Protesters clash with police throughout day, night
September 25, 2009 4:30 AM
G-20 protesters march down Liberty Avenue in Bloomfield within 1/4 mile of a police line.
Police quickly put on gas masks after the tear gas they threw into a crowd blew back onto them. The protesters gathered along Schenley Drive in Oakland protesting the gathering of world leaders at Phipps Conservatory for the G-20 Summit.
After suffering the effects of tear gas sprayed by the police, a man has a solution poured into his eyes during an unlawful protest march that began at Arsenal Park in Lawrenceville yesterday.
Hundreds of police clashed with a large crowd of demonstrators and college students in the heart of the Oakland business district late last night, an offshoot of protests that rocked the city from mid-afternoon on yesterday.
Riot-clad officers, estimated at 300 strong, lined the sidewalk behind the William Pitt Union, and another 200 officers blocked Forbes Avenue near the union.
Police sent round after round of OC gas into fleeing crowds as police sought to take control of the streets. The confrontation followed an incident in which anarchists smashed store windows along streets in the neighborhood, but the majority of those who faced down police along Schenley Plaza appeared to be Pitt students who turned out after sirens and police descended on the campus.
As pepper spray was fired into the crowd, officers struck some demonstrators with their batons, including one young woman who appeared to toss her bicycle at advancing officers. Television cameras caught officers striking the woman, pushing her to the ground and handcuffing her face-down on the street.
Many of those in the crowd were shouting, "Let's go, Pitt," leading observers to believe that they weren't the self-proclaimed "anarchists" who caused trouble in both Lawrenceville and Bloomfield yesterday afternoon.
Some of those people gathered at Schenley Plaza early in the evening, drawing a crowd estimated at about 500, and as police moved them out of the area, students, drawn like moths to a flame, took to the streets as protesters from Schenley Plaza ran toward the center of the Pitt campus.
Earlier in the day, police broke up a planned march from Lawrenceville to Downtown, scattering hundreds of black-clad demonstrators and touching off a cat-and-mouse chase across four city neighborhoods in the early hours of the G-20 summit.
Officials could not agree on how many were arrested from the day's demonstrations. Officials at the Joint Information Center for the summit said 15 were arrested and city officials put the number at 19. That figure was sure to grow after the clashes in Oakland.
While police were trying to remove protesters from Schenley Plaza shortly before 11 p.m., others were overturning a trash bin at the intersection of Forbes and Oakland avenues and setting its contents afire. When police arrived, they said they found windows smashed in a Subway restaurant, a Bruegger's Bagels shop, a Panera Bread shop and a McDonald's restaurant.
Windows also were broken at a Quizno's sub shop at South Craig and Filmore streets, the Irish Design Center, and PNC, BNY Mellon and Citizens bank buildings.
Yesterday afternoon, police hurled OC gas to disperse demonstrators in several locations and fired off plastic bullets when they became surrounded during the initial melee at the intersection of Baum and Liberty avenues.
Some windows were broken and police cars were vandalized. Police also employed a high-tech sound blaster designed to force back the crowds.
Speaking at a news conference prior to the clashes in Oakland, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl praised the collaborative law enforcement response to the numerous demonstrations and noted that no serious injuries were reported and that vandalism was not widespread.
"Our highly trained officers were very well-prepared to execute our strategies as needed. That strategy was needed tonight and unfortunately tested in some of our neighborhoods. That strategy did work.
The good news is that nobody tonight was hurt. There was very minimal property damage, and we believe that [is due to] our swift decisions to send a message to the anarchists that we will not tolerate unlawful behavior," the mayor said.
"This was round one," said Alex Bradley, one of the leaders of an anarchist group that tangled with police in several locations before drifting into the East End, shedding black gear as they went.
"The cops are basically trying to divide and conquer," said one demonstrator, Peter Glovas-Kurtz of Bucks County. He stressed that while some of the demonstrators were intent on damaging property, other anarchists on the streets yesterday wanted only to march.
