Slag Heap | Pittsburgh City Paper

Friday, September 25, 2009

This is what PR catastrophes look like

Posted By on Fri, Sep 25, 2009 at 2:34 PM

Since Obama’s election, some of us have waited impatiently for a chance to bring opposition to global capitalism back into the public eye. On September 24 and 25, the G20 [is] convening in Pittsburgh ... This opportunity to connect the dots is being handed to anarchists on a platter-- the question is whether we have the numbers, networks, and momentum to take advantage of it...

Pittsburgh has a rich history of anarchist activity, extending back well into the 19th century ...

-- Crimethinc Internet posting


I just watched today's permitted G20 protest march -- actually, it was more like a carefully controlled cattle drive -- amble down the streets of Pittsburgh. It took awhile: Estimates of the march's size tend to be in the very low four digits, but the marchers weren't in much of a hurry. All around me, the crowd at the corner of Fifth and Smithfield watched politely. Socialists aroused no more interest, or even resentment, than the quiet Chinese women carrying banners extolling Falun Gong. Some protesters taunted cops ("You like you've been eating a lot of donuts"; "Do you beat your children with those batons?") but it just sounded desperate. The resentful, empty sarcasm of the side that knows it has been beaten.

Only one group of passers-by evoked any response from the crowd: the police trailing the last of the marchers. As law-enforcement went by -- on foot, horseback, or riding in vehicles -- the crowd cheered. 

"We love you!" shouted a woman standing nearby. 

So I'm kinda guessing the revolution may not begin here after all.

Sorry, Crimethinc and Co. Maybe you'll smash some more windows tonight to make yourself feel better, but even if you do ... you lost this one. 

I haven't blogged much today, in part because so little has been happening outside the convention center. As other media outlets have noted, threats to demonstrate at chain businesses around town simply haven't materialized.

I doubt anyone's getting complacent -- there was some discussion on the police scanner this morning about a robbery that took place late last night in the Hill District's old Fifth Avenue High School. (Apparently someone stole chains, locks, and a powerful saw "that can cut through anything.") But for the most part, the chatter on the scanner has been upbeat. As for the rest of us, we can't wait for this whole thing to just be over, and to get these goddamn agitators out of here. 

What's sort of ironic is that in the past couple days, I've met a few out-of-towners who seemed genuinely surprised by this. These were a somewhat older crowd, but they weren't people who came to Pittsburgh thinking it would be covered with layers of soot. No, these were people who kept current with their reading. They were people who believed the hype -- about our green buildings, about the bike trails, about our union history, and our status as a home for universities and medical research.

And from all that they assumed -- understandably, to some extent, but mistakenly -- that this stuff reflected a local political progressivism. That our environmental amenities reflected conscious preferences by those who live here. That our institutions of higher learning reflect a deep esteem for intellectuals. That we choose to vote Democratic in local elections.

In other words, they thought we were like Madison, Wisconsin. When the truth, of course, is that a sizable number of Pittsburghers oppose any ideology that makes it harder to find parking. 

I felt bad telling them it wasn't so. But I think there may be some big lessons emerging from Pittsburgh's stint as G-20 host.

First off, security might well be easier if future summits were held in smaller cities rather than cosmopolitan areas. True, those cities don't really have the security infrastructure for such events. But they don't have the protest infrastructure, either. In a small town, there are only so many spare couches for out-of-town anarchists to crash on.

And in a place like that, the advantage goes to the security forces. Why? Because: a) as we've seen, they have the resources to create an infrastructure out of nothing; and b) the indigenous population is tightly knit and predisposed to trust authority. (Clarification: At least in working-class neighborhoods where guys like Lawrenceville's Tony Ceoffe have sway.) No matter how many times authority screws it over. 

As for the second lesson: Seattle-type disruptive tactics are no longer effective. Yeah, the media fearmongering has been intense ... but Pittsburghers would have been wary and distrustful with far less encouragement. This isn't just about the media, or the police, or even with the local mindset. It's a lot about the demonstrations themselves. The hippy mass-march seems played out to be sure ... but this stuff is going on a decade old now.

