By: Shawn Moynihan
Editorial cartoonist Rob Rogers of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has drawn the ire of local police with a strip that suggests the beating of a local black teenager by authorities was racially motivated.
In “Brewed on Grant,” a Post-Gazette editorial cartoon in which he tackles local issues, Rogers on Feb. 3 offered a dialogue between a diner patron and a waitress over events that took place Jan. 12. Jordan Miles, an 18-year-old high school student, had in late January been subdued by three plainclothes policemen after a confrontation and hospitalized with facial bruises, swollen eyes and hair ripped from his scalp after being arrested on charges of aggravated assault.
In Rogers’ cartoon, it’s suggested the three officers accused of beating the teen got their training from “The Racist Skinhead Etiquette Handbook.”
Dan O’Hara, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, objected to the characterization, claiming the cartoon paints the entire police department as racists.
Rogers told E&P, “What I’d been hearing from a lot of people on the street was that it seemed over-the-top for the treatment of somebody, even if he did run. So I thought that asking the question, ‘Was it racially motivated?’ was fair.
“As a cartoonist it’s my job to exaggerate to the degree where you get a gasp,” he continued. “And that, to them, was a blanket statement that all police are racist skinheads. That’s not what I was saying at all. I wanted to direct some attention to this incident — isn’t this a little over the top?”
When asked if the strip went though more of an editorial approval process than others might, due to the sensitivity of the issue, Rogers said he had initially submitted an editorial cartoon about the incident that got nixed: “I had another editorial cartoon that did get killed, that would have run on Monday. It was a lot more hard-hitting.” “Brewed on Grant,” though, gave him a chance to offer a dialogue about it. “Because there’s six panels, there’s a lot more room for back-and-forth,” he explained.
Officers Richard Ewing, Michael Saldutti and David Sisak, meanwhile, were reassigned from plainclothes to uniform duty before finally being suspended with pay nearly three weeks after the incident. The city’s Office of Municipal Investigations is examining the case, and an investigation is under way.
“In terms of riling up the police, Pittsburgh has a pretty thick skin most of the time,” Rogers added. “But certainly in this case, that was going too far for them.”
The Post-Gazette has offered O’Hara the opportunity to write an Op-Ed piece, which he declined. “I called him. He thought about it, it seemed, and said he would get back to me the next morning if he was interested,” said Editorial Page Editor Tom Waseleski. “He did not.”
“There’s usually one a year that gets me into hot water,” Rogers said of his cartoons, noting that subjects like the Pope and the military can often draw fire from readers. This one, though, “coming directly from the police department, was different for me. It was a little shaken up about it.”