The Lawrenceville demonstration lacked a permit from the city and the sponsoring group, the Pittsburgh G-20 Resistance Project did not seek one.
As a result, police put together an early show of force that kept the crowd well away from the city's Downtown.
Later in the evening, after 9 p.m., police in riot gear moved against a crowd gathered at Schenley Plaza in Oakland, about a quarter-mile away from the Phipps Conservatory, where the G-20 summit leaders were meeting for a working dinner.
About 500 people, mostly college students from the area, had gathered at the plaza earlier in the evening. The majority of the crowd appeared curious, but there was a contingent of protesters in it.
About 9:40 p.m., the officers raised their batons and shouted, "Move back!" then pushed forward, forcing the crowd to retreat about 20 feet.
Some in the crowd turned and ran. But a core group of protesters stood directly in front of the police line, chanting and banging drums.
Police wanted the streets around Phipps cleared before the G-20 heads of state left their evening session.
The long day of protests began with an estimated 500 demonstrators gathered at Arsenal Park in Lawrenceville, determined to reach the perimeters of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, where heads of state were due to gather for talks on the international economy.
In the early going, it seemed more like a summer gathering than anarchists preparing to take on a global summit. A group of women gathered in a circle, banging impromptu rhythms on a city trash can, a laundry basket, even a nearby tree as one blew a whistle and another hummed a melody on a kazoo.
Albert Petrarca, a veteran of demonstrations throughout the city, hoisted a sign declaring, "Democratic Party Imposes Police State on Pittsburgh."
"Let's take our country back," one young man yelled as the crowd, which grew to 500 with the addition of another 100 people who has marched there from Oakland. ACLU legal observers passed out a four-page booklet: "Know your rights: Protesting at the G-20."
Shortly after a squad of 50 black-clad anarchists joined the crowd, a phalanx of police in vests and riot helmets set up along the park's stone wall along 40th Street. Members of the crowd rushed to the scene, some shouting "Let us out! Let us out!" Following some confusion, the group moved to the 39th Street side of the park where a Billy's Ice Cream Truck played over and over "It's a Small World After All."
The demonstrators moved up 39th Street to Liberty Avenue and made their first mistake -- they turned left, away from Downtown. After a few blocks, they reversed direction, led by black-clad men, their faces covered by bandanas.
"Whose streets? Our streets!" they chanted
The throng got only a few blocks when police set up a barricade where Liberty joins Butler Street. Repeatedly, a police recording declared the gathering "an unlawful assembly," ordered the crowd to disperse, then threatened to use riot control devices and make arrests.
Amid blasts from a Long Range Acoustic Device, designed to break up crowds with piercing noise, demonstrators ducked down a side street in what would become a day-long chase.
Demonstrators cut down Denny Street, where they toppled six large, metal Dumpsters, effectively blocking the street.
A street over, on 37th, demonstrators charged police.
Even after the first gas canister was lobbed, four anarchists dressed head to toe in black, ran with a Dumpster down 37th Street toward the police. A police office atop a SWAT vehicle lobbed another canister into the crowd and people began to run away, eyes and throats burning.
Police used OC gas, Oleoresin Capsicum, a chemical compound that causes tears, pain and even temporary blindness.
Demonstrators with first-aid backpacks began to treat those affected once they got some distance from the police line.
"They took out the whole neighborhood, man," said Dylan Wilcox, a demonstrator who was felled by one of the three gas canisters.
The gas wafted up the street, driving residents from front stoops and sending squads of street "medics," several wearing gas masks, to the side of demonstrators who gasped for breath.
"I was astonished. I'm actually kind of overwhelmed," said Mr. Wilcox, who had trouble breathing and blurred vision.
With their forces split, some demonstrators headed back in the direction of the park, others toward Bloomfield. Several clashes with police followed as squads of officers fanned out, chasing clusters of protesters.
