PoliTuesday: Protest

Some of you who are outside Pittsburgh may be wondering if the recent G20 protests affected my life in any way. Not in any real way, no they did not. I work about 30 miles Northeast, and I live about 10 miles East of downtown. I do not live or work in Northside or Squirrel Hill areas where some events took place. I do not live in the Lawrenceville or Oakland neighborhoods where most of the protests took place.

Since it's Tuesday, though, I get to unload on you my readers regarding how they made me feel. They made me feel ashamed. Not because of the protesters, of course, but because of the police.

Pittsburgh was built on the backs of hard workers who were willing to take to the streets to make their message heard. These protests weren't all marching and chanting, either. The Homestead Steel Strike of 1892 was violent enough that some exchanges between union workers and private security guards hired by the company are referred to as battles.

We, the city of Pittsburgh, had a chance to show the world that Pittsburgh is a different kind of place. We could show that in Pittsburgh protest is welcomed as a necessary part of a democratic and free society. We failed. Maybe you are sanguine with my tax money being used to pay my police to use military grade weaponry on citizens of my country on the streets of my city, but I am not cool with that at all.

Law enforcement in Pittsburgh got ready for violence, and so violence is what they got. They were ready for a fight, and they stood in the path of a group of people they knew were ready to give it to them. Hilarity ensues.

I think the parents and grandparents many of the cops out on the street, many of whom had protests of their own and run-ins with the powers that be would be absolutely ashamed to see their descendants dressed up like storm troopers, holding their truncheons like bad movie extras, getting ready to beat up on protesters, many of whom were kids the age of the officers' kids.

"But what are they even protesting?" is a question I've heard repeatedly, to which I respond, "Who cares?" They could be protesting the blue color of the sky for all I care. We all know they're about as likely to have an affect on that as they are to affect whatever it is they were protesting, so what difference does it make? Youth has a duty to protest anything and everything it can think of. Why? Because it can.

Here's how the police could have entirely defused the situation instead of sparking a riot. First, the city could have given the protesters a permit. I don't care if they requested one or not. The city could have turned an unlawful assembly into a legal one with the same pen stroke that signed the act declaring the city to be in a state of emergency. The days after the march that turned violent, there was a peaceful march with more people. The difference: a permit.

When the buses openned their doors and the officers came piling out, what if they'd been holding signs instead of truncheons? Aren't they all union members? Don't they have something to say to the international community? Which side are you, boys?

What if they'd joined the march instead of blocking it? There were only about 500 protesters in that march, and there were 3,700+ officers in the city who could have kept an eye on the whole thing, from within. Who is going to smash a window with a police officer standing right next to them? The confrontation would have fizzled out, the march would have been peaceful, and everybody would have gone home with a spirit of cooperation.

I think the entire plan all along should have been unlimited peaceful protest. Show the world they can have their meeting here, but they are going to have to take the time to admire our people, not just our shiny new convention center. We failed.

2009.09.29 at 12:00am EDT