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‘We Have Nothing To Lose But Our Chains’: Protesters Demand Change For Black Women

Protesters filled intersections and marched down Penn Avenue through the East End Friday night as part of the Protect Black Women march. 

The march and protest were planned following the violent assault of two black women at an Exxon Mobil gas station on Brighton Road Sept. 20. Two male gas station employees were charged with simple assault after the incident. Protesters have gathered at the gas station multiple times since then.

According to the Facebook event page for the protest, the event was also organized as a response to a recent report from the city detailing the inequities black women living in Pittsburgh experience.

“We are asking the community and our allies to come march, protest, make noise, and let the rest of the city know that the we will no longer stand for the injustices towards black women in this city, nation and world,” according to the Facebook event page.

Assault On Black Women

Two weeks ago, two women were assaulted by men who worked at a North Side gas station after the women demanded a refund for spilled gas. The owners denied the refund, according to the Department of Public Safety. Video recorded by those nearby shows he men strike the women multiple times and drag one woman across the pavement.

The two women, who are sisters, are identified as Jamila Regan, 25, and Ashia Regain, 27.

The men were charged with simple assault, a misdemeanor, by District Attorney Stephen Zappala. Protesters have called for those charges to be elevated to a felony level.

Defendants Scott Hill, Sukhjinder Sadhra, and Balkar Singh are scheduled for preliminary hearings Nov. 5 before Allegheny County Common Pleas President Judge Kim Clark.

Vickie Praytor, who attended the march, said the need Friday was for people in the black community -- and women to come together. 

“I’ve seen a lot of injustice, not just to African American women, but to our culture as a whole,” she said. “I think we need to come together as women, it doesn’t matter so much the color, because I think that they [the gas station employees charged with assault] had such disregard for women, period.”

Praytor is among those who have been critical of Zappala for his handling of the case, and said she is ready for a new district attorney. 

“I’ve always known that Pittsburgh was a very racist town," she said. "... it's just time for change."

In addition to taking part in Friday's protest, Praytor said she's advocating for people to take their concerns to the polls. 

"I believe in my heart that change begins with voting," she said. "These people [politicians] are servants of the community and they do not represent all people. There's not enough diversity." 

Inequity Report

There is significant inequity in employment, poverty and college readiness for black women living in Pittsburgh, according to a new report that the city’s Gender Equity Commission released Sept. 17. According to the report, black women in Pittsburgh are more likely to die during pregnancy than their peers in 97 percent of U.S. cities.  

"These are not surprising results to most people who live the inequality," said anupama jain, executive director of Pittsburgh's Gender Inequity Commission at a press conference when the report was released. "Who [the statistics] might surprise are people who don't recognize that they're perpetuating these inequalities."

Those findings also spurred Friday's demonstration. 

Activist Ciora Thomas, of SisTers PGH, told the crowd to fight back against gentrification. She said when she lived in Garfield, she never saw any white people. Now, she said, gentrification has erased the neighborhood's black history. 

Thomas urged demonstrators to speak with their wallets and spend their money on things that demarginalize black people. 

"When are we going to stop putting our dollars into the white storefronts on Penn?" Thomas said. 

Demonstrators Friday also shared a list of demands, including that Zappala increase the charges against the men who worked at the North Side Exxon station, the city of Pittsburgh work with corporations and nonprofits to raise the wages of black women and those who identify as female, and that black women be included in discussions around education and health. 

They also demanded the city do more to investigate the murders of black women.

Gathered at the intersection of Penn Avenue and Winebiddle Street, the protesters stopped traffic as they stood in a cirlce. Black women and femmes stood in a circle at the center and a larger circle of allies surrounded them. They remembered and said the names of the black women who had been murdered in Pittsburgh and trans women who were killed throughout the country. 

"We have nothing to lose but our chains," protesters chanted. 

90.5 WESA's Sarah Kovash contributed to this report.