Saturday, September 26, 2009

Pittsburgh G-20 Unlawful

Civil liberties groups: Police overreacted at G-20
Sep 25, 5:30 PM (ET)

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PITTSBURGH (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."

He added that "the deployment of police seems to be more geared toward suppressing lawful demonstrations than actually preventing crime."

Hundreds of riot police broke up an impromptu gathering Thursday night in Schenley Plaza near the University of Pittsburgh campus, where large numbers of university students mingled with smaller groups of protesters, including anarchists.

The plaza is a quarter-mile from the building where world leaders were assembled, but the dignitaries were gone by the time police declared the gathering illegal and fired canisters of pepper spray and smoke.

Legal observers at the gathering saw police surrounding, chasing and arresting students who weren't involved in the protest, said Paige Cram, spokeswoman for the National Lawyers Guild, a liberal legal-aid group. She called the show of force "an ominous spectacle."

Franklyn Smith, 58, a mental health case manager who was protesting at Schenley Plaza, said police tackled him.

"He threw me to the ground. He kept smashing my face into the ground. Then about two or three other cops came over. They jumped on me," said Smith, who was released from the city jail around 7 a.m. Friday and went straight to the ER for treatment of a badly bruised face.

A video posted Friday on YouTube shows a group of Pitt students briefly trapped on the outdoor stairwell of a campus building, evidently exposed to gaseous pepper spray and unable to move because riot police were blocking the bottom and top of the stairs. The students had been standing on a second-floor balcony, observing the clash between police and protesters on the street below.

Around the same time, a few blocks away, windows were smashed at some 10 businesses. Police made 42 arrests near the university, but it wasn't clear if they caught any of the vandals.

Experts say that anarchists successfully deployed a tactic in Pittsburgh that they have often used at other protests, leading a large group of people toward police, then slipping out of the crowd to commit mayhem elsewhere.

University of Pittsburgh spokesman John Fedele said police had a difficult task Thursday night because a small group of people bent on causing destruction sought cover in the larger crowd of Pitt students.

"It is regrettable if any innocent bystanders - including any Pitt students, in particular - were harmed in any way. It is fortunate, however, that no one appears to have been seriously injured," he said in a statement.

Pittsburgh Sgt. Lavonnie Bickerstaff would not answer questions about police deployment or use of force, but Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has praised officers for their work to minimize property damage...

Police: "We could not have what happened last night"
Here is the Pitt News account of last night's arrests and protest in Oakland, in which police say they were determined to avoid the Forbes Avenue rioting of Thursday:

But the people gathered in Schenley Plaza appeared to be doing little more than playing games or standing around talking.

Police began to surround the park about a half hour into the protest. The police encircled the plazas in lines that were about two or three officers deep.

Police vehicles and school buses delivered more officers to the area.

The police brought in a Long Range Acoustic Device, which sends piercing noises or spoken messages in aimed directions.

By that point, around 200 people had gathered in the plaza and surrounding area.

Some people were heard saying, "Let's get out of here." Others started to scream, "This is what a photo-op looks like."

By 11 p.m., a helicopter was hovering over Forbes Avenue near the William Pitt Union.

Officers declared the gathering an "unlawful assembly" and told people to disperse or risk going to jail.

The problem, Delaney said, was that Schenley Park closes at 11 p.m.

"We could not have what happened last night," he said, referring to a demonstration-turned-riot Thursday that resulted in damage to at least 10 Oakland businesses.

Police announced nine times that people should disperse from Schenley Plaza and the surrounding area. One time, they played their pre-recording warning message in Spanish.

Crowds began to gather as students watched from the Cathedral lawn.

Many of the people gathered in the plaza exited onto Forbes Avenue, eventually turning up Bellefield Avenue. Police outnumbered them at least 2-to-1.

Police used riot gas near the William Pitt Union panther statue and on Towers patio at different times throughout the night.

At one point, what sounded like rubber bullets being shot from a gun were heard on Forbes...

Police say Californian did most of damage at G-20
From Dan Majors

10:20 p.m.

Police have charged a 21-year-old California man with causing most of the damage during the two-day G-20 summit in Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh police Chief Nate Harper tonight said David Japenga was taken into custody shortly after 11 p.m. Thursday after police witnessed him breaking businesses' windows during a protest along Forbes Avenue in Oakland.

Chief Harper said Mr. Japenga, who at first refused to give his name, then gave the false name of Eric Blair, broke more than 20 storefront windows and glass doors, including $20,000 worth of windows at Citizens Bank on Craig Street in Oakland. He was single-handedly responsible, Chief Harper said, for most of the $50,000 in damage done during summit protests.

Mr. Japenga was charged with felony criminal mischief, instruments of a crime, and providing false identification. Chief Harper said Mr. Japenga was not living in Pittsburgh and had come into the city for the summit.

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