Pittsburgh’s G-20 summit draws student protesters

Sarah Steimer

PITTSBURGH – The G-20 economic summit held yesterday and today brought world leaders to Pittsburgh, causing the city’s landscape to be littered with police and military personnel.

Many of those protesting at the summit – which is about two hours from Kent – are young people, touting causes from marijuana legalization to Tibet freedom to the summit itself. The economic summit is a meeting of leaders, including President Barack Obama, from the world’s 20 largest countries.

“More than anything else, I’m here because I’m really unhappy that the media isn’t allowed in there during decision making,” Ian Rogers said, a student from the Community College of Allegheny County who was sitting on a sidewalk with friends.

“We cannot voice our opinions,” he said, mentioning his support of free education and health care as well.

Yesterday afternoon, unregistered protesters marched from the Lawrenceville area of Pittsburgh to the Strip District near the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. On the opposite side of the Convention Center, a few protesters, observers and even more police in riot gear gathered on Liberty Avenue.

The scene was relatively quiet with an occasional protester’s shout. The city wasn’t running any public transportation, local schools had been shut down and a number of stores chose to close for the event.

Later in the evening a crowd gathered at Schenley Plaza in Oakland near the University of Pittsburgh, standing face-to-face with a long line of police in riot gear.

“Some man who came up to us was pretty courteous and said if we didn’t leave, they would tear gas us,” said Angela Gorno, a student at the University of Pittsburgh. She and friends Hilary Tomaswick, T. Michael Moore and Dan Walk, all University of Pittsburgh students, said officers refused to say where they came from.

The students said that when they asked the police what they were holding, the officers responded, “It’s a mystery.” The students said they saw the object was labeled “pepper mace.”

The young people gathered in Schenley Plaza were both protesters and observers. Many had goggles and handkerchiefs with them in case the authorities chose to use pepper spray or tear gas on the crowd. Those attending said the crowd had been asked to leave at about 7 p.m.

“This is a police state on their (University of Pittsburgh’s) campus,” said Machenzi People, an Ohio University student and protester. “This is a peaceful protest. They keep bringing in more and more cops.”

Protesters chanted, sang and danced along to drums as others watched and occasionally joined in. Two young women from Carnegie Mellon University were dressed up as police and blowing bubbles. They said they were using performance art to protest the G-20.

“I unite through it,” said Julie Mallis, who said she was tear gassed earlier in the day. “I just want people to be confused by making them happier.” She said she wanted both demonstrators and the authorities to realize both sides were people.

“I don’t know why they (demonstrators) are protesting the police,” she said. “They’re just doing their jobs.”

As helicopters continued to circle overhead, the row of police took a step toward the crowd and one man was arrested. A second line began to form behind the first line of officers, and some were spread out to better surround the crowd. A few more were arrested before an increasingly angry crowd before dancing and chanting picked up again.

After 10 p.m. the crowd was told, through a speaker, that they were now unlawfully gathered and must leave immediately or risk being arrested. While the line of police in riot gear marched toward the crowd, demonstrators pleaded with the crowd to walk, not run. Police vehicles filled the streets and OC gas was launched to disperse the crowd.

A number more were arrested as officers marched the crowd out of Schenley Plaza.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that 66 people were arrested yesterday throughout the city.

Contact public affairs reporter Sarah Steimer at [email protected].