By Kelly Pivarnik
I was born and raised and Pittsburgh. It’s the city of beer, hockey and football so naturally, it was a perfect choice to host the G-20 Summit, a summit bringing together powerful financial leaders from all over the world.
Originally, the summit was planned to take place in New York City, but due to scheduling conflicts, President Obama decided Pittsburgh would be a nice alternative due to its vast history of working class struggle and thus the G-20 found its new home.
Naturally both the excessively eager Pittsburgh police force and self-deemed teenage activists took this opportunity to do whatever they felt necessary in order to create chaos.
The biggest organized protest occurred September 24. The three-mile march coordinated by the Pittsburgh G-20 Resistance Project started in Arsenal Park in Lawrenceville and was intended to end in downtown Pittsburgh by the convention center where the summit was being held.
The protest, which organizers refused to get a permit for, was chaotic, as many news commentators had anticipated. Shortly into the march, things turned violent. Once the protestors, reached Liberty Avenue, police forces demanded the group disperse due to unlawful assembly.
“I feel that ‘refusal to disperse’ is one of the most unconstitutional phrases in America’s law books,” says Carnegie Mellon student and Pittsburgh local Nick Teslovich.
The police responded by throwing two cans of pepper spray into the crowds, which the protesters kicked right back at them. The crowd also retaliated by pushing a dumpster downhill towards the riot police. The riot police evidently took this fairly personally, in turn releasing thicker amounts of pepper spray and sounding an ear piercing siren in efforts to make the anarchists retreat.
The protestors kept marching towards the convention center throwing rocks and the rubber pellets at the police whom had initially fired them at the crowd. The protestors moved forward making it almost to 32nd street – the convention center being downtown on 10th street – breaking store windows along the way.
Later that night, University of Pittsburgh students gathered in mass to witness the G-20 leaders meet nearby in the Phipps Conservatory. The crowds of Pitt students grew rapidly. By 9:00 P.M. the crowds rose to about 500 and more in the surrounding areas. That is when police told the mass number of students to disperse, and within minutes police began releasing tear gas.
The tear gas created only more chaos by infuriating Pitt students whom could be heard chanting, “Let’s Go Pitt.” Worse, this caused angry protestors to begin smashing in windows of local shops, such as Lulu’s Noodles, which is a privately owned family business. It is just one of the many local stores that suffered damages due to the anarchists who claimed to be protesting capitalism, thereby completely contradicting their views with their actions.
Nick Teslovich witnessed much of this chaos on Thursday night. I asked him if he thought Pitt students provoked police forces or behaved stupidly.
“At no point ever will the answer to that question be no, but for the most part, Pitt students were behaving as they do the other 364 days a year,” Teslovich says regarding the behavior of the college students. “They were gathering together and watching the ‘festivities.’ Although some of them took advantage of the situation and were aggressive with the police, nine out of ten students were literally watching. That’s not a crime. So the answer is yes, but it was a select few students who unfortunately now represent the entire campus community.”
Teslovich continued on to describe how he saw students trying to leave the dormitories only to be pushed back into the building by being continually poked in the ribs with billy sticks.
He also saw a girl bleeding from the head from what appeared to be a rubber bullet.
“When did the word ‘university’ become synonymous with prison? A student paying X amount to attend Y university should be free to do what he or she pleases within the bounds of reason and safety on his or her own campus.” Teslovich continues, “I realize how biased this sounds, especially from a college student, but I was a legitimately neutral observer. I flashed my CMU I.D. and was told to just keep walking the three times I was questioned.”
The madness continued on Friday morning and throughout Friday afternoon. The Pittsburgh G-20 Resistance Project called for an “everywhere protest” Friday, asking G-20 opponents from different types of organizations to protest all over the city.
The Resistance Project compiled what they called a “menu” of businesses in which activists could report to protest.
Being from Pittsburgh, I know there is not a whole lot of national corporations, so I was not overly surprised to see that this “menu” mostly consisted of places like Giant Eagle (a regional grocery store), Blush Nightclub, Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute, and as the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart pointed out – Petland in the Eastside.
Protesters gathered downtown for an overall more peaceful day. Local Pittsburgher Kaitlin Scully photographed much of the day, witnessing the myriad protest groups expressing their opinions through demonstration, many of which were highly unconventional and highly entertaining. There were hula hoopers, a brass band, a man wearing a pink seal costume and anarchists dressed in all black with handkerchiefs over their faces.
“I only witnessed one arrest and it was of a women who was trying to get home from town. That was it,” Scully says. “But if you walked on the wrong sidewalks or streets you were sure to get in trouble, but in general it was pretty peaceful.”
Though Friday was significantly less violent approximately $50,000 worth of damage was still done. This G-20 summit may also be responsible for the first Twitter-related arrests nationally. Evidently, opposers of the G-20 were informing protestors of police movement via Twitter updates.
Pittsburgh local Maura Murzyn spoke with one of the state troopers, whom said the protest was largely quiet and he was happy to be going home on Saturday. The laid back attitude was quite contradictory to the reportedly aggressive behavior of local Pittsburgh police force.
“There were originally going to be 30,000 protestors. So the city of Pittsburgh found [or] assigned 5,000 cops. Actual number of protestors: about 2,000,” Teslovich explains. “‘G-20 week’ as it will forever be known by Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was a week of destroyed confidences in the freedoms of students and protestors.”
Scully, like many other Pittsburghers, remains more positive, “I am very glad that I got to experience that day first hand. It is the kind of thing you’ll only see once in a lifetime.”