Pitt warning students, teachers of another possible disturbance tonight
September 26, 2009 6:15 AM
Michael Henninger / Post-Gazette
Police units assemble in response to a gathering of protesters and students in Schenley Plaza last night.
By Moriah Balingit and Vivian Nereim Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
In a repeat of a scene from Thursday night, police in riot gear confronted another crowd of more than 400 students and young people on the University of Pittsburgh campus last night.
An estimated 110 protesters were arrested after hundreds of police arrived and dispersed the crowd with a show of force and clouds of OC gas. Those arrested were taken into custody on the lawn between Heinz Chapel and the Cathedral of Learning.
And the University of Pittsburgh issued an alert to students and teachers today warning that there may be another disturbance in the Schenley Plaza area tonight. (More at the Big Story blog.)
Last night's crowd began to form around 9 p.m. A flier circulated earlier in the day encouraged people to come to Schenley Plaza at 10 p.m.
By 10:30, more than 400 people had gathered in the plaza, and police ordered the crowd to disperse. More and more police arrived on the scene and eventually encircled the crowd, which had spilled into Forbes Avenue and Bigelow Boulevard.
Among the arrested was Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Sadie Gurman who was taken into custody while filing reports for the Post-Gazette's web site and print edition. Ms. Gurman, who was wearing Post-Gazette and Pittsburgh summit media credentials around her neck when arrested before midnight, was released from jail shortly after 9 a.m. today.
In a news release today, the City of Pittsburgh police said they had received earlier intelligence in the day about a nighttime gathering in Oakland.
In addition, the department was getting separate reports of individuals purchasing numerous cigarette lighters and inquiring about the purchase of lighter fluid.
"There is nothing to link the purchase of lighters to any activity, however the concerns of the PBP was heightened by the request for lighter fluid," the release said.
The release cites numerous calls on the crowd to disband before police units moved in for arrests. (More at The Big Story blog).
Vic Walczak, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, said there were no legal observers in Oakland last night as there were throughout the other demonstrations. But he said initial reports to the ACLU suggest there was no reason for police to have responded the way they did.
He said those arrested complained that while they tried to disperse, they kept running into other police units and were, in essence, trapped until they were arrested.
"Our help line has many, many messages on it. We're in the process of getting statements from people," Mr. Walczak said.
"It was a demonstration that could have been managed by far fewer police officers. The key is it should have been managed and not suppressed," he said. (More at The Big Story blog).
University of Pittsburgh spokesman Robert Hill said the G-20 summit week was a good one for the Oakland institution that hosted events featuring two of the world leaders in town for the session.
The university had been warning students, however, of the potential for disruptive situations. "What we're telling them [students] to do is to use good judgment and to stay away from areas that might put them in harm's way.
"We actually had a buildup," Mr. Hill said. "All week we had been preparing students to understand what their rights and responsibilities were, how not to get in trouble and how to keep safe. Then we reiterated that and called special attention to it through our emergency network [on cell phones]."
He said that early last night Pitt sent a message through the emergency network that "indicated there was an indication that there would be disruptive activity and they should be careful and keep themselves safe." (More at blog).
Junior Sean Malloy was among those alerted, saying he received a phone message saying, "conditions may be deteriorating in Oakland. Students are advised to remain near their residences."