G-20 protesters hold peaceful march from Oakland to North Side
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Anti-war, environmental and pro-jobs groups, linked by their opposition to the policies of the G-20 countries, marched today from Oakland to Downtown to the North Side in a demonstration that featured loud chanting and occasional taunting but, amid heavy security, no violent clashes.
Just before the march stepped off around 1 p.m., one speaker at a rally at Fifth and Craft avenues said, "I remind you, this is a peaceful, permitted march. We're confronting G-20 policies, not police." Unspoken was the fresh memory of yesterday's protests, accompanied by 66 arrests and store vandalism.
Despite the peaceful intentions, authorities concerned about security this afternoon ordered Port Authority to stop running bus service Downtown until the end of the march.
By 2 p.m., after an hour's trek through Oakland and the Hill District, several thousand marchers, very loud but very peaceful, turned onto Grant Street toward the City-County Building for a series of speeches. Stationed there was a heavy police presence amid a heavy corporate presence represented by BNY Mellon and the Union Trust Building.
Pete Shell of march sponsor Thomas Merton Center told the crowd the demonstrators had to fight for their right to march but had remained fixed on the goal of protesting global economic policies.
Another speaker, Lisa Jordan, director of education for the United Steelworkers of America, denounced the G-20 as undemocratic and unrepresentative.
"There should be workers' voices, not just CEOs," she said.
Another speaker praised the turnout.
"I think when they moved the G-20 to Pittsburgh, they thought the protesters wouldn't come," said Larry Holmes, whose group, Bail Out the People, has set up a tent city in the Hill District during the summit.
Not everyone along the route agreed with the sentiment. Students at Duquesne University held up pro-G-20 signs.
As the rear of the march arrived on Grant Street, a small group of masked protesters started taunting the lines of police in riot gear trailing behind.
Then a crowd on the sidewalk turned the taunting on the protesters.
"Get a job!" one man yelled.
"I have a job. You're a slave!" said a protester who called himself Thor Strong, wearing a bandanna over his face.
From Grant Street, the march moved on to the Andy Warhol Bridge and a public park on the North Side within view of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, site of the summit.
Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan told the crowd, "The wars were wrong under Bush and they're still wrong under Obama."
She complained about the police treatment of the protesters for the past two days: "I told the cops you're facing the wrong way," meaning they should be facing the banks. "Go arrest Ben Bernacki, go arrest Tim Geithner . . . We need jobs, we need health care, we need education. We don't need the United Police States of America."
As the last protesters crossed the bridge, Assistant City Police Chief William Bochter said, "So far it's going beautifully -- no disturbances."
He estimated that a "couple of thousand" protesters participated in today's march.
"This is a good sized crowd," he said, calling it a manageable number for police.
Several hundred officers provided security along the march route.
Chief Bochter said he was pleased with how police handled protests both today and yesterday, when officers fired pepper spray to disperse crowds in Oakland and Lawrenceville.
"I'm very proud of the officers," he said. "They've shown tremendous restraint and professionalism."
For this morning's pre-march rally, demonstrators of all stripes had converged on the lower end of Oakland.
A catalogue of speakers ranging from anti-capitalists, African nationalists, feminists and exiled Tibetans took to the podium to urge the crowd. The march was given a permit by the city. It follows a raucous day in which militant demonstrators marched without a permit and were chased across the East End by riot-helmeted police.
Today, a group of those same militants hectored a cordon of riot police, one warning "there is such a thing as karma" and daring the officers "remember my face."
Another offered them "a lesson in global economics in case they don't teach you that at the police academy." He went on to denounce capitalism. The police stared ahead, riot visors down, and showed no signs of altering whatever theories of economics they held.
Francine Porter of the local chapter of Code Pink, a women's anti-war group, read a letter from the organization's founder, Medea Benjamin, and Anne O'Neill, a diplomat who quit her post in protest to continued American presence in the Middle East.
The letter called for a U.S. pullout from Afghanistan and an Israeli pullout from Gaza.
"The city tried to keep us silent this week," Ms. Porter told the crowd. "Did they win?"
A roar of "no" went up from the crowd.
As the march crossed Fifth and Seneca in the Hill, dozens of helmeted officers walked between the marchers and homes and businesses on either side of the street. A number of residents sat on their front stoops, some waving and smiling at the marchers. One of them, Milton Jones, 58, a Vietnam vet and lifelong Hill District resident, said it was a shame that the G-20 arrival forced the shutdown of the city.
"If they can march all the way Downtown peacefully, then that's fine by me," said Mr. Jones, wearing a Hines Ward jersey. "I believe everybody has a right to protest as long as there's no violence."
