The G20 in Pittsburgh
showed us how pitifully fearful our leaders have become.
What no terrorist could do to
us, our own leaders did.
of fear of the possibility of a terrorist attack, authorities militarize
our towns, scare our people away, stop daily life and quash our
For days, downtown Pittsburgh,
home to the G20, was a turned into a militarized people-free ghost
town. Sirens screamed day and night. Helicopters crisscrossed the
skies. Gunboats sat in the rivers. The skies were defended by Air
Force jets. Streets were barricaded by huge cement blocks and fencing.
Bridges were closed with National Guard across the entrances. Public
transportation was stopped downtown. Amtrak train service was suspended
In many areas, there were armed
police every 100 feet. Businesses closed. Schools closed. Tens of
thousands were unable to work.
Four thousand police were on
duty plus 2500 National Guard plus Coast Guard and Air Force and
dozens of other security agencies. A thousand volunteers from other
police forces were sworn in to help out.
Police were dressed in battle
gear, bulky black ninja turtle outfits - helmets with clear visors,
strapped on body armor, shin guards, big boots, batons, and long
In addition to helicopters,
the police had hundreds of cars and motorcycles, armored vehicles,
monster trucks, small electric go-karts. There
were even passenger vans screaming through town so stuffed with
heavily armed ninja turtles that the side and rear doors remained
No terrorists showed up at the
Since no terrorists showed up,
those in charge of the heavily armed security forces chose to deploy
their forces around those who were protesting.
Not everyone is delighted that
20 countries control 80% of the world’s resources. Several thousand
of them chose to express their displeasure by protesting.
Unfortunately, the officials
in charge thought that it was more important to create a militarized
people-free zone around the G20 people than to allow freedom of
speech, freedom of assembly or the freedom to protest.
It took a lawsuit by the Center
for Constitutional Rights and the ACLU to get any major protest
permitted anywhere near downtown Pittsburgh. Even then, the police “forgot” what
was permitted and turned people away from areas of town. Hundreds
of police also harassed a bus of people who were giving away free
food - repeatedly detaining the bus and searching it and its passengers
Then a group of young people
decided that they did not need a permit to express their human and
constitutional rights to freedom. They announced they were going
to hold their own gathering at a city park and go down the deserted
city streets to protest the G20. Maybe 200 of these young people
were self-described anarchists, dressed in black, many with bandanas
across their faces. The police warned everyone these people were
very scary. My cab driver said the anarchist spokesperson looked
like Harry Potter in a black hoodie. The anarchists were joined
in the park by hundreds of other activists of all ages, ultimately
one thousand strong, all insisting on exercising their right to
This drove the authorities crazy.
dressed ninja turtles showed up at the park and formed a line across
one entrance. Helicopters buzzed overhead. Armored vehicles gathered.
The crowd surged out of the
park and up a side street yelling, chanting, drumming, and holding
signs. As they exited the park, everyone passed an ice cream truck
that was playing “It’s a small world after all.” Indeed.
Any remaining doubts about the
militarization of the police were dispelled shortly after the crowd
left the park. A few blocks away the police unveiled their latest
high tech anti-protestor toy. It was mounted on the back of a huge
black truck. The Pittsburgh-Gazette described it as Long Range Acoustic
Device designed to break up crowds with piercing noise. Similar
devices have been used in Fallujah, Mosul and
Basra Iraq. The police backed the
truck up, told people not to go any further down the street and
then blasted them with piercing noise.
The crowd then moved to other
streets. Now they were being tracked by helicopters. The police
repeatedly tried to block them from re-grouping ultimately firing
tear gas into the crowd injuring hundreds including people in the
residential neighborhood where the police decided to confront the
marchers. I was treated to some of the tear gas myself and I found
the Pittsburgh brand to be spiced with a hint of kelbasa. Fortunately
I was handed some paper towels soaked in apple cider vinegar which
helped fight the tears and cough a bit. Who would have thought?
After the large group broke
and ran from the tear gas, smaller groups went into commercial neighborhoods
and broke glass at a bank and a couple of other businesses. The
police chased and the glass breakers ran. And the police chased
and the people ran. For a few hours.
By day the police were menacing,
but at night they lost their cool. Around a park by the University
of Pittsburgh the ninja turtles pushed
and shoved and beat and arrested not just protestors but people
passing by. One young woman reported she and her friend watched
Grey’s Anatomy and were on their way back to their dorm when they
were cornered by police. One was bruised by police baton and her
friend was arrested. Police shot tear gas, pepper spray, smoke canisters,
and rubber bullets. They pushed with big plastic shields and struck
The biggest march was Friday.
Thousands of people from Pittsburgh and other places protested the G20.
Since the court had ruled on this march, the police did not confront
the marchers. Ninja turtled police showed up in formation sometimes
and the helicopters hovered but no confrontations occurred.
Again Friday night, riot clad
police fought with students outside of the University
of Pittsburgh. To what end was just as
unclear as the night before.
Ultimately about 200 were arrested,
mostly in clashes with the police around the University.
The G20 leaders left by helicopter
now belongs again to the people of Pittsburgh.
The cement barricades were removed, the fences were taken down,
the bridges and roads were opened. The gunboats packed up and left.
The police packed away their ninja turtle outfits and tear gas and
rubber bullets. They don’t look like military commandos anymore.
No more gunboats on the river. No more sirens all the time. No more
armored vehicles and ear splitting machines used in Iraq. On Monday the businesses
will open and kids will have to go back to school. Civil society
It is now probably even safe
to exercise constitutional rights in Pittsburgh
really showed those terrorists didn’t we?
Columnist, Bill Quigley, is a human rights lawyer and law professor
at Loyola University, New Orleans.
He has been an active public interest lawyer since 1977 and has
served as counsel with a wide range of public interest organizations
on issues including Katrina social justice issues, public housing,
voting rights, death penalty, living wage, civil liberties, educational
reform, constitutional rights and civil disobedience. He has litigated
numerous cases with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational
Fund, Inc., the Advancement Project, and with the ACLU of Louisiana, for which
he served as General Counsel for over 15 years. Bill is one of the
lawyers for displaced residents.Additionally, Bill is the
author of the forthcoming book, Storms Still Raging: Katrina,
New Orleans and Social
Justice. Click here
to contact Mr. Quigley.
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1 , 2009
published every Thursday
Bill Fletcher, Jr.
Est. April 5, 2002
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