Big crowd broken up at Phipps; windows smashed in Oakland

Police fired smoke canisters and advanced on a group of protesters outside a G-20 Summit dinner at the Phipps Conservatory in Oakland tonight, pushing back a crowd of 450 anarchists mixed with students.

As police were dispersing the crowd, vandals smashed windows at more than a dozen businesses on Forbes Avenue and Craig Street, including the Subway sandwich shop, the Irish Design Center and two banks. Police pursued the vandals through the Oakland campus and business district, firing pepper spray and collaring several people near Pitt's student union.

Police formed a line and pushed the remainder of the crowd five blocks down Forbes. By about 12:15 a.m. most of the crowd was gone.

The action followed repeated demands by police for the group to disperse, and people scattered in all directions, with many heading up Forbes toward Squirrel Hill.

It was the latest in clashes that sometimes turned violent during the first day world leaders were gathered in Pittsburgh.

A total of 19 people were arrested in the various protests, according to a police briefing at 9 p.m., before the climax to the Oakland confrontation.

Pepper spray and smoke canisters were used to halt a march to Downtown by anarchists and others this afternoon in Lawrenceville, although some of the demonstrators regrouped and again faced off with police. One of those confrontations involved protesters throwing rocks at police and police firing rubber bullets at them near the landmark Ritter's Diner on Baum Boulevard.

At least five people were arrested when another break-off group returned to the original march route and refused to disperse.

At the Phipps protest, police first fired smoke canisters around 6:45 to try to break up a crowd of at least 500 who had gathered in Schenley Plaza. Dozens of state police in full riot gear stood at Schenley Drive while the crowd was warned at least four times to disperse.

Some in the crowd responded "Hell no," while others started singing, "O Say Can You See."

Vic Walczak, legal director for the local ACLU, told reporters, "I don't think this is an unlawful assembly. Everybody is peaceful. This is as close as they'll get to the world's 20 biggest leaders." He also said that when a police car needed to get through, the crowd moved out of the way.

Some in the crowd chanted, "Whose street? Our street" before police fired the first round of smoke. The crowd spread out and then returned, and then police, including 12 on horses, advanced on them, forcing them back.

But the crowd didn't leave and seemed by 8:30 to actually be growing despite repeated orders to disperse. One person was arrested for throwing a milkshake into the crowd.

Then at 9:45, a line of police raised their batons and shouted "move back!" at the protesters, and then went forward, forcing the crowd to retreat about 20 feet.

Some students turned and ran.

But a core group of protesters remained standing directly in front of the police line, chanting and banging drums until police made the final push.

Police also used gas -- identified by the Secret Service as OC vapor, a form of pepper spray -- to stop a march to Downtown by anarchists and others opposed to G-20 policies this afternoon, but then demonstrators broke up into other groups and confronted police more directly in neighborhood clashes that continued into the evening.

About 300 protesters from this afternoon's thwarted march in Lawrenceville regrouped at Friendship Park in Bloomfield and moved to Baum Boulevard, where they were chased by police on foot around 5 p.m. Some of the protesters running through a gravel parking lot turned and threw rocks at police, who in turn fired "soft" projectiles and rushed in and arrested one man near Ritter's Diner, a landmark business in the area.

Police also blocked off Baum at Liberty Avenue.

Some demonstrators then moved down Baum and up Millvale Avenue, back toward Bloomfield, pursued by Ohio state troopers. Police blocked them before they could get to Liberty. Scattering protesters also shattered 10 panes of glass at the Boston Market across from Ritter's. The manager at the restaurant wouldn't comment. Windows were also broken at the nearby KFC and an auto dealer.

Police on and around Baum arrested at least five more people, including a man on a bicycle, and fired gas near Bigelow Boulevard. The biker's friends, who were biking with him, said he had happened to pass close to police but was not a protester. They were registering a complaint through an ACLU field observer.

Another break-off group reached 34th and Penn, where traffic was brought to a halt when police again confronted the marchers and ordered them to stop. Police with batons and shields moved toward the protesters and arrested one man who sat down in front of them and at least four others for failure to disperse.

Still another group was reported going into the PNC Bank in the 2000 block of Penn.

Those events followed a march that was stopped by police almost before it started around 2:30 p.m.

The protesters, some of whom arrived after a walk from the Oakland college campus area, had gathered starting this morning in Arsenal Park where they drew up anti-capitalism signs.

Police in riot gear blocked the marchers from leaving the park on the 40th Street side, but the group was allowed to exit on 39th Street and head to Liberty Avenue, where they turned toward Downtown around 3 p.m.

But around 34th Street, a recording in both English and Spanish blared out that it was an unlawful assembly and ordered marchers to disperse. The announcement was accompanied by a high-pitched noise from a long-range acoustic device, which police said was believed to be the first time it had been used in this country.