I doubt it'll have any better results when the next G-20 takes place in Terre Haute.

Sept. 24 Protest in Pictures

Posted By on Fri, Sep 25, 2009 at 9:46 AM

I'm going to be posting video and images on this page intermittently throughout the day, so check back and hit "refresh." 

Our first video was shot by Chris Young near the intersection of Baum and Liberty. This was the altercation in which protesters began throwing rocks at police -- over the clearly-heard objections of others in the crowd. Police used rubber bullets during this fracas, though you can't tell from this footage. You will see a protester free a companion, and get taken into custody himself ... something that also happens over the equally clear objections of onlookers.

NEW VIDEO ADDED: This is a compilation of scenes from yesterday's unpermitted G-20 march, again shot by Chris Young. There are four segments: The first, lasting roughly a minute, shows demonstrators beginning their march. The second, which lasts about two minutes, shows the scene those marchers encountered at police barricades -- complete with the creepy pre-recorded dispersal announcement.

After that comes 30 seconds of ...  well, I'm not going to give it away. You'll just have to see it for yourself. (Or check it out here, as a standalone video, created in response to popular demand.) 

And the video rounds up with demonstrators calling out a suspected undercover officer ... with one marcher trying to screen the suspect off with a sheet of plywood. 

Sept. 24 protests: Public Safety rundown

Posted By on Fri, Sep 25, 2009 at 9:16 AM

Here's the rundown of yesterday's events, courtesy of the city's Department of Public Safety. Highlights only are included: I removed some boilerplate at the beginning about how great the police training has been. I also removed names of arrestees, since the formatting is sort of tricky for me to work out in html. I can add them back in if anyone cares.

For now, suffice it to say that most of the arrests involve charges of failure to disperse and resisting arrest. But there are a couple more serious charges, including aggravated assaults and inciting a riot.  

G-20 Safety Situation Report - September 24th, 2009

The residents of Bloomfield, Shadyside, Oakland, Lawrenceville, the Strip District and the Friendship-Garfield communities sustained minimal damage in those areas where civil disorder ensued.  Mobile Field Forces, at the ready, responded swiftly and effectively with lawful enforcement and arrested twenty-four (24) demonstrators in various locations with the largest concentration centered in the Lawrenceville/Bloomfield area.  However, there were twelve (12) demonstrations that were peacefully conducted on the streets of Pittsburgh where no arrests occurred.

In addition to the arrests detailed above there were 42 arrests that occurred during a demonstration at and near Schenley Plaza which began after 9:00pm.  Additional details concerning these arrests will be released as they become available. 


The areas of damage and civil disturbance include:


  • PNC Bank at Liberty Avenue and Matilda Street in Bloomfield sustained a broken glass door
  • Fidelity Bank at Morewood and Centre Avenues in Shadyside sustained broken glass panes
  • P&W BMW Auto Showroom on Baum Blvd. in Bloomfield sustained a broken window pane
  • Boston Market Restaurant on Baum Blvd. in Shadyside sustained 10 broken window panes
  • KFC on Baum Blvd. in Bloomfield sustained 1 broken window pane
  • Pamela’s Diner on Forbes Avenue in Oakland sustained broken windows
  • Quizno’s Subs on Craig Street in Oakland sustained broken windows
  • Irish Design Center on Craig Street sustained broken windows
  • PNC Bank on Craig Street in Oakland sustained broken windows
  • BNY Mellon on Craig Street sustained broken windows
  • Citizens Bank on Craig Street in Oakland sustained broken windows
  • Fidelity Bank on Morewood and Centre in Shadyside sustained broken windows/drive-thru
  • Panera Bread on Forbes Avenue in Oakland sustained broken windows
  • McDonalds on Forbes Avenue in Oakland sustained broken windows
  • Brueggars Bagels on Forbes Avenue in Oakland sustained broken windows
  • Subway on Forbes Avenue in Oakland sustained broken windows
  • Rite Aid on Forbes Avenue in Oakland sustained broken windows
  • FedEx on Forbes Avenue in Oakland sustained broken windows
  • H&R Block on Atwood in Oakland sustained broken windows


Suspicious Packages:

EOD Units responded to ten calls for suspicious packages.  Investigations resolved all of these calls without incident.



