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Some Pittsburgh blacks roll out unwelcome wagon for NAACP

July 13, 1997

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ The national convention of the country’s largest and oldest civil rights group is meeting with resistance from some members of Pittsburgh’s black community.

``We don’t think a city as evil as Pittsburgh should have the honor of playing host,″ said Henry White, a Pittsburgh NAACP member who’s picketing the convention.

White and 15 other demonstrators chanting ``no justice, no peace″ stood outside the downtown convention center, where the NAACP is holding its 88th annual meeting.

``All the NAACP dollars coming to this city are staying downtown and are going into white corporate hands,″ White said. ``Blacks aren’t getting any of the pie. We don’t get crumbs.″

This isn’t the first time the national NAACP has been told to leave town by its own members from the host city.

Last year in Charlotte some local NAACP members wanted the convention moved because of the rash of church burnings in the state and the record of conservative North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms.

In Pittsburgh, protesters cite a lack of job opportunities for blacks, one of the nation’s highest mortality rates for black children and the exclusion of blacks from the business power structure.

But nothing has galvanized black opinion here like the killing of Jonny Gammage while in the custody of white police officers after a routine traffic stop.

The city teetered on the brink of civil unrest in April following a judge’s dismissal involuntary manslaughter charges against two officers from the Pittsburgh suburb of Brentwood, Pa.

Gammage, 31, of Syracuse, N.Y., was stopped by police for flickering brake lights October 1995 while driving a Jaguar belonging to his cousin, Ray Seals, a lineman with the NFL’s Carolina Panthers.

Police said Gammage lunged at a police officer after one struck him. He suffocated while the five officers restrained him.

NAACP President Kweisi Mfume said the group will hold a rally and march Tuesday to protest the handling of the Gammage case. He added that while the national office shared the same concerns with the protesters ``we don’t share their logic.″

``We believe we do more good by being here than by not being here,″ Mfume said. ``The NAACP has never run from a fight and we aren’t going to start now.″

Tim Stevens, Pittsburgh NAACP president, said the issues the protesters raise need to be addressed, and that’s why he is welcoming the convention. The last NAACP convention here was in 1931.

``We would continue to suffer in silence if the national didn’t show up,″ Stevens said. ``Now, at least people around the country are learning how things are here and we can start to make a difference.″

Stevens said the protesters are asking the impossible when they suggest that the estimated 10,000 visiting NAACP members boycott downtown merchants.

``Black people don’t own the hotels for this kind of gathering in Pittsburgh or maybe any other city in the country,″ Stevens said.

Stevens said the local branch has brought 45 local black vendors downtown. It’s also hosted a black arts festival with tours of the city’s black Homewood district.

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