Monday, September 21, 2009

Update: Police Scatter the Seeds

Posted By on Mon, Sep 21, 2009 at 3:09 PM

Police 1, protesters 0.

That's the score today, as it appears the city has forced activist group Seeds of Peace from a privately-owned site on Sassafras Street in Lawrenceville, where the group had been parking its bus.

Bob Johnson, who sublets the Sassafras Street property, told City Paper that the property's owner was given a "verbal warning" by the Bureau of Building Inspection, citing code violations that would result in $1,000-a-day fines if Seeds of Peace weren't removed. We were unable to confirm that account: Calls to the city were referred to Yvonne Hilton of the city Law Department, who declined comment via e-mail, citing a lawsuit filed by the ACLU.

But in any case, Seeds of Peace is moving out.

As we previously reported, the group -- who came from Montana to help cook meals for G-20 protesters -- has complained of repeated visits from police on flimsy pretexts. The group ended up on Sassafras, in fact, after police impounded its bus while it was parked on a city street.  

Those encounters have become the basis for the ACLU's suit, and indeed, when our very own Chris Young arrived at the Sassafras Street location, he found a police cruiser already there. When he asked the officers what was going on, they told him they were following up on a report of a van with a broken window. 

A van was parked on the side of the road, but Young reports its windows were intact. The police left soon after.

Katy Kelly, a member of Seeds of Peace, told us she isn't sure where the group will go next. But the relocation has already hampered its ability to prepare meals: Breaking down its kitchen and setting it up somewhere else will consume a full day ... and that's assuming the same thing doesn't happen at the next place the group finds.

In related news, the city offered an explanation, sort of, about what police officers were doing at the Landslide urban garden in the Hill District. We first reported Landslide's account of the incident here. According to a city-issued statement, on Sunday afternoon police

identified a city owned lot located at Beelen and Mohawk in the Hill District that contained over one-hundred (100) tires. Officers summoned Public Works who arrived on scene at approximately 7:00PM, completing the removal of the tires three (3) hours later with the assistance of a Hi-Lift machine. The tires were removed as a precautionary measure to ensure the safety of peaceful protesters and public safety personnel during the G20 Summit.

This dovetails with some of Landslide's initial statement -- which I'll reprint in full below. The group acknowledges that the police left the Landslide site to investigate the tires -- eventually -- but has expressed suspicions that the tires were just a pretext for an act of intimidation.The tires, after all, have apparently been on the site for some time.

Landslide's full statement follows:

In Lead Up to G-20, Police Harassment at Community Farm

More than forty police officers stationed in front of Landslide Community Farm as Department of Public Works removes tires

PITTSBURGH--On Sunday, September 20 just after noon, more than 40 uniformed police officers arrived at Landslide Community Farm in four unmarked twelve-passenger vans. The police were not forthcoming with their reasons for visiting the farm but some officers indicated that their presence was in relation to the upcoming G-20 summit.

Several officers got out of their vans, walking deep into the privately owned farmland to examine the area. During the investigation police were repeatedly told that they were on private property and asked to leave, but refused to comply with the request until tax receipts indicating ownership of the land were presented.

At several delicate plants were trampled in the investigation but the extent of the damage is unknown.

Eventually the police left the farmland to investigate a pile of tires on a city-owned lot adjacent to the land. The tires had been gathered from city-owned lots in the area during neighborhood clean-up days.

Farm volunteers say that the lots had been neglected by local authorities for years. As part of the clean-up efforts Landslide requested help from various city agencies in removing the tires.

While city officials were very helpful in securing dumpsters for other trash, they refused to assist in removing the tires.

The forty police officers remained on the scene for more than eight hours while Pittsburgh Public Works investigated the situation, examined property lines, and eventually hauled away the tires.

Employees promised to return at 6:00 am the next morning. They did not comment on the purpose of their return to the Farm.

Farm volunteers expressed concern that so many police officers were called to the scene just to remove tires. "If they had given us a dumpster two years ago this wouldn't have been an issue. This isn't about trash or tires; this is a show of force. The police are clearly trying to intimidate anyone who opposes the G-20's policies or anyone who looks like someone that would protest the G-20" said Claire Schoyer, a fulltime Landslide volunteer.

While Landslide members are generally opposed to the G-20 and its neoliberal policies, the farm is not hosting any protesters or protest activities. Also, in the face of likely repression, the Farm has decided to scale back activities during the summit.

This is not the first time police have been at Landslide. In August, Landslide volunteers filed a complaint with the Citizens Police Review Board when two plainclothes police officers visited the farm and aggressively told volunteers that they had to leave because they were trespassing on city land. During the August incident the officers left when they were presented with tax receipts for the land.



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