One (1) male transported to UPMC Presbyterian from Fifth and Thackeray

One (1) male transported to Mercy Hospital

One (1) female transported to UPMC Presbyterian for OC inhalation/Asthma

One (1) police officer non-lethal round struck in hand – treated and released

 One (1) police officer suffered from heat exhaustion – treated and released

One (1) police officer transported to Mercy Hospital suffered an allergic reaction   


Chemical Agent Deployment:


OC chemical agent was deployed by the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police in Lawrenceville/Strip District and Oakland for area and space denial (crowd dispersal).  OC is a micro-pulverized powder that gives a burning sensation when inhaled causing upper respiratory gagging and coughing.  OC agent does not incapacitate but is used to contain and disperse disorderly crowds.

Demonstrating futility

Posted By on Fri, Sep 25, 2009 at 3:53 AM

Well, so much for my hopes that Pittsburgh might be the "anti-Seattle." Given the confrontations between police and protesters during yesterday's unpermitted march, and the scattered acts of vandalism in the East End, a couple local professors might be having second thoughts this morning too.

But we're not alone. In the build-up to the G-20, most people were making the opposite prediction -- that Pittsburgh would be at the mercy of rampaging anarchists, coming in by the busload from all over the world. Yesterday's events suggest those predictions may be off-base too.

As recently as yesterday morning, news accounts were warning that "[police] intelligence reports suggest thousands of protesters are expected in the city Thursday and Friday."

So how many people turned out for the march from Arsenal Park? By the count of City Paper reporters on the scene and other sources, the action drew perhaps several hundred people -- maybe one thousand.

To put that in context, the 1999 Seattle WTO protests drew an estimated 50,000 protesters. Not all of those folks were mask-wearing anarchists. But the number of people arrested in Seattle was close to the total number of protesters yesterday.

And let's remember: The Seattle demonstrations scuttled the WTO's opening ceremonies, and may have played some role in the subsequent collapse of trade talks. In Downtown Pittsburgh, by contrast, it was impossible to tell the march was even happening.

Still, we've got another day ahead. And I don't want to underestimate (again) the willingness of some demonstrators to undermine their own cause.

I mean, seriously -- Pamela's in Oakland? That's whose windows you chose to vandalize last night? They may be "your streets," as your chant insists ... but those are our pancakes.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

For Patrick Dowd, protest was a civics lesson

Posted By on Thu, Sep 24, 2009 at 2:25 PM

[Editor's note: This will be our last post today. Thanks for reading ... and very special thanks to Charlie Deitch, Marty Levine, Bill O'Driscoll and Chris Young. While I spent most of the day up here in the office, tweeting and eating bon-bons, these guys were dashing through clouds of tear gas today.] 

For some, today's unpermitted march in Lawrenceville has been an assault on law and order. For others, it was a chance to voice full-throated opposition to the global order. 

For city councilor Patrick Dowd, it was a chance to teach his three eldest children -- Mackenzie (12), Will (10),  and Quinn (7) -- a civics lesson. 

Dowd wanted his kids to see a protest -- and, he candidly admits, "I was curious too". So he brought them to Arsenal Park, where today's unpermitted march began. 

At one point, Dowd said, hundreds of demonstrators gathered in Arsenal Park rushed at a phalanx of 50 officers -- "and I thought, 'This is the moment.' I don't think the protesters had any evil intent, but it scared the hell out of me. The protesters were within spitting distance, and they were yelling at them," Dowd adds. "But the police did not escalate. They were totally silent, and they didn't pull out their tear gas or anything like that." 

Dowd had especially high praise for Commander George Trosky, who Dowd says "showed amazing restraint. One protester was standing in front of him, yelling at him with a bullhorn when Trosky was looking right at him. And Trosky just turned away." Dowd says he's telling Trosky's boss, public safety director Mike Huss, how commendably the commander performed. (Such praise will be all the sweeter, since Trosky took some lumps lumps from City Council when he was promoted: He'd faced accusations of domestic violence and excessive use of force at a 1989 Grateful Dead show.) 