Most of the marchers then turned down an alley near the Church Brew Works restaurant and headed toward Penn Avenue. From there, police blocked some of them on Denny Street, where some Dumpsters were overturned, while other marchers headed to Mintwood Street. Eventually they got to 37th Street and headed toward Butler Street.

At that intersection, police again confronted them and ordered them to disperse, eventually firing gas, which sent a caustic cloud that choked protesters and drove residents from their front stoops to the safety of indoors.

"They took out the whole neighborhood, man," said Dylan Wilcox, a demonstrator who was treated by street "medics" who carried milk, water and antacids to wash the gas from his eyes.

"I was astonished. I'm actually kind of overwhelmed," he said.

Some of them regrouped at Penn Avenue and Main Street and began chanting "Round 2" before heading to Liberty Avenue in Bloomfield, where they chanted "Whose street? Our street." That group, including Detroit-based Bail Out the People, then walked in a traffic lane of Liberty Avenue through most of the Bloomfield business district before 10 to 15 police cars arrived, with K-9s, and dispersed them. That was the group that headed to Friendship Park, where they were joined by others and made up a crowd of nearly 300.

As the demonstration in Lawrenceville gathered steam, live local television reports showing police massing and protesters scattering took over several of the enormous screens erected around the convention center where the G-20 is meeting.

They were largely ignored by the masses of reporters working at the tables arrayed beneath them. Most of the international reporters focused on a lone screen that showed planes filled with dignitaries arriving at Pittsburgh International Airport.

During the first march, many of the protesters wore black masks and carried black flags. People in the residential neighborhood took pictures from their porches. Traffic was blocked, but one woman who was stopped, Alyssa Potance, stuck her head out of the sunroof and said, "I think this is great."

"As long as it's peaceful, it's fine," said Marcy Deltondo, one of the businesswomen there.

A marcher walked past shouting "Smash capitalism."

"Well, I need to put a kid through college," Ms. Deltondo replied. "As their parents probably did."

One veteran of protests, Ken Perkowski, of Reserve, was jubilant.

"I'm so happy to see all these young people," he said. "It reminds me of the 60s. I'm 62 and I'm the oldest person here."

Earlier, about 120 students calling themselves the Student Contingent for Unpermitted March began walking shortly after 1 p.m. from Oakland, intending to join up with anarchists in Lawrenceville for a march Downtown. The group began with 30 to 40 young people dressed in black and picked up more as they headed down Centre Avenue.

They chanted "While you're shopping, bombs are dropping." The group had local students but also claimed connections with groups in Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston.

They said they intended to march as close as they could to the summit site in the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, even though they didn't have a permit, and expected police "to release the tools of oppression" on them.

They joined two other groups at Arsenal Park shortly after 2 p.m., bringing the total to 450 to 500, including a person dressed like a bloody baby seal, a group of people making music by beating on various boxes, and a man in his 60s with grey muttonchop sideburns holding a sign saying "Democratic Party imposes police state in Pittsburgh."

Andrew Davis, 19, a freshman at the University of Tennessee, arrived in Pittsburgh at 3:30 this morning after driving all night with friends. He said he blamed the G-20 leaders for the current economic crisis, and this was the first major protest he had ever attended.

"I want to be part of a moment," said Sam Brown, 22, of Sewickley.

Mr. Brown is a recent graduate of Wheaton College in Massachusetts, where he majored in art history and Asian studies. Now the poor economy has forced him to move back with his mother in the Pittsburgh suburbs, he said, and he scours craigslist every day for jobs.

The arrested protesters started trickling into the old Western Penitentiary on the North Side this evening. They are scheduled to be processed, and, if the charges are minor, released.

The Pittsburgh G-20 Resistance Project, an umbrella group for the protesters, issued tonight calling today's actions a success despite police attempts to quash them.

"What we've seen today is people's willingness to resist global capitalism despite the combined forces of state repression," the statement said.

Police tonight reported no injuries to officers or demonstrators.

Today's clashes were on the minds of those attending tonight's final planning meeting for tomorrow's Peoples' March to the G-20, actually a collection of groups coordinated through the Thomas Merton Center. The march from various East End neighborhoods to Downtown has a city permit.

William Quigley, legal director for the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, is in town helping with legal monitoring of demonstrations. Asked to compare today with other events he has monitored, such as national political conventions, he said:

"It just seems more militarized as time goes on, with more and more toys, with tanks and helicopters and sound blasters. The police themselves, though, were very well-behaved.

"But it's just tragic -- the supposed reason for all this equipment is terrorism, but instead they end up using it to chase protesters, and there's a bunch of young people who love to be chased and it becomes like Tom and Jerry."

Others at the meeting noted that their marchers will be asked to pledge to be nonviolent.

There were several other protests in the city today, including two that focused on specific countries.

