“Gimme A Brake (Light)”: Free Repair Clinic Helps Pittsburgh Drivers

free tail light repair

Pittsburgh’s Democratic Socialists are becoming pros at changing light bulbs: on Sunday, they held their third tail light repair clinic in the city. Several area drivers came to the Community Forge parking lot in Wilkinsburg to get their lights checked and replaced — for free.

Abby Cartus, who organized the clinic, says the idea came from the New Orleans DSA. Organizers hope to not only provide a direct service to the community but also reduce drivers’ chances of getting pulled over by police.

Since drivers can’t see tail lights from inside the car, they often don’t know they’re out until police pull them over. That’s what happened to Mike, a Wilkinsburg resident who came to the clinic after seeing signs at a nearby intersection.

“They got me downtown,” he said. “I thought I was fine. I’m not trying to drive around without brake lights — not during these times.”

Mike, a Black man, lives just 10 minutes north of where Antwon Rose was killed by a police officer for fleeing from a traffic stop. Rose would have turned 18 on July 12, and his death has sparked ongoing protests across the Pittsburgh region.

Sunday’s clinic also came almost exactly two years after a police officer killed Philando Castile after pulling him over for a broken tail light. According to a Pittsburgh DSA press release, “a burned out brake light is one of the most common reasons for a traffic stop, increasing the likelihood of police interaction.”

Luckily, the police let Mike go without any issues. And while ultimately, DSA volunteers were unable to fix his lights, they were able to diagnose an underlying electrical issue that was preventing them from working.

free brake light change today pittsburgh
Rita and Dave Lampe, DSA members from Shaler, hold signs advertising the free tail light clinic

Another attendee had known for about a month that her tail light was out but never got around to fixing it. So when she drove past signs for the clinic on her way to the parkway, the decision to stop was a no-brainer. And like everyone who came to the clinic, she was grateful for the service.

“It’s good helping out the community,” she said.

“Bless you for doing this,” another attendee said repeatedly. And a third was so grateful, she gave a hug to the person who fixed her light.

The DSA chapter previously held clinics in Pittsburgh’s East Liberty and Allentown neighborhoods. And while Wilkinsburg is a convenient location for future clinics — the group just started renting office space at Community Forge — members would like to continue holding them in different areas around the city.

“I’d like to see us do something in the West End,” said DSA member Zach Nussbaum, who was volunteering at the event.

For information about future brake light clinics, follow Pittsburgh DSA on Facebook.


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