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Pittsburgh Faces The 'Clash Of Two Pandemics' In Racism, COVID-19

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
Hundreds of people marched from Squirrel Hill to Oakland on Saturday, June 13 to protest police brutality.


On today's program: Protests and demonstrations demanding an end to racism and police violence against people of color continue across the country; Mike Turzai retires as Speaker of the Pennsylvania House; and local nonprofits are working hard to provide more aid during the coronavirus pandemic. 

"Lack of understanding that African Americans continue to be disenfranchised"
(00:00 — 7:13)

For the last two weeks, people in Pittsburgh and across the country have taken to the streets for daily protests, demonstrations, and vigils to demand an end to racism and police violence against people of color.

Rev. John Welch is the dean of Students at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, as well as a one-time candidate for mayor. He says the world is currently seeing a clash of two pandemics: racism and COVID-19, and that the protests are just one symptom of deeper problems rising to the surface of public consciousness.

“The protests are what you see. What you don’t see is the reason behind the protest, the subterranean issues in this country that have been baked in our soil ever since the Europeans landed in this country and nearly decimated the Native Americans. Racism is inherent in the nature of our country,” he says. 

For more than a decade, Welch has served as a chaplain for the the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police. He says it's difficult to have a conversation about racism.

"I was labelled as anti-police because I called out some of the stories and words I heard from some of the officers." Welch says this could be a tipping point for change in relations between police and minorities but only if "that energy we find in the streets is translated and transferred to the ballot box."

Mike Turzai retires after nearly 20 years in PA House
(7:19 — 12:48)

Republican state Rep.Mike Turzai stepped down as Speaker of the House of Representatives and resigned his House seat today, ending his nearly 20 year career in the Pennsylvania legislature.

90.5 WESA’s government and accountability editorChris Potter says that Turzai has been a key figure in Pennsylvania Republican politics during his tenure in the House. "The [Republican] caucus has become more conservative and he was a leader of that change," Potter says.

Turzai's resignation comes after he announced his plans toretire and seek work in the private sectorearlier this year.  

Research, reputation, and donations
(12:53 — 18:02)

Charitable giving is at record highs this year. Candid, a nonprofit group that tracks major charitable donations, estimates that corporations, foundations, and individuals have given nearly $11 billion during the pandemic, the greatest response on record to any disaster.  

But giving in the Pittsburgh area has fallen over the past two months, as many small donors face prolonged unemployment and uncertain financial futures, according to Jenn Rawson, an attorney with Eckert Seamans in Pittsburgh, who works with nonprofits.

“Charitable donations is one of those discretionary items that has a tendency to be one of the first things that’s taken off the list.” 

Eckert says that if individuals are thinking of making donations, they should look into the organization’s financial background.  “Charity Navigator will allow someone to take a look at a charitable organization to see what their reputation is.”

Rawson also advises donors to think local. 

“Food banks, homeless shelters, the urban mission.  Those kinds of things are all great places to help very quickly.” 

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Doug Shugarts is a 23-year veteran of broadcast news. Doug began his career at WBUR in Boston, where he worked on the nationally-syndicated programs “The Connection” and “Here and Now.” He won awards for best use of sound, coverage of the 2003 war in Iraq, and helped launch the station’s local news program, “Radio Boston.” In 2014 Doug moved across town to GBH and helped reboot morning news programming and launch other broadcast and web projects. Doug studied Composition at Berklee College of Music and Computer Science and Mathematics at the University of California. A resident of Pittsburgh’s Southside, Doug enjoys feasting on arepas and yucca fries at Cilantro and Ajo and meeting his canine neighbors at Big Dog Coffee.
Julia Zenkevich is a general assignment reporter for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at
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