At Gist Street, riot-clad police standing around a black van took pictures of the marchers. From the crowd, a man with a megaphone shouted, "That's right. Document all these terrorists. Put them all on the no-fly list."
Police clamped tighter restrictions on Downtown this afternoon as the march began in Oakland.
Scores of police wearing riot gear were deployed along Fifth Avenue, and starting at 1 p.m., pedestrians were being directed away from that street by uniformed troops at Market Street.
At least one business -- the PNC Bank branch on Fifth, which was one of the few bank branches staying open during the G-20 -- was ordered by the city to close.
Two F-15 fighters intercepted a small plane during the march after it flew into restricted airspace over Pittsburgh established for the summit.
Authorities said a single-engine plane crossed into the restricted airspace at 12:47 p.m. and was escorted to Wheeling-Ohio County Airport, where it landed at 1:35 p.m.
Federal authorities were interviewing the pilot this afternoon to find out his intentions.
This morning, Iraq Veterans Against the War assembled early at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall to discuss their experiences and have members write their emotions in chalk on the sidewalk before joining the People's March to the G-20.
Spokesman Jason Hurd of Tennessee said the group has 1,700 members, with about 20 present for today's march. The vets had been asked to lead the march, he said.
They were among six groups holding "feeder" marches to link up with the Merton Center's protest.
While those organizers said they would remain peaceful, there were indications other groups would attempt some of the civil disobedience tactics that the city saw yesterday, when 66 people were arrested and 19 businesses were damaged in various neighborhoods.
Two protesters briefly tried to block the exit driveway of Whole Foods Market in East Liberty this morning, but police officers moved them along so quickly most customers didn't realize anything had happened. The store suffered no damage, a manager said.
And just before noon, as hundreds of protesters flooded the street at Halket Street and Fifth to begin the rally, at least one of the leaders of yesterday's anarchist march stood away from the main crowd and faced police. The man, who calls himself Alexander Berkman (coincidentally the same name as the anarchist who attempted to kill industrialist Henry Clay Frick in Pittsburgh in 1892), said he was protecting marchers from police.
Merton Center leaders asked anarchists to avoid violence, although some joined the march, Mr. "Berkman" among them. He walked backwards at the end of the protesters, facing police.
Shortly before 7 p.m., about 50 protesters gathered in front of the Allegheny County Jail for a vigil in support of the protesters who were arrested during anti-G-20 demonstrations in Lawrenceville and Oakland yesterday.
They were outnumbered by police and National Guardsmen in riot gear, who lined the sidewalk, blocking off the main walkway to the jail.
Some of the protesters were in all black and wearing kerchiefs over their faces, but the protest was quiet.
"We're going to be here until the last people get out of here, so we can really give them support," announced Alecia Ott, a 23-year-old Garfield resident, adding that the intent of the vigil was peaceful.
When the protesters arrived, she said, there was some dispute over whether they could occupy the walkway leading to the jail.
Shortly thereafter, the National Guard left the jail in large numbers, heading toward the Golden Triangle. About 20 officers remained to watch over the crowd of about 50 protesters holding a vigil.
The protesters were told by a police officer that they could stay here as long as they wanted, so long as they obey the law.
Some of the protesters began to file out after the guardsmen left the area.
Anarchists have previously encouraged their ranks to use today for small "actions" against corporate outlets, banks and check cashing stores. In anticipation, many banks Downtown and in nearby neighborhoods closed their branches yesterday and today, and corporate and government offices shut down and told their employees to work at home or off-site. Metal gates and jersey barriers were installed during the week around many buildings, and streets around some buildings, such as PPG Place, have been closed to vehicle traffic.
But groups at a final planning meeting for the Thomas Merton Center's people's march sounded hopeful that cooler heads would prevail among both their group and police. Organizers had estimated they could get 5,000 marchers.
Last night, the day's violence was on the minds of organizers, who said they would stress nonviolence, respect for property and keeping an understanding attitude toward police.
Casey Capitolo, an organizer with the interfaith group G-6 Billion, emphasized that "in all of our interactions with the police they have been incredibly restrained."
A day of demonstrations both peaceful and confrontational was capped last night when police arrested 42 people and protesters broke windows at 14 businesses in Oakland and nearby Shadyside after authorities dispersed a crowd of anarchists and students who had gathered outside a G-20 Summit dinner at Phipps Conservatory.
During earlier protests in Pittsburgh's East End neighborhoods, 24 people were arrested and five other businesses were damaged. In all the incidents six people, including three officers, had to be treated at hospitals, city police announced today.
