Two Black Women Violently Assaulted at Pittsburgh Gas Station

Owners and employees of an Exxon gas station in Pittsburgh face criminal charges regarding the assault of two Black women customers. The victims were identified by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as Jamila Regan, 25, and Ashia Regan, 27, of Pittsburgh.

On September 20, one of the women complained about a malfunctioning pump at the Pittsburgh gas station and requested a refund of $17. The situation escalated and turned violent. Videos that have since gone viral on social media were called “disturbing” in a press release from the City of Pittsburgh Public Safety Office dated September 21, 2019.

According to the press release,“One video taken by a bystander showed a lengthy physical confrontation in which the male store owners struck one of the females in the back of the head multiple times, and an employee grabbed one of the females by her hair and dragged her across pavement."

"Police also reviewed the gas station’s security camera," the press release continues, "which showed the female customer initiating the confrontation inside the store before it moved outside."

The document claiming one of the women “initiat(ed) the confrontation” does not state if this was verbal or physical in nature. At a Saturday morning protest, one of the women involved with the incident said that the pump, “would not stop pumping gas,” which is what led to the request for a refund. Later, both the Exxon station employees and Pittsburgh Police reportedly saw a puddle of gas on the ground.

In other media reports, at least one other customer had complained of past issues with the pump at the station. Allegheny County Bureau of Weights and Measures is responsible for testing and maintaining gas station pumps. Their website states: “All gas pumps in Allegheny County are inspected. We conduct random inspections on commercial scales … . Gas pumps failing to pass initial testing are flagged by a red sticker or closed until they are repaired and pass a subsequent test.” While monthly reports are released, the county’s website does not identify which gas station’s pumps have been tested.

On Monday, September 23, simple assault charges were filed against Scott Hill, Balkar Singh, and Sukhjinder Sadhra. These charges disappointed some of the activists involved. Ms. Olivia Bennett, the Democratic Party’s Allegheny County Council-Elect for District 13, which is where the incident took place, said, “We will be at the District Attorney’s (Stephen Zappala) office tomorrow (Tuesday, September 26 to demand that he upgrade the charges, but again we have to fight for justice that is autonomous for other folks outside of the Black community.”

Community activist Amber Lynn Sloan called for social action that began at 9:00 a.m. at the North Side gas station. By 9:30 a.m., around 50 protestors called for the closing of the gas station. In addition to the victims of the assault, local elected officials and community activists, including State Representative Jake Wheatley, were in attendance. Rep. Wheatley said he attended because he “had to do something to let these women know that they weren't alone in this struggle and that this wasn't on them to make right by themselves. I wanted and needed to be there if for no other reason than to send a message that this type of brutality wouldn't be tolerated.”

When asked if he felt Saturday’s protests were achieving a stated goal, Rep. Wheatley said, “I believe anytime people stand up and organize for changing things (it’s)great. I think the real challenge is how do we change culture and systems of oppression that tells the broader society that's it's okay to beat and brutalize Black people, especially Black women."

"Our collective short-term goal," Rep. Wheatley continued, "is to shut down all businesses associated with these men as a message, but the long term goal has to be to change the culture and systems that make it okay for these types of actions to continue to occur.”

Ms. Bennett, who also attended the protest, learned about the assault from being tagged on a social media post. She recounted her reaction by stating, “Being that we protested a very similar situation a little over a year ago (Pizza Milano manager attacked a Black woman), my reaction was, this is more of the same of Black women being abused in this region with little to no accountability.”

When asked about the goals of this latest protest, Ms. Bennett went on to explain the larger context: “One of our goals is to make sure that this establishment is not operational in our community and to that end we did achieve our goal. But since this is Pittsburgh, which is (one of) the most racist and worst places to live for people of color, we have to be in the streets in order to have the offenders charged, arrested, and prosecuted.”

At the original site of the assault, protestors are continuing their demonstration as of Tuesday, September 24. They are continuing to block the entrances to the station. The gas station has not been open for business since the protests began. The owners of the Exxon station also own another in a suburban area of Pittsburgh. On Saturday, many of the protestors went to that location as well, temporarily blocking one lane of traffic.

Protestors at Saturday’s gathering repeatedly called for the gas station to be permanently shut down. When asked on video by Ms. Sloan what should happen now, one of the victims of the assault said of the gas station, “Shut it down!”

As of this writing, the gas station, which is not corporately owned by Exxon/Mobil, was not open for business.

This incident occurred in the same week that a damning University of Pittsburgh report was released, entitled “Pittsburgh’s Inequality Across Race and Gender.” The report’s findings indicate “that if Black residents got up today and left and moved to the majority of any other cities in the U.S., automatically by just moving their life expectancy would go up, their income would go up, their educational opportunities for their children would go up as well as their employment,” study co-author Junia Howell, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Pittsburgh stated at a press conference on September 17.

In a Public Source essay released on September 23, Professor Howell goes further, saying, “Our report empirically validated what many Black Pittsburghers know well — Pittsburgh’s racism is not only alive and well but more extreme than most cities. Faced with this documentation, many White Pittsburghers were quick to point a finger at anything but their own contribution to this racism.”

The outlook for Black women and girls, including educational attainment levels, income, mortality rates, and rates of having the police called on them, among other metrics, are some of the worst in the country. For example, the report found that Black women’s poverty rate is higher in Pittsburgh than in 85% of other comparable cities. More Black children grow up in poverty here than in 95% of other cities, according to the report.

These revelations led Mayor of Pittsburgh William Peduto to say at the press conference, “There shouldn’t be anyone in the City of Pittsburgh that can accept that fact and not be asking, ‘What am I doing?’ or, ‘What is my company doing?’ and ‘What is my organization doing?’ in order to change it.”

Mayor Peduto went on to say that any governmental policy or intervention would just be a ”drop in a bucket.”

At Saturday's protest, Rep. Wheatley expressed concern for the safety of Black women in Pittsburgh. Following up with Rep. Wheatley over email he said, “The fact (of) the matter is we are supposed to be our daughters, wives, women protectors and when I hear that those whom I am born to protect feel not protected it's an indictment of what I believe to be one of the core foundations of my manhood. There is certainly a disconnect that has happened to separate and dismantle the natural order of the relationship between Black men and Black women.”

When asked if Ms. Bennett agreed with the findings of the report, she said: “Not only do I believe it, I live it. There is absolutely systemic unsafe conditions here for Black women. The same University that put out this report is one of the worst offenders in how toxic they are for Black people in the region. This is not news for us as this report has been coming out for the 20+ years. What would be news is what the region plans to do to correct these issues to truly make this region the most livable place for all.”

About the Author

Tereneh Idia is a Pittsburgh-raised and internationally based fashion designer and the founder of Idia'Dega. Her work has been featured in various outlets, including Public Source, the Pittsburgh City Paper, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.