G 20 Summit – Massive Militarized Police Presence in Pittsburgh
[Update 1 - I was 1 of the 50 who filed complaints w/CPRB - see: Protesters blast police response, Oakland arrests ]
[Update 2 - just learned that this was a National Special Security Event
[Update 3: 10/2/09 watch Democracy Now! segment
[Update 4: 11/1/11 - I just came across this video of the G 20 in Toronto in June 2010. Looks really bad. One police tactic I saw also used in Pittsburgh was when police (in full riot gear) marched in lockstep, aggressively towards protesters, while pounding their shields as they walked. It sickened me. I thought of Nazi Germany and Rome. - end updates]
My kids go to school in Pittsburgh, so on Thursday I headed out to see them and witness and participate in the G 20 Summit protests.
Because the G 20 Summit provides a world stage, I was there to warm of “climate destruction ahead” and to advocate for a substantive global warming agenda for the upcoming December Copenhagen Climate Conference negotiations.
But there are other major pressing economic policy issues related to the need to regulate global finance in light of economic collapse, as well as to re-conceptualize global “free trade” and economic development frameworks to protect labor and promote economic and social justice.
I was appalled by what I saw – and I’m obviously not talking about my kids. It sure looked different than the welcoming Pittsburgh I visited, photographed and posted here.
I’ve never been on the wrong end of a shotgun before. Face to face – it is not a good feeling.
But that’s not nearly all I saw. There were the dogs, Humvee roadblocks, no pedestrian zones, downtown lockdown, fenced off areas, designated protest zone, hundreds (thousands?) of military troops, helicopters, constant overhead military aircraft (F-16′s?), chemical gases, and even – the first time ever deployed in the US – ear splitting sonic crowd control technology.
There were a handful of anarchists – some possibly prone to violence – among a few thousand peaceful protesters. Dozens of college students, observers, media, and everyday local people were included in the crowds that police indiscriminately controlled and managed as violent. (listen to this for police state tactics)
Overwhelmingly peaceful people were met by a massive show of militarized police force. Riot gear armored police and military troops significantly outnumbered protestors.
I personally witnessed provocative, intimidating and repressive military tactics I had imagined were limited to third world countries, not the freedom loving USA. I directly experienced this when a group of 15 or so military troops – in full riot gear – marched aggressively and directly through a crowd at the Merton Center Rally. The crowd was attending a peaceful permitted rally before a march.
I talked to several people, all of whom described similar examples of where police and military units initiated violence, precipitated violence, or severely over reacted to minor threats associated with overwhelmingly non-violent protests.
After I got home I viewed several YouTube videos of events that confirmed this overreaction – just do the Google and see for yourself. The tear gassing of University of Pittsburgh students looked particularly egregious.
This level of militarized intimidation is un-American and raises serious questions about constitutionally guaranteed rights of dissent and protest – free speech, association, and opportunity to petition government for redress of grievances.
These are not mere words to me – I believe strongly in them. I watched videos where the protestors appealed to military units to respect their constitutional rights, only to have the troops ignore them while arbitrarily declaring peaceful protest illegal assembly. The scenes were redolent of a police state.
Protestors were not allowed anywhere near where the G 20 Summit was held, so President Obama and world leaders were totally isolated and could not hear their voices or see their signs.
And – of course – the media focus on police over-reaction and scattered minor property damage by a handful of anarchists totally obscures any public discussion of the policy agenda before the G 20 and world leaders – important issues are being ignored – watch “G 20 Summit in Pittsburgh Highlights Economic Decline of Former Steel Capital“.
In this time of economic collapse, accelerating global warming, and war, citizens engagement and protest needs to be valued and encouraged.
But when police state tactics intimidate protest and dissent and media diversion squelches informed public discussion of critical issues, our Constitutional values are assaulted and necessary democratic pressure for reform is derailed.
As Frederick Douglass famously said: “Power concedes nothing without a fight – it never has and never will.”