Nature’s wisdom at times is unquestionable, like with the milder temperatures we’re having in Pittsburgh. The unseasonable weather seems a cooler-heads-prevail time, following an angry and angst-filled period during which Pittsburgh hosted the G-20 summit. The weather cooperated for the event, meaning it was hot part of last week, with the Pittsburgh humidity thicker than the bullshit in city government.
During the protests on Thursday it was humid and uncomfortable as Pittsburgh summers can be, but hot weather makes tempers flare. Running with those protesters, I literally soaked the top half of my shirt with sweat. I looked terrible, when about two minutes after the cops shot the gas around 32nd Street I was retreating with the crowd and ran into former Pulp newspaper editor Geoff Kelly. I gave him a big hug and he was half seat-soaked himself.
But the thing that has me thinking is the vague, not-quite-formed thought that ran through my head a couple times on Thursday as I was following the Black Clad Rapscallions.
How can I cover this if you’re going to arrest me? I wondered.
I tried my best to cover the protests on Thursday, but I was hampered by the fact that I was trying to duck the cops, who at times were running after us. At one point closer to the end of the hours-long march on Thursday afternoon, the police chased a group of protestors I was with through the parking lot of Khalil’s restaurant in Bloomfield.
“They’re charging us! They’re charging!” people yelled, and everyone began to run in panic. I looked over my shoulder and the military or whoever these stormtrooper-looking guys were indeed were close on our heels. I ran faster, to the front of the crowd, as someone said “Don’t run!”
As I sprinted to the front of the group, I passed Khalil. He was shaking his head at the protestors.
“No, don’t come through here, it’s not OK,” he said.
A lot of reporters covering the somewhat violent protests, which were nothing compared to an impromptu, student-led Steelers or Panthers victory celebration in the streets of Oakland, also had mixed feelings about their situation. They didn’t want to go to jail, either.
Running up Denny Way I think it was, after the cops appeared out of their armored vehicle in front of me, I saw a Wall Street Journal reporter I’d met, hiding behind a front yard chain-link fence, standing close to two residents who owned the place. He was about six feet three inches tall and not slight.
“We’re protecting him,” the couple said.
How can a reporter do his job when the government says doing so will get him thrown in the clink? But it’s not even that simple, or so benign.
We’re talking about a government that blasts high-pitched, deafening whistles meant to disperse crowds while ordering over a loudspeaker in a computer-generated creepy Robo Cop-sounding voice:
By order of City of Pittsburgh Police Chief Nate Harper
You are in a restricted area
You are hereby ordered to disperse
No matter what your purpose, you must disperse
Failure to disperse could make you subject to arrest or other police action
That could result in injury
We have a free press, but reporters who are covering a protest will be arrested or roughed-up if they do their jobs? Sadie Gurman of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and five other journalists were arrested during the melee in Oakland on Friday night. Two of the journalists are from Minneapolis-based Twin Cities Indymedia, including Nigel Parry, who said at a press conference yesterday at Thomas Merton Center that the police tactics follow a pattern of unconstitutional methods used by police to harass protestors in the days leading up to and during the G-20 summit.
“Police responded to the demonstrations with riot control equipment including batons, tear gas, pepper spray, percussion grenades, and Long Range Acoustic Device used by the New York City Police Department during the 2004 Republican National Convention,” said a press release put out by Twin Cities Indymedia, Thomas Merton Center, and Glassbead Collective NYC.
The acoustic device was used by the military to disperse crowds in Iraq, according to the press release.
“Pre-recorded dispersal orders including the phrase ‘no matter what your purpose’ were blasted from police loudspeakers in crowded public spaces, making it clear that anyone who stayed in the areas following the warnings would be in danger of riot control weapons and arrest—including journalists,” the release said.
Melissa Hill, a reporter for Twin Cities Indymedia, had her camera broken and footage confiscated while being arrested Friday night by Pittsburgh Police. She hasn’t gotten her tape back.
Among the others arrested were Dominic Dimauro, a freelance journalist who had his camera confiscated and was charged with Obstruction of Justice and Failure to Disperse. Freelance cameraman Tom Larkin had his camera damaged by an impact round, and while he was he filming, he was punched in the face by a policeman. Keith DeVries, a member of Pittsburgh Filmmakers and a University of Pittsburgh student, had his camera destroyed as police tried to confiscate his tape following his arrest. He was charged with Failure to Disperse, and was part of a mass arrest on the lawn of the Cathedral of Learning.
The Thomas Merton Center, ACLU and some of the individuals who were arrested (100 were arrested Friday night) intend to sue the City of Pittsburgh and others, including the University of Pittsburgh.
The thought of more costs to Pittsburgh reminded me of some of the comments of protestors during marches last week: “This city is bankrupt, and it’s putting on a $20 million party,” some said.
Pete Shell, a member of the Thomas Merton Center, said the police actions on Friday night were a stark contrast to the G-20 protest march earlier. “We had a peaceful and legal march of 8,000, and hours later it was the police who acted violently and unlawfully,” he said.
Twin Cities Indymedia and Glassbead Collective were the core part of the team that made the documentary “Terrorizing Dissent,” about the 2008 Republican National Convention. According to Twin Cities Indymedia, during the Republican convention, which TCI said was the last major political gathering to get a “National Special Security Event” designation, a similar pattern of police and security overkill happened before, during and after the event as happened here in Pittsburgh.
“We are left with many questions about the state of freedom in America, about the casual and indiscriminate use of police violence and authority in non-riot situations as standard practice, and about a society that accepts the militarization of its cities in the name of ‘security,’” the press release finished.
I’m wondering about it, too.