At 38th and Millwood a group of protesters clashed briefly with police. Some witnesses reported a shoving match that ended with the crowd split and fleeing.
"They tried to surround this group. All we know is the rest of the group that was not able to break free were trapped," said Mr. Bradley, the anarchist leader.
By 4:30 p.m. -- two hours after the abortive march had begun -- a contingent of police moved east on Penn Avenue from 32nd and toward 33rd where they confronted a cluster of protesters.
"Disobey your orders ... we are American people. We just want to walk down the street," one protester shouted. "We have every God-given right of the Constitution to stand here."
Within 20 minutes, an Allegheny County Police armored car arrived along with several other police vehicles, forcing the protesters back with LRAD blasts.
By 5:15 police began arresting people who remained in the area. Those arrested were handcuffed and went quietly, apart form words to nearby friends.
"If anything, police have made more protesters today," said Clint Sawyer, an onlooker who had bicycled over the 40th Street Bridge from Millvale to see what was going on.
With streets blocked, Mr. Sawyer wondered how he would get back across the Allegheny.
At times, the messages of demonstrators seemed vague and scattered. One woman held a cardboard sign that simply said, "I protest everything!"
"The problem with this anarchy thing is it's very hard for you all to be on the same page," said John Oliver, a correspondent on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. He conducted spoof interviews and his camera crews drew a spectacle at Penn Avenue and 34th Street about 4 p.m.
He heckled the protesters a bit, but they seemed to enjoy the attention. One of them offered him a black bandana, which he wore during interviews, a phalanx of police behind him.
Residents watched from their porches, some perplexed, while demonstrators flooded the streets.
As some ran onto private property to avoid a spray of tear gas, one man in a Teamsters shirt grabbed a stick and yelled, "Oh, I am not afraid to crack 'em!"
Other residents were equally unamused.
Sharen and Gene Zaborowski said they watched from their Denny Street porch as masked protesters pushed Dumpsters into the roadway.
"If you've got to wear masks, you're up to no good," Mr. Zaborowski said, warning of shotguns behind his door. "If they would have been peaceful, they would have been different."
Liberty Avenue through Bloomfield was shut down about 4 p.m. as riot wagons, lines of riot police and wailing police cars sped down the street toward East Liberty, where a group of protesters confronted them.
At Baum and Liberty, a melee broke out when a young man threw his arms around a police officer. He was wrestled to the ground and the crowd surrounded the police who began firing plastic baton rounds.
Amid screams, the crowd scattered.
The young man was tossed into the back of a police wagon and protesters split two ways -- one group toward East Liberty, the other in the direction of Oakland.
Police posted lines on each side of a traffic bridge, momentarily shutting East Liberty off from Oakland.
Some protesters broke windows at a Boston Market restaurant and a nearby automobile dealership. Some also reported vandalism to some police vehicles.
Police continued to move through the neighborhood as the night wore on.
At one point, at 34th Street and Liberty Avenue, protesters were greeted by a Pittsburgh-style counter-rally, for the Pittsburgh Penguins. The dozen or so rally participants had a message of their own: go Penguins, and take care of our city.
"We're here to spread positivity," said 31-year-old Dan Mross, who took the day off to be one of the standard-bearers for a canvas "Let's Go Pens" sign. Nearby, his friend hoisted a plastic Stanley Cup above his head.
"People are angry about the economy, at the world ... [but] we we're the Stanley Cup Champions. And that's awesome!"
Like many residents, Mr. Mross expressed frustration at the visiting protesters bringing their grievances to the streets of Pittsburgh. "This is 4,000, 5,000 cops, and for what, a handful of anarchists who don't even know what they're mad at? This is our house."
This story was written by Post-Gazette Staff Writer Dennis B. Roddy based on his reporting and that of staff writers Michael A. Fuoco, Jonathan Silver, David Templeton, Sadie Gurman, Brian O'Neill, Moriah Balingit and Dan Majors.