Protesters blast police response, Oakland arrests
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Activists with the Thomas Merton Center and other groups today blasted the police response to a Friday night protest in Oakland following the G-20 summit, calling it a "military-style occupation" that resulted in the gassing and arrest of dozens of bystanders, including students and journalists.
During a press conference at the center's Garfield headquarters, some activists threatened lawsuits against the city and placed responsibility for the confrontation with Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and top public safety officials.
"I'll say it very bluntly: The mayor should be fired. The city council should hold his feet to the fire," said David Meieran, an organizer with Three Rivers Climate Convergence.
He and others called for authorities to release anyone who remains in custody because of G-20 arrests and to drop any charges against those arrested. He also said police should return all property, including cameras and video footage, confiscated Friday night.
The city today released a list of 190 people arrested during three days connected to the G-20 Summit.
"The police were beating people and gassing people who were wandering out of restaurants . . . wandering out of their dorms," said Nigel Parry, a journalist with Twin Cities Indymedia who came to Pittsburgh from Minnesota for the summit.
Melissa Hill, also a journalist with Twin Cities, was one of more than 100 people arrested Friday near the Cathedral of Learning, and she said today that police damaged her camera and erased her video footage.
Nathan Lanzendorfer, 23, said police shot him four times with beanbag rounds at close range as he was trying to leave the area. He showed reporters large, purple blotches on the backs of both legs and an arm.
"This was unjust," he said. "I was peaceful. I had done nothing wrong."
Police officials have said they gave several loud dispersal orders using a Long-Range Acoustic Device, instructing everyone gathered to leave, no matter their purpose.
Elizabeth Pittinger, executive director of the city's Citizen Police Review Board, said she was "very disturbed" that police had arrested journalists --- including Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Sadie Gurman -- who were there to observe the protest.
She said the board so far has received 50 complaints related to police activity during the summit, mostly from the Oakland events.
She said the board would be undertaking a comprehensive investigation of how police handled the summit.
"The huge police presence -- it was overwhelming," she said.
At an afternoon news conference, Mr. Ravenstahl defended the actions of police.
"As a group, the police responded admirably," he said, pledging an internal evaluation of what went right and wrong on the streets during and shortly after the summit.
"We kept our city safe," he said while sending "a message to the out-of-town anarchists that this is our town."
Pittsburgh Police Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson said he made the much-discussed decisions on how to handle large Oakland gatherings.
On Thursday night, he said, the order to disperse was given when police became "concerned with the crowd size" not far from the Phipps Conservatory, where world leaders were gathered.
On Friday at 10:42 p.m., he said, police who were monitoring a Schenley Plaza gathering determined that "conditions had deteriorated," and gave the order to disperse to prevent the kind of damage they had seen the night before.
"When we moved them from the park, they then re-formed at Forbes Avenue," he said. "We didn't see any movement by the protesters to disperse until we started to effect arrests."
At that point, people were not dispersing, but were instead fleeing arrest.
Officials said just six of the 190 people arrested for summit-related activities are still in custody. Claims by some arrestees that they were just caught up in the flow of the crowd will be evaluated, and in some cases charges may be dropped. Those whose lost property can claim it at the police headquarters property room.
Public Safety Director Michael Huss said that the city's Office of Municipal Investigations has gotten five complaints about the police, including one from a business that was affected by gas used to disperse crowds.
First Published September 28, 2009 12:45 pm