24 peacefully protest against Mercer-based tear gas maker


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JAMESTOWN, Pa. -- If things had turned ugly during a protest in Mercer County on Thursday, police would not have had to go far for crowd-control devices.

The state troopers and Mercer County sheriff's deputies were on hand to protect the property of Combined Systems Inc., manufacturers of tear gas and "less-lethal" tactical munitions.

Fortunately, the 90-minute protest was peaceful as two dozen activists waved flags, a banner and cardboard signs outside the entrance to the CSI plant in rural Jamestown, between Thiel College and Lake Pymatuning.

CSI, which was founded in 1981, supplies anti-personnel devices and munitions such as tear gas, warning signals, rocket components and stun grenades to Homeland Security agencies and military and law enforcement forces across the nation and around the world. Customers have included the Pittsburgh police.

The protest was staged to coincide with an afternoon march in New York City decrying chemical weapons and devices being used by Egyptian military and police to suppress democratic activists in that nation.

"I saw a video showing tear gas canisters in Egypt that were made in Mercer County, and I was just incensed," said James Lucius, 61, of Dormont, who left the Occupy Pittsburgh gathering, Downtown, to participate in the protest.

Mercer County police kept the activists off CSI property but agreed to take a written complaint to the company's management. A representative of the company, however, refused to accept the letter and declined to comment to reporters.

Peace groups have protested outside the isolated plant on Kinsman Road before, most recently in January. Thursday's protest, however, was focused on the recent revolution in Egypt.

"We're very upset that CSI and other companies and the U.S. government itself continues to do business with a military dictatorship that is putting down aspirations for democracy," said Welch Canavan, 26, of Braddock, one of the organizers of the protest.

"We're here to bring attention to this connection and highlight that there are people here in Western Pennsylvania profiting from putting down democracy. We're here today about the military dictatorships in Egypt and throughout the Middle East that are using tear gas to silence people's voices."

Michael Butler, 26, a student from Bloomfield, came with three other people, who said they learned of the protest via Facebook.

"You go on the Internet and you see the calls from Egypt for people here in the states to do something about all the tear gas that's being shipped over there and used against the protesters who are fighting for democracy," Mr. Butler said. "This is the first time I've gotten involved in something like this in a long time. I guess I kind of got inspired by the Egyptians' struggle for freedom."

The protesters, carrying signs bearing slogans such as "Stop tear gas exports" and "Defend Egypt," came from Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Youngstown, Ohio. The local residents did not pay them much mind.

Rosie Brest, 71, who runs a restaurant at the Mark Twain Manor on Liberty Street in Jamestown, said the CSI plant, which employs more than 100 workers, is essential to the local economy.

"Without it, I don't know what the town would do," Mrs. Brest said. "We've lost all the other industry. There's nothing else left for anyone.

"And [the workers] are good customers. Most of them I know because they're hometown people."


Dan Majors: dmajors@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1456. First Published December 2, 2011 5:00 AM


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