Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto admits police reports 'were wrong' about Monday's protest, calls for independent investigations | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto admits police reports 'were wrong' about Monday's protest, calls for independent investigations

click to enlarge Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto admits police reports 'were wrong' about Monday's protest, calls for independent investigations
CP Photo: Jared Wickerham
Mayor Bill Peduto in February 2020
On Thursday morning, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto held a press conference to address use of force by police officers against protesters on Mon., June 1. He presented ideas for police reform, including endorsing the "8 Can't Wait" campaign, and backed use-of-force legislation introduced by Rep. Summer Lee (D-Swissvale) and Ed Gainey (D-East Liberty).

Protesters and journalists at Monday's demonstration, which began in East Liberty and moved to Shadyside, say the police fired rubber bullets, bean bags, smoke, and tear gas at peaceful protesters. At a press conference on Monday night, Peduto backed Pittsburgh Police chief Scott Schubert's report that protesters threw rocks, water bottles, and bricks at the police before the police fired. Videos from protesters and bystanders indicate that the police fired first.

At today's press conference, Peduto defended his 11 p.m. press conference on Monday, saying he wanted to offer transparency to people about what happened based on police reports, but now admits "they were wrong."

"We used the best available information in order to be able to present what our findings were. And they were wrong," said Peduto. "And that's why we're at the point of an OMI investigation."

Peduto announced there would be an independent investigation by the Office of Municipal Investigation (OMI) on police activity between Saturday and Monday, based on police reports and eyewitness accounts. There will also be a second investigation by the Citizen's Police Review Board (CPRB), an independent body focused on police accountability.

Peduto's chief of staff Dan Gilman presented a list of proposed reforms, including 8 Can't Wait, a set of police reforms proposed by policy group Campaign Zero. The eight proposals include banning chokeholds and strangleholds, and requiring warning before shooting, among other measures. On its website, 8 Can't Wait promises that implementing these reforms can "decrease police violence by 72%," however several of the proposals are already in use by the Pittsburgh Police department.

Gilman said, "The bureau of police has already begun a full review of our policies to make sure that we are embracing and following all eight principles." Gilman also announced that Peduto endorsed a pledge from Barack Obama's My Brother's Keeper Alliance that commits to reviewing use-of-force policies.

In his remarks, Peduto called on "every other white elected official" to support the bills and reforms.

Yesterday, Pittsburgh City Councilor Erika Strassburger (D-Shadyside) condemned the police officer's actions on Monday. "It is unreasonable and counterintuitive to expect that protesters will submit peacefully when police, many of the officers dressed head-to-toe in military gear, scream orders at them, tear-gas them, and shot them with rubber bullets. It is the very violence and aggression that protesters have gathered in objection to."
Strassburger also announced she would be introducing policy proposals in city council in coming days and week.

When asked about the use of tear gas, which several people on the ground reported experiencing on Monday, Peduto said that smoke was used to disperse crowds, and that he couldn't say whether tear gas was used until the OMI investigation is complete. He said the OMI investigation would be independent of police and state officials.

"There is report of the use of smoke and that's what the information we got that evening was, but there are indications of the use of tear gas, and that's why we're having OMI investigate," said Peduto.

Though he wouldn't say definitively whether tear gas was used, Peduto admitted, awkwardly, that "there is video from the public of people reacting the way you would react to tear gas" but that it's "up to OMI to pull those different parts together."

When asked about the amount of damage done to buildings and other property in the city, Peduto immediately began listing other cities that have had much worse damage, including New York and Philadelphia, and that it was inaccurate to say that Pittsburgh has had "massive" damage. This is in contrast to Peduto's reaction to property destruction that occurred after Saturday's protests, which he tweeted were "hijacked by a group of 100+ Anarchists - focused only on violence."

He said the damage done in other cities doesn't compare to several broken windows. He went on to praise the police for stopping more damage from happening, and claimed that protesters are coming from elsewhere armed with makeshift weapons.

"People are coming here with backpacks filled with bricks, and rocks, and hammers, and incendiary devices, and pepper spray, and leaf blowers in order to get the pepper spray to go over," said Peduto.

While there have been reports of individuals showing up with some of these items, it's not clear if protesters used any on Monday. Video evidence shows water bottles thrown at police after they fired tear gas at protesters. Even so, the overwhelming majority of marchers have not been carrying anything that can be used as a weapon. Firsthand accounts and videos also don't show any bricks being thrown or used by protesters.

A protester was carrying a leaf blower during Monday's march, but CP didn't witness the leaf blower used during Monday's protest. In other protests across the world, people have used leaf blowers to deflect pepper spray.

"We must work to build trust between police and all they serve," said Peduto. "We must undo the systems that have caused pain, suffering, and loss of life in communities of color. This is a first step, we must strive everyday to do better."

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