Tony Norman writes in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
Let’s take a look at another “mysterious” killing
that took place in nearby Venango County in early December.
Peter Bernardo Spencer, 29, of Pittsburgh by way of
Kingston, Jamaica, had accepted the invitation of a former co-worker, who
happens to be white, to visit him at his cabin on Carls Road in Rockland
Township, along the Allegheny River.
At some point between 1 a.m. and 2:26 a.m. on Dec.
12, Mr. Spencer was shot nine times. Four of his gun shot wounds were in his
back. He was dead by the time Pa. state troopers arrived to find him face down
in front of the cabin.
Four people were taken into custody, including an
unidentified 25-year-old who admitted he shot Peter Spencer, but out of
“self-defense.” After consultation with the Venango County DA’s office, all
four were released pending an investigation.
Can anyone in Pittsburgh of any racial background
imagine shooting someone nine times without spending quality time at Allegheny
County Jail — maybe even until the trial? Even if only half the number of
bullets were used, had it happened here bail would be stratospheric.
Now, imagine if Mr. Spencer, with his dreadlocks and
Jamaican accent, had been the shooter and a 25-year-old from Mt. Lebanon had
been the victim with four slugs in his back. Would there have been any chance
he would still be walking around free more than a month after the event?
The Spencer family hired former Allegheny County
Coroner Cyril Wecht to conduct a private autopsy because the Venango County
Coroner’s Office has refused to release photos or copies of its official report
or internal notes to the family or its investigators.
Dr. Wecht didn’t mince words when the Philadelphia
Inquirer asked him to comment on the Venango County DA’s bizarre refusal to
cooperate with the family. “My initial thought is that it’s absurd to talk
about self-defense with nine gunshot wounds,” he said in what must have been
the most deadpan tone he could muster.
Black Political Empowerment Project Chairman Tim
Stevens, to his credit, was asking questions early on. B-PEP sent letters
demanding an immediate investigation into the circumstances of Mr. Spencer’s
death to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf, Pa. Attorney
General Josh Shapiro and the Venango County DA’s office.
Now the case is slowly beginning to attract national
interest, so it won’t be long until the Venango County DA’s office is under the
same spotlight Jackie Johnson’s office in Georgia found itself under when it
did nothing after Ahmaud Arbery was lynched.
The Spencer family has already called what happened
to Peter Bernardo Spencer a “modern-day lynching.” Venango County is going to
have to do more than hide behind procedural mumbo-jumbo to counter the charge.
It needs to become transparent immediately or lose credibility.
If a Black man from the city visits a cabin in rural
Pennsylvania, gets shot nine times and the shooter claims self-defense, the
family of the victim is owed an explanation. Why are we hearing about Mr.
Spencer’s past troubles with the law and nothing about the suspect or the
others who were there that night? Drugs and weapons were found at the cabin,
but six weeks later no one has been arrested.
Maybe this is simply how things are done in Venango
County, but the rest of us aren’t obliged to pretend we’re still living in a
time when a small town can bury its secrets. This is not a John Grisham novel.
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