What Fresh Hell Is This?

September 27, 2009

Scenes From Luke Ravenstahl's Pittsburgh

From the AP:
Police used all the nonlethal tools at their disposal to thwart protesters at the Group of 20 summit this week, firing bean bags, hurling canisters of smoke and pepper spray, using flash-bang grenades and batons and deploying a high-tech sound-blasting device meant to push back crowds.

It was all a bit much for civil liberties groups and protesters.

They decried what they called a heavy-handed and unwarranted police response, saying riot officers focused on largely peaceful, if unsanctioned, demonstrations when they should have been paying more attention to small groups of vandals that smashed windows of city businesses.

"It's not just intimidation, it's disruption and in some cases outright prevention of peaceful protesters being able to get their message out," said Witold "Vic" Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "In a week when we need freedom of speech more than ever, free speech died in Pittsburgh this week."

This is what happened Friday night:

Post-Gazette reporter Sadie Gurman, 24, was among those arrested on the Pitt Cathedral of Learning lawn.

"I was arrested on the cathedral lawn while truly trying to get out of the fray," she said.

Ms. Gurman said she had gone to Schenley Plaza because of news alerts she received on her cell phone. At Schenley Plaza, she was talking with colleagues and others she had met while covering G-20 events. In the plaza, she said there was one person on a loudspeaker. Others were standing around talking, running or playing games, such as duck-duck-goose. She estimated the number of civilians in the plaza at about 200.

Much of the plaza was flanked by police officers.

"There was definitely an energy that was very ominous at that point," she said. Even as police ordered the crowd to disperse, Ms. Gurman said some people in the plaza stayed and chanted, "You're sexy, you're cute, take off your riot suit."

Ms. Gurman said she left the plaza and went onto Forbes Avenue.

"I was trying to move in a way that would not be in their perimeter. I was walking on Forbes toward Craig Street to get out of it. Another police van pulled up. Additional officers in riot gear jumped out and said to 'move back, move back' and were pushing us the opposite direction back toward Bigelow."

She went that direction and ended up having to jump over bushes on the Cathedral lawn to get out of the way of police.

"I thought I was OK there. The cops jumped over the bushes, too," she said.

She said a helicopter was overhead. With the cathedral behind a group of people, the police made a half circle and ordered people to lie down on the ground.

"Some of the girls were hugging each other and crying, saying to the police, 'Tell us how we can get out of here peacefully. We don't want to be here, but you've trapped us.' "

She estimated about 30 people were put into a police vehicle. She was released about 10 hours after her arrest.

The story seems to be the same that night:
Tracy Hickey, an 18-year-old freshman, said she had been arrested while watching the protest as an off-duty ACLU legal observer.

When she realized that many of those being ordered to disperse had "nowhere to disperse to," she saidheld open the door to a dormitory, ushering a crowd of screaming students into the residence. She said police then arrested her.

Peter Shell, co-chair of the Thomas Merton Center's antiwar committee, said he had gone to Oakland Friday night to celebrate the day's successful and peaceful People's March to the G-20, which his organization had sponsored.

When police made Mr. Shell leave Schenley Plaza, he was forced onto the Cathedral of Learning lawn. When he tried to leave via Fifth Avenue, he was surrounded, trapped and arrested, he said.

"We tried going left, we tried going forward, we tried going right," he said. "We wanted to disperse and they did not let us disperse."

Trapped. Tear-gassed. Then arrested.

Mayor Ravenstahl owns this. All of it. Every rubber bullet that hit someone's back or someone's face. Every protester humiliated for a group photo:

This is all Luke's now.


matt said...

If this is all Luke's now, about the only thing that will come from it is he will gain, not lose votes. Those of us that live and work here (and vote here) have little to no sympathy for those that would come to reek mayhem and destruction in our neighborhood, or those that felt it would be cool to rubber neck said festivities.

spork_incident said...

or those that felt it would be cool to rubber neck said festivities.