Dowd says protesters eventually backed away from the confrontation, and began the march by exiting the park from the 39th Street side. 

Dowd followed the ensuing action at a distance, in part because he wanted to see for himself whether protesters were doing any damage to neighborhood property. (He says he saw none.) He and his children wandered down to Doughboy Square and back. "And when we were around 36th or 37th street, that's when I could smell the tear gas."

A crowd of protesters came running his way. "You could tell the crowd had just been dispersed," Dowd says. "The police were trying to get people moving, and a lot of them were trying to hoof it out of there -- just like us."

In fact, Dowd joined forces with rival Tony Ceoffe, the head of Lawrenceville United, to encourage people to depart the scene. (Say what you will about the G20, and those who protest it, but by God -- they brought Pat Dowd and Tony Ceoffe together.)

Dowd says that if his constituents were unhappy with the use of tear gas in a residential neighborhood, he hasn't heard about it yet.  In fact, Dowd says, "I had constitutents saying stuff like 'if this is how it's going to be, this will be fine,' because they were so impressed with the police." He also gives some credit to the protesters -- a couple of whom offered to give masks to Dowd's children once the tear gas was released. 

Of course, even as I type this, there are running confrontations taking place between police and protesters. So arguably, any judgments about how either side handled itself might be premature. But Dowd knows this much about the day's events already:

"They're already part of family lore." 

Protests underway

Posted By on Thu, Sep 24, 2009 at 1:51 PM

It's on.

As I type this, police are squaring off with protesters taking part in an unpermitted march in Lawrenceville. Hundreds of protesters at least are marching along Liberty: Police are waiting at 34th street, with riot shields. Protesters are being warned by PA that if they do not disperse, they will be subjected to arrest, "the use of riot-control agents and non-lethal munitions which can cause injury."  

Meanwhile, a group of Ethiopian demonstrators have been making their way through the streets of Downtown Pittsburgh. The demonstrators are accusing the U.S. and other nations of supporting a corrupt dictatorship: The country is ruled by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who The Economist characterizes as a "Marxist fighter turned political strongman with a dismal human-rights record who is intolerant of dissent."

The demonstrators have been engaged in a sort of shadow-dance with state troopers, phalanxes of whom periodically confront the demonstrators, and then back them out of the street, with batons drawn. Photos follow: I'll have more from Lawrenceville when I can. 




Also taking place Downtown is a protest on behalf of Tibet. As with the Ethiopian protest, demonstrators are facing off a phalanx of state police. And as with the Ethiopian protest, the protesters are outnumbered by onlookers -- including reporters who are still working off a morning of boredom. But there is no hint of violence at this point. 

And they're off

Posted By on Thu, Sep 24, 2009 at 12:50 PM

A student feeder march -- numbering roughly two dozen people -- is headed from Friendship Park in Bloomfield to Arsenal Park, where they will meet up with a larger contingent of demonstrators planning an unpermitted march.

Currently, though, "There are more media here [at Arsenal] than marchers," says Marty Levine. (Though he notes that with the rise of citizen jouranlism "it's hard to tell which is which.") Levine estimates only 150 protesters. 

Meanwhile, police in riot gear are suiting up just a few blocks away, near Liberty and 38th. We also have a report of police setting up along Harrisburg and Main.

Meanwhile, there's also a small protest taking place near the intersection of Liberty Ave. and 7th street. Roughly two dozen police -- outnumbering the protesters by roughly two-to-one -- are standing nearby. 

More coming soon.

Pittsburgh: The Anti-Seattle? (part 2)

Posted By on Thu, Sep 24, 2009 at 11:56 AM

Charlie Deitch reports in from Arsenal Park in Lawrenceville, where an unpermitted march is set to kick off in roughly 90 minutes. 

Here's the scene:


Deitch says that the crowd at Arsenal currently numbers about 100 "with a couple new people coming in every minute or so." The first contingent of police -- about a dozen bicycle-mounted police officers -- has just arrived. 

