Friday, September 25, 2009

I’m about to call (almost) everyone else wrong, and its ok to hate me for it

So, reading through other people’s comments on the events of this past night, I feel the need to comment on it.  And, I intend to stick to the title I’ve given this post.  I went down towards the park tonight with a few friends.  They clearly wanted to go to simply observe what was going on.  I went partially for that reason, and partially because there is a valid reason to protest groups like the G-20 (why 19 nations and the EU should get to dictate world policy to everyone without input escapes me, for one thing, but that is a topic for another day).  When we first arrived there was a peaceful gathering.  Apparently we missed the police clearly the area around the fountain, but generally there were protesters of all kinds sitting along the road.  They were occupying about half of it, while lines of police lined the other half.  While there was clearly a standoff, there wasn’t much tension in the air.  The protesters eventually began singing and dancing, and the police started to fill in areas that they left.  The entire feeling of the event changed after the police advanced to take the entire road.  The group singing and dancing remained on the sidewalk, but now there was tension and fear present.  Everyone could be seen looking over shoulders, keeping tabs on the police (and their ever growing numbers and ever expanding lines), preparing for the next charge.  Someone mentioned that there wasn’t a cohesive sense of what was being protested.  This is actually not as bad as they claimed, as one of the interesting things about anti-globalization protests is that they will draw in a wide variety of groups and people.  If your issue is with the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and blockade of Gaza, the G-20 provides a time to voice that, if it is environmentalism, protecting workers rights in the developing world, Tibet, women’s rights, etc, the important decision makers are there.  People from this wide front of ideas can all come together to voice these opinions.  That doesn’t make people unintelligent (though there are some like that in every protest, left-wing or right-wing).   The protest and rally continued in this way for a while; with minor police movements in the areas surrounding the roads, and a few questionable arrests, all while the police expanded their area of coverage and increasingly surrounded the protest.  Eventually, SWAT teams were sent into the area, more and more reinforcements arrived for the police, and their new sound dispersion system was brought on site.  We were informed that, on the authority of the chief of police, we were all unlawfully assembling (yet, according to the first amendment (emphasis mine): “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”)  This is when tear gas was fired into the crowd.  Note that this was not the small part of the crowd on the street; this was the crowd in the park, which was within its rights under the first amendment.  This led to a scramble, which apparently sent some scrambling to the far side of the Cathedral and towards Squirrel Hill, while a large number of us moved towards the Union.  From this area we were able to see the plumes of tear gas fired at those protesters.  The police then turned towards the crowd by the William Pitt Union.  Rubber bullets were fired, tear gas deployed, and noise dispersion (in what may have been its first use in the United States) was used (I was able to avoid the bullets and only get the periphery of the gas).  Student and non-student protesters continued to back up, moving towards the quad.  Eventually, the police charged, locking this area down, and chasing protesters up both Fifth and Forbes Avenues, as well as taking over the quad dorms, apparently deploying tear gas to this areas (living spaces for students) and entering buildings.  I personally left at this point towards Fifth Avenue to return home.  When I got to Fifth, I found myself within a group of protesters about 10 feet from a rapidly advancing (running) line of riot police.  I don’t think I have ever run as fast as I did then, and I quickly made my way up to my dorm.  I am told that the Towers patio and lobby was raided, and that beatings and arrests took place, and that similar stories of lines of riot police chasing protesters occurred on Forbes Avenue, leading to some property damage and broken windows of businesses.  I find it interesting that this damage occurred after protesters were being chased by the police in that direction, and that the police seemed to have begun these maneuvers with little to no provocation.  I don’t believe that responsibility for the reports of rioting tonight lie solely with the protesters.  The police acted with disregard for the rights of students (or people in general) and with a complete disproportionate response to events.  Some estimates even had higher numbers of police on scene then protesters.  The term police riot has been used to describe when, according to Wikipedia:police [use] wrongful, disproportionate, unlawful, and/or illegitimate force.”  This has been used to describe the 1999 WTO Protests in Seattle, which kicked off many of the newer tactics and regulations.  This concept may very well also be applicable to tonight’s events.


  1. oops...sorry for keeping those wikipedia links in there...

  2. I was present for all of these riots. And I was just trying to return to my dorm after visiting a friend in Lothrop. However, I find it hard to believe that the police just starting harassing the crowd. Everyone has to understand that when large groups gather like that, it can instigate violence. One thing goes wrong, and everyone erupts into anger. The police are just as afraid as we are, and if they feel threatened, they must fire. They were also informed to not let anyone gather in the streets like that. Their main thing was to make sure the streets were clean. So when you say they went against our rights, they really didn't. They were told, as well as us (for awhile they were shouting get back and I was told to get back to my dorm as quick as possible). I do find the beatings completely out of line, but put yourself in their situation. When people are throwing in bricks to damage shops, setting fires to the middle of the street, everyone becomes one image and the police grab whoever they can. We were told not to leave our dorms, so if a student is caught in a riot act, it was your choice and you may very well take a beating from the police squads. Some of these protests have nothing to do with the G20. This is not a gathering for all political problems, this is an economic gathering. These anarchists can stop terrorizing our campus and go back home. The sad thing about the city is that we needed all of these cops with the riots taking place. I find it very disheartening that people would get that out of control and the police resort of violence on campus. I understand your opinion and I am sorry if I offended you in any way. I respect your post, however, I had to write something.

  3. A riot is defined ( as a group of people "intentionally or recklessly causes or creates a grave risk of public terror or alarm. A person commits the crime of inciting to riot if he commands, solicits, incites or urges another person to engage in tumultuous and violent conduct of a kind likely to cause or create a grave risk of public terror or alarm. Riots disturb public peace and safety and require police action."

    When a group of 100 moves towards a line of police (i.e. Spartans from the Halo videogames), it can be justly called a riot. "A person may be often arrested for rioting after being informed by police officers that they are participating in an unlawful assembly and are ordered to disperse. If the crowd does not disperse, its members become subject to arrest for the crime of rioting, disturbing the peace, resisting arrest or other crimes."
    -Devils Advocate

    The freedom of assembly clause says that the people can peacefully assemble. (Peaceable can be defined as: inclined or disposed to avoid strife; not hostile.) But if there is no peacefulness, then there is no legal protection. I think the protests were peaceful until the anarchists (or whoever was doing the unpeacefulness) acted unpeacefully. At that point it became a "riot," and the police were thereafter justified (legally, not morally!) in arresting, smoking, and attempting to disperse the crowd. I do not agree with the actions of the police on Thursday night, but the actions were not unlawful.
    -Stefan Larson

  4. People keep mentioning anarchists, protesters and rioters like they are all the same thing, and act as if there is no overlap between protesters and students. Both of those are wrong, ignorant, and arrogant assumptions. Stefan, you do have a point that when there is an act that goes against a "peaceable assembly," the legal protection is lost, though the laws against excessive force still apply. Beyond that, however, is the fact that the acts of vandalism and such were committed along Forbes, yet the firing of tear gas, shooting of rubber bullets (I believe they were beanbags...), beatings, arrests, etc began in the park. Which is where a different group of people had gathered separately. While there may have been some people theoretically blocking a (closed) street, that was not where the tear gas was first fired. It was fired at the park, where there was not violence, there was not any illegal activity, etc.

    And I would like to know, Gabby, based on your standard that if authority figures feel threatened, they must fire, if you then would defend the actions of National Guardsmen at Kent State during protests against the Vietnam War.