Deputy Police Chief Paul Donaldson said last night's incident began with protesters who gathered near Phipps. Chief Donaldson said the crowd refused to disperse and blocked traffic lanes, prompting police to drive the crowd back with smoke canisters.
At that point, he said, anarchist groups took up positions around the Cathedral of Learning and then began to smash windows at businesses in the area.
Police then seized the area around the Cathedral and found themselves facing a crowd that assembled around William Pitt Student Union. He acknowledged that a number of students "probably got caught up" in last night's police action.
As police were dispersing the crowd, vandals smashed windows at 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 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. today, most of the crowd was gone.
Harvey Mann, owner of the vandalized Subway, said, "I just don't understand why they felt this was necessary. What did the protesters get from this? This is just mayhem," he said as he was cleaning up the glass from a large front window.
Edward McAllister, project chief of the City of Pittsburgh Bureau of Building Inspection and his assistants were moving about the East End this morning taking pictures and assessing the businesses damaged by protesters.
One of the businesses, the newly opened Fidelity Bank at Morewood and Centre Avenue in Shadyside, still had its grand opening signs up, but several windows facing its back parking lot had been broken overnight. An ATM machine also was smashed. The bank did open today.
Mr. McAllister said businesses needed to file police reports to the city about their damage. If the damage was determined to be high enough it could qualify for relief from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, he said.
Over on Walnut Street in Shadyside, the Apple store boarded up its windows this morning, joining J Crew, Banana Republic, Victoria's Secret and The Gap, which had boarded up their windows earlier this week. Several security guards milled inside the Apple store and two guards were stationed inside J Crew.
Along a commercial stretch of Baum Boulevard, businesses are cleaning up, surveying damage and crossing their fingers that today will be quieter than yesterday. Late this morning at KFC, which had one window broken yesterday, a manager stood in front of the store on a cell phone reporting a group of protesters congregating across the street, but they quickly moved on.
At the P&W car dealership down the street, business today is much slower than ususal. "They've pretty much shut us down," said John Stitch, sales manager.
They've asked customers not to come. "We don't want to put them in harm's way."
Protesters broke two windows yesterday at P&W, facing Baum Boulevard.
"We never thought that they'd even come down this street," said Mr. Stitch. "There's nothing really on Baum Boulevard going on for them to come."
The Oakland confrontation was the worst of clashes that sometimes turned violent during the first day world leaders were gathered in Pittsburgh.
Pepper spray and smoke canisters were used to halt a march to Downtown by anarchists and others in the 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.
The Pittsburgh G-20 Resistance Project, an umbrella group for the protesters, issued a statement last night calling the day'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.
A city police statement said its mobile forces "responded swiftly and effectively with lawful enforcement and arrested 24 demonstrators" in Bloomfield and Lawrenceville. It noted there were 12 other demonstrations that were peaceful and where no arrests occurred.
Those arrested yesterday were being arraigned at City Court today. Josh Berman, a Pitt student from Philadelphia, was released on non-monetary bond after being charged with failure to disperse, disorderly conduct and possession of instruments of crime.
His defenses: 1) He couldn't disperse, because he and others were surrounded by police and paths of retreat were gassed. 2) The only disorderly thing he did was chant, "This is a police state." 3) He did not have rocks in his pockets as police allege. "If anything, I'm going to be more willing to protest" in the future, he said.
In a news release today, the National Lawyers Guild said their legal observers witnessed actions by police that they deemed "unwarranted."
They cited the use of tear gas and long-range acoustic devices "in residential neighborhoods on small streets where families and small children were exposed." And they compared the confrontation between students and police in Oakland last night, in which many student spectators became caught up in the melee, "akin to Kent State."
Additionally, they complained that police were not easily identifiable and that some rolled up their sleeves to conceal their armband identification.
In the wake of last night's events, the University of Pittsburgh today posted this notice on its Web site:
"Last evening, large numbers of people began to gather on and around the campus. Most were curious onlookers. Some wished to engage in peaceful protests. A smaller number clearly were committed to destructive activities. Fortunately, it appears that no one was seriously injured. However, a number of arrests were made.
"It is not possible to predict what further challenges might develop as the Summit continues and concludes. Therefore, it is important that students exercise good judgment and common sense in where they go and what they do, obeying the lawful orders of police officers and avoiding situations that present the risk of physical harm or other unwelcome consequences."
The university has been advertising in The Pitt News this week, including one in today's paper asking students to act in a "civil manner and exercise mutual respect and concern for others."
The ad cautions, "Don't let one bad decision negatively affect your future."
First Published September 25, 2009 12:47 am