In the meantime, Bill O'Driscoll has this report from a protest Downtown involving Burmese monks:

Around noon, 15 Burmese monks and a like number of supporters gathered outside the August Wilson Center to protest government repression in their home country of Myanmar (formerly known as Burma).

The monks, who live in exile at the Buddhist temple monastery in Chapel Hill, N.C., were hosted locally by City of Asylum/Pittsburgh, which shelters persecuted writers. The Wilson Center is perhaps the closest large public area to the convention center that's still accessible without having to cross security checkpoints during the G-20 summit.

Monks speaking out for freedom in Myanmar are persecuted and often jailed. Many of the protestors today held images of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese dissident who's spend much of her adult life under house arrest, despite international condemnation of the persecution.

One of the images was a portrait by Shepard Fairey, creator of the Obama "hope" poster.

"The people in Burma, the students, from all walks of life, are suffering," one of the monks, Agga Dhamme, said through a translator. "They [are] emotionally depressed because the military government was in power for more than 26 years."

The monks, all wearing orange and brown robes, had marched from City of Asylum's houses on the North Side. The protest consisted largely of the monks meditating while seated on this blocked portion of Liberty Avenue. It attracted some media and enlivened other protestors, including opponents of oppression in Ethiopia and a guy carrying a sign reading "stop the Global Bank Thieves of America" and repeatedly yelling "Protest is freedom!"

Most of them left after the monks did, at about 12:30.

Your intelligence agencies are no match for our fucked up street grid

Posted By on Thu, Sep 24, 2009 at 10:48 AM

Sure, the Secret Service guys LOOK all bad-ass. And obviously Pittsburgh is crawling with Homeland Security agencies, shadowy figures who know more about us than we know about ourselves. 

But apparently, even THEY are no match for Pittsburgh's streets, reports our Bill O'Driscoll. 

O'Driscoll is credentialed to attend the G-20 proceedings at the Covention Center, and he thought he'd stop by after attending a press conference at the August Wilson Center. But to get inside the convention center, press must first go through a security checkpoint at the Mellon Arena. As O'Driscoll describes it:

At the Arena, the Bigelow Boulevard side is blocked off -- even though that's where the media gate is. So cops direct you all the way around -- counterclockwise, from 7 o'clock to 10 o'clock. Then you empty your pockets and climb aboard one of the eight charter buses awaiting media.

Forty-five of its 50 seats were empty, but the bus left on time. The driver seemed only marginally familiar with Downtown. But he was more clued in than the Secret Service guy riding shotgun. 

"You know this town better than I do," said the Secret Service guy as we attempted to locate a route to the Convention Center.

"This is Grant Street," the driver said a minute later. "Maybe that was William Penn Place there, I don't know."

O'Driscoll got their evenutually -- by way of Fifth, Liberty, and Fort Duquesne Boulevard. But the best part of the story may be this only-in-Pittburgh/only-during-the-G20 vision:

As O'Driscoll was walking up to the Arena, he says, he was passed by a pedicab -- peddled by a white Pittsburgher carrying an Asian passenger. Judging from the large amount of luggage in the cab, the passenger may have been overseas media. And on the hill rising up to the arena, O'Driscoll says, "the load apparently became too heavy: The passenger got out and had to push while the driver peddled ahead."

There's a metaphor in there somewhere, I'm pretty sure.

Pittsburgh: the Anti-Seattle?

Posted By on Thu, Sep 24, 2009 at 10:27 AM

This afternoon's unpermitted march is still hours away, but early indications suggest that police may not need all those pairs of disposable handcuffs after all. 

Our Chris Young is at Friendship Park in Bloomfield, the starting point for a student "feeder march," which will later hook up with the main event. People were supposed to start gathering in Friendship Park at 11:00 a.m. But as of 11:30, there were only a half-dozen demonstrators on hand. 

It's early yet, and no one likes to be the first person to a party. But one volunteer organizer (who declined to be identified by name) seemed a bit downcast. 

"This is not working out too well," she said just before leaving. 


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