Agreed. All residents should have preemptively been put under house arrest so our valiant peace officers could go about their patriotic business without nosy citizens interfering.

A Spork in the Drawer

EdHeath said...

Matt, Chief Harper stated that one individual was responsible for a large percentage, if not the majority of broken windows (http://community.post-gazette.com/blogs/bigstory/archive/2009/09/26/police-say-californian-did-most-of-damage-at-g-20.aspx). So essentially those who came here did not come to wreck (not reek) mayhem and destruction in our neighborhoods (there were few or no protestors in the West End, I believe, so really you are talking about my neighborhoods, not yours).

If there are lawsuits, which I suspect is likely at this point, the Mayor won't use his campaign funds to pay the judgments made against the City, the Mayor will cut back on the already almost non-existent road paving and police services in poor neighborhoods. But you are saying that the Mayor will try to spin the police brutality for his own political gain (instead of, you know, maybe apologizing or something).

Joshua said...

And yet the yinzers will eat this all up. I hope the effect of this, though, is that the Pitt College Dems stop sucking at the teat of FLukey and start supporting a real progressive like Dok Harris.

matt said...

No, I am saying it wasn't police brutality and if this makes its way to a courtroom the city will win. And yes I said our but I live in Oakland so it is my neighborhood, perhaps if the property damage was taking place in the West End you would feel differently about it, I don't know. I know that after windows were broken, according to Vince Sims live report on the scene, was when the police repeatedly told the crowd to disperse.

This isn't a matter of putting people under house arrest, the whole suggestion of that is purely idiotic and shows that to some the police can do no right. I only hope you never need them some day, or if you do, they don't come since you have some sort of disain for the profession, but it is simply common sense that you don't hang around an ongoing police action. Had this been a hostage crisis or something, you wouldn't invite the public in, this is along the same lines, the police were trying to apprehend those that were breaking the law, you don't get between the police and those that are breaking the law while it is happening.

Infinonymous said...

After reviewing your legal analysis, matt, I suggest you stick with the sandwich assembly career.

Just pay more attention to customer requests, because I am tired of onions when I ask for pickles.

matt said...

And I would suggest you not get a career in standup, you really aren't that funny.

Ol' Froth said...

Just for the record, I was there. There were 8 dispersal orders given before we moved in, and the dispersal order clearly stated that it didn't matter what your reason for being in the street was, you will be arrested. (You may disagree with that, but its been upheld in court)There were several hundered people in the street when the dispersal order was given, and the vast majority of them left. Of the around 75 to 150 that remained, the bulk of them left when we started to push. Contrary to newspaper reports, escape routes WERE available (I saw dozens of people leaving from the east side of the park). Around 20-25 hardcore people were left, and they refused to get off the street. That's when the gas and bean bags were deployed. Throughout the operation, additional dispersal orders were given. I've seen the videos posted, and they are heavily edited to show the police in the worst possible light.

Matt H said...


your thinking this Matt making comments is me and it is not.

matt said...

As for the legal analysis, we could state with the state code,

PA ST 18 Pa. .S.A. § 5502

§ 5502. Failure of disorderly persons to disperse upon official order

Where three or more persons are participating in a course of disorderly conduct which causes or may reasonably be expected to cause substantial harm or serious inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, a peace officer or other public servant engaged in executing or enforcing the law may order the participants and others in the immediate vicinity to disperse. A person who refuses or knowingly fails to obey such an order commits a misdemeanor of the second degree.

EdHeath said...

Matt H, you are absolutely right, I made that mistake. Obviously I would have no idea where Matt not-H lives, so I retract that comment about Elliot. To tell the truth, I was a little surprised by the mis-spelling.

