sitting in Frank and Shirley's parking lot, refuted the officer's testimony, saying that a Brentwood policeman initiated the altercation, attacking Gammage from behind. One of the cops had a suspicious violent act in his past, and Jonny Gammage had a couple alleged incidents, inadmissible in court, where he had been belligerent to police officers in Syracuse.

Though there is no agreement on what really happened that night, two things are certain. Gammage shouldn't have died during a routine traffic stop, and the mutual demonization process that smolders between blacks...

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