Late this morning, an estimated 125 yellow-clad demonstrators carrying both the Stars and Stripes and the rising sun of the Tibetan people, marched through Squirrel Hill and Oakland. Their destination: Downtown. Their message: free Tibet.

The demonstrators, primarily Tibetan exiles who now live in New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Minnesota, said they wanted to tell world leaders assembling for today's G-20 opening that human rights should come before free trade.

Signs asked Chinese leader Hu Jintao "Where are our human rights?"

A banner said Hu was "wanted for genocide."

Leader Ngawang Tashi said the marchers oppose Chinese occupation of Tibet. They especially are calling for the release of Tibetan prisoners and want to know the whereabouts of the Panchen Lama, second highest religious leader after the exiled Dalai Lama.

The Tibetans rallied at Smithfield Street and Liberty Avenue, where they were on the street. State police ordered them back on the sidewalk, sparking a verbal confrontation that eventually cooled off.

And early this afternoon, about 30 members of the Coalition of Ethiopians for Human Rights began a march at Ross Street and Sixth Avenue near the DoubleTree Hotel. They carried signs and used bullhorns to protest what they called genocide in their country.

They are seeking fair elections in that country and release of an imprisoned opposition leader, Birtukan Mideksa, a 35-year-old former judge and mother of a 4-year-old child who has been sentenced to life in prison by the government of prime minister Meles Zenawi.

Mekdese Kassa, spokesman for the group and manager of a cancer center in Baltimore, said that even though Mr. Zenawi was elected in 2000, many Ethiopians feel the results were manipulated, and even though new elections are scheduled next year, many opposition party leaders have refused to participate, believing the outcome will be rigged.

Earlier, Oxfam America, an anti-hunger group, held a mock football game near PNC Park in which around a dozen activists wore Steelers uniforms with the names of world leaders in an effort to show that the G-20 can score "points against hunger" if they create "a new world order that puts poor people first," as spokeswoman Allison Woodhead put it.

There were relatively few people Downtown to see the demonstrators that made it.

The restrictions that shut off Downtown to most vehicular traffic went into place as planned early this morning. Few nonauthorized motorists (deliveries, taxis, buses, Downtown residents with proof of their addresses) were trying to get in overnight.

Many Downtown businesses closed or arranged from employees to work at home or off-site today.

But for those few who decided to commute Downtown this morning, it was mostly smooth traveling.

Minor backups occurred at East Carson Street and the Smithfield Street Bridge, one of three checkpoints for access to the Golden Triangle. A procession of mostly empty Port Authority buses rolled through the Smithfield checkpoint, delayed from time to time by cars that tried to pass through the checkpoint but were turned away. The checkpoint was staffed by several Pittsburgh police officers and uniformed military personnel.

One major snarl developed at the Downtown access checkpoint at Fifth Avenue and Ross Street.

Buses carrying out-of-town journalists were stopped and riders' credentials checked. That caused as many as 40 Port Authority buses from the East End and eastern suburbs to back up on Centre Avenue while they waited to pass through the checkpoint.

At 9:30 a.m., bus drivers were reporting waits of 30 to 60 minutes to get through the checkpoint. A small consolation was that most of the buses were virtually empty.

Compounding problems were unauthorized vehicles that approached the checkpoint and had to be turned away by police, including a beat-up blue Dodge Shadow with Utah license plates, that tried to pass through at 9:15 a.m. Police turned it back after taking a long look at the occupants and the car's interior.

Also, tour buses from Anderson Coach and Travel, shuttling journalists from Mellon Arena to the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, had trouble making the tight right turn at the intersection because of a poorly positioned jersey barrier in the middle of the street and two Humvees. Many of those buses rode up on the curb or had to back up while making the corner, and that slowed things down even more.

Shortly before 7 a.m., four Port Authority buses packed with soldiers and escorted by police cars passed through the checkpoint. They were followed by a 46A Brentwood bus with one rider; a 53F with no passengers; a 56C with three riders; and a 41G with a pair of passengers.

Port Authority spokesman Jim Ritchie said service was operating smoothly.

"We're able to access Downtown pretty much as expected through the three access points. Overall, delays are minimal," he said.

The T was operating normally, with one-car trains instead of the standard doubles used during rush hours. Service was going only as far as First Avenue, with the rest of the Downtown subway closed.

"Anecdotally, it's very light," Mr. Ritchie said of ridership. "We've had a light turnout."

Similarly, no major problems were evident on highways leading into town, with traffic much lighter than in typical rush hours. Commuters can reach and pass Downtown via the major arteries including the east, north and west parkways and Route 28, but they cannot exit into the Golden Triangle. The restrictions stay in place until tomorrow night.

Police were stationed at every major intersection, and new street barriers had been placed overnight on streets leading to several areas, including PPG Place.