I will say I still believe the police, as least some police, overreacted. Froth, I have a great deal of respect for you as a blogger, and so I am inclined to believe you are telling the truth about your experience Friday night and/or Saturday night. But I have to say I have to wonder that you couldn’t be everywhere, and that the Pittsburgh Police have no control over the Pitt Police. I still believe lawsuits are possible, from the sound of it likely. Now, the City may win because judges are pretty conservative around here. And in any event Ravenstahl may spin this story such that he was protecting the City from out of town terrorists, instead of the immature college students they actually are. And, as I said, the police chief has already laid the majority of the damage on one individual. But if you y’all want to pat yourselves on the back that the police took care of dem smelly hippies, be my guest.

matt pritt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
matt pritt said...


Well I did mess up my last post, I should have used the word start and not state twice. But the use of reek was proper, at least according to the American Heritage Dictionary, 4th edition, which lists one of the definitions as being, "To be pervaded by something unpleasant: "This document ... reeks of self-pity and self-deception" (Christopher Hitchens)." , so there was no need to be surprised, the spelling and usage were correct.

That being said, you very well may be correct that some of the officers acted inappropriately, just as some of the protestors did. I would argue in neither instance was it the majority of those that were here. The suggestion at the end of the original post was that this was somehow going to be a blotch on Luke Ravenstahl's resume, which I just don't see happening. While I would have been far happier had the held the G 20 been held elsewhere, the fact it was here and with relatively few incidents will end up being a feather in his cap more than anything else. Assuming that the G 20 and the police response to some of the protestors is going to be the straw that breaks LR's hold on the mayor's office is just wishful thinking on the part of some people, and most of them weren't going to vote for him long before the G 20 ever arrived here.

Infinonymous said...


I count at least a half-dozen obvious holes in your legal analysis, ranging from (a) the first clause of the statute on which you would rely to (b) the lack of connection between susceptibility to a misdemanor charge and a claim of police brutality.

At the practical level, the federal judges of the Western District of Pennsylvania are familiar with the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police (consent decree) and the quality of its command staff (Swartzwelder v. McNeilly, McNeilly v. City), a point that should frighten the city and its insurers.

That's enough instruction for today. You want more, get into a law school.

Until then, hold the onions.

EdHeath said...

Matt P (if I may call you that), as far as the reek/wreck dispute goes, I am probably the last person to discuss grammar, as my grades in high school English were terrible. Still, I would suggest that if you are interested in the correct usage you consult a writing professor, or a disinterested party of that ilk. I see the point you want to make with the Hitchens quote, but in that context he is saying a manuscript has an additional quality besides that intended by its author, the additional quality of figurative putrid or rotten self pity and self deception. I believe you were stating that out of town demonstrators were acting to cause mayhem and achieve destruction.

As far as whether the police in Schenley Plaza all acted poorly (not to say brutally) or whether only a few did, first I would say that lawsuits could still result from either situation. Second, I would say that in either situation the commanders on the ground would be blamed, and third I would say the ultimate blame would rest with the top administrative person whose responsibility it was to set the tone for the enforcement activities during the summit. Having said all that I would say that I am willing to accept that not all the police acted too aggressively on Thursday, Friday or Saturday evening. Never the less, there are too many reports from people in the area who say they felt they had no where to disperse to, no means of escape before being arrested. And by the way, as far as I can tell, unlike the Lawrenceville march, the people in Schenley Plaza were almost all Pittsburghers, particularly Pitt students (yes, many Pitt students come from out of town, but they stay here four years not counting summers, and I would consider them residents while they are here).

Personally I would liken the Pittsburgh situation to the Abu Ghraib situation. Yes, the military people involved may have been only a few bad apples (although a more thorough investigation might one day prove otherwise). And those few bad apples may have been inspired and encouraged by the behavior of CIA interrogators. Where did the CIA interrogators get the idea they could torture detainees? From White House memos. My point being that even if only a few police acted badly in Schenley Plaza, I suspect they got the idea from the Rhetoric coming out of the City/County building. And that is where the Mayor may get in trouble.

Conservative Mountaineer said...

If the students were going to get arrested, they should have at least burned a couch or two... like they do in Morgantown.