Following an attention-grabbing protest by the environmental group Greenpeace yesterday morning, most demonstrations were small or peaceful for the rest of yesterday, including a rally and concert for green jobs last night in Point State Park.

After the furor when Greenpeace unfurled a giant banner -- with themselves attached -- over the Ohio River yesterday morning, the streets of Pittsburgh remained largely empty of anyone except law enforcement officers for the rest of the day.

Police bicycle officers nearly outnumbered bikes with messages about the need for climate control at a late afternoon event planned Downtown. Greenpeace was thwarted in other attempts to hoist signs. None of the rumored actions on Web sites and the police radio came to fruition. Foreign journalists roamed the David L. Lawrence Convention Center and took tours and did interviews.

Things picked up in the evening, when thousands gathered in Point State Park to listen to speakers on the Clean Jobs Energy Tour, including Gov. Ed Rendell, and to listen to music by Joan Jett, Kathy Mattea and others. No crowd estimate was available.

The group has made more than 50 stops in 22 states, preaching a transition to clean energy that organizers say would simultaneously create jobs, reduce pollution and curb dependence on foreign oil.

The protesters who created yesterday's biggest headache for police -- the Greenpeace activists -- were arraigned last night and some were released.

Eight had climbed over the West End Bridge railing around 10:30 a.m. and rapelled down towards the Ohio River, unfurling an 80-by-30 foot banner that proclaimed: "Danger -- climate destruction ahead. Reduce CO2 emissions now."

Four remained strapped outside the bridge railing and four dangled above the water until around 1 p.m., when they ascended on their own and were arrested.

Five others who had attempted a similar action on the Fort Pitt Bridge were thwarted and also arrested.

They were identified last night as Chelsea Ritter-Soronen, 22, of St. Louis; Kelly Mitchell, 24, of Chicago; John Shumaker, 37, of Washington D.C.; Elizabeth Donahue, 19, of Poway, Calif.; Kelly Osbourne, 40, of Oklahoma City, Okla.; Adam Conlin, 23, of Washington D.C.; Jonathan Batchelor, 31, of Portland, Ore.; Jeanne Kirshon, 22 of Washington D.C. ; Benjamin Smith, 29, of San Francisco; Daniel Cassettari, 26, of Park Ridge, Ill.; David Pomerantz, 24, of Cambridge, Mass.; Thomas Cohen, 42, of Oakland, Calif.; Hayden Llewellyn, 30, of Portland, Ore.; and Alexis Soto, 26, of Los Angeles.

They each face charges including defiant trespass, disorderly conduct, obstruction of highways or other public passages, conspiracy, and possession of instruments of crime.

Ms. Ritter-Soronen, who was released on her own recognizance last night, said she dropped the banner from the West End Bridge because she thought it was a good way to send a message that "we're depending on President Obama to speak up for funding climate change solutions at the G-20."

"Taking risks and being extreme is really important," said Ms. Kirshon, who also rappelled from the West End Bridge and was released last night. "These are extreme conditions we're suffering under."

While most of the people arrested were granted bail of $10,000 or less, Mr. Batchelor was held last night on $75,000 because he was wanted on an international warrant out of Japan for a previous action he'd been involved with.

However, after a bond hearing today, it was reduced.

The two actions yesterday were the last planned by Greenpeace for the rest of its time in Pittsburgh.

"We came here to get out our message to the leaders of the G-20, which we really feel like we did yesterday," said Molly Dorozenski, a spokeswoman with the group. "We felt we had a great interaction with the police and the legal system yesterday, and want to leave on a good note."

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said yesterday that the city is officially subject to a Declaration of Emergency, though he said the declaration was expected and should not be cause for alarm.

The two-page declaration, signed by the mayor and dated Monday, is driven by the need to deputize visiting law enforcement officers and potentially to quickly enter into contracts or procure materials for the G-20 Summit. More than 1,000 were sworn in yesterday at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in Oakland.

The declaration notes that other National Special Security Events -- of which the Thursday and Friday summit is one -- have "resulted in the need for expeditious governmental action to address the health, safety and welfare needs of the general public."

The mayor said the city is ready for demonstrators.

"We expected from the beginning a large influx of people from out of town. We see nothing that has changed our planning or preparations for it. There are, undoubtedly, people in from out of town."

More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

This story was written by David Templeton, Tracie Mauriello, Jonathan D. Silver, Michael A. Fuoco, Dennis B. Roddy, Jerome L. Sherman, Jon Schmitz, Paula Reed Ward, Mark Roth, Sadie Gurman, Dan Majors, Moriah Balingit, Rich Lord, Don Hopey, Gabrielle Banks, Bill Schackner, Joe Smydo and Vivian Nereim. First Published September 23, 2009 4:30 PM


Create a free PG account.
Already have an account?