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News :: Globalization
G20 UPDATE: Thursday: The People's Anger and the Property Destruction Debate Both Rage On
29 Sep 2009
An eyewitness account of the People's March yesterday at the G20.
Part One by haloka

***
The [People's Uprising] march has a potential for violence because it is unapproved and the organizers cannot be held responsible for the behavior of the attendees. Our Intel has identified about 400 people who will be attending and an accurate count of all others isn't feasible. Rest assured that we are well prepared to respond to this march and the possibility of any property damage in the Strip is minimal.

We have amassed the largest grouping of law enforcement officers that this area has ever or will ever see. Take comfort in knowing that we quell any civil disturbance."

-Message Wednesday from Assistant Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson, who was wrong,
***

After getting some much, much needed sleep after a comparatively uneventful but stressful Wednesday, I walked to the bagel shop Tuesday morning for breakfest. It took until I handed the woman behind the counter (whom I later found out to be somewhat of a neighborhood character) my credit card for her to figure out I wasn't a local.

Her eyes widened. "You're not a protester, are you?"

I explained what I was in Pittsburgh to do (film the demonstrations), and we ended up having a pleasant conversation about the many boarded up corporate businesses nearby. Those businesses' fears turned out to be warranted: by the time I went to sleep early the next morning, the list of smashed storefronts was long: McDonalds. PNC Bank. Citizens Bank. Fidelity Bank. Boston Market. Subway. H&R Block. KFC. BMW. And many more.

As for the woman's comment, I couldn't tell whether it came from a place of fear as a result of media hype, or from genuine curiousity. Either way, on Thursday many like her saw the police state and spirited demonstrations with radical anti-capitalist demands up close for the first time. And poor neighborhood residents, then University of Pittsburgh students, joined in the rowdy festivities.

In the afternoon we met at Arsenal Park on Penn Avenue for an unpermitted rally and march. The accompanying police presence was the largest I've seen in my life (although I wasn't on the street at the St. Paul RNC, so can't compare), but the authorities chose to mostly keep their distance instead. My filming partner and I made it to the front of the march, which only went 6 blocks before it was stopped by a massive police blockade, the main feature of which was an LRAD sonic weapon.

We first heard the LRAD two blocks away, blasting out a dispersal order in English and Spanish. As we got closer, the noise was deafening; at 25 feet, painful. Before long, the device - which some media reports have said was used yesterday for the first time in public in the USA, although the NYPD also possesses one - was blasting a high-pitched siren-like noise which gave the crowd no choice but to choose a different route.

My filming partner and I chose to move around to the opposite side of the police blockade where cameras were few. Fortunately, the LRAD is directional, so while still extremely loud, we could stand 25 feet to the side of it and film. At this point, we became lost from the main march, which was later gassed and mostly headed the opposite direction to regroup. The two of us investigated the secondary police blockade a few blocks further down, instead. This blockade on Liberty Avenue, apparently in case the march successfully found a route around the LRAD, consisted of several hundred riot police from at least three jurisdictions. When they started to don gas masks, we skirted north toward Penn Avenue and tried to find demonstrators again.

At this point we succeeded in finding a small breakaway black bloc of about 50 people, plus a few dozen accompanying non-black-blockers. Not even getting close to downtown, the block moved around the Garfield neighborhood, where poor residents came out on their stoops to witnesses items being pulled into the street. Some neighbors cheered and denounced the police. Others screamed at the demonstrators to leave; one came out onto his stoop brandishng a baseball bat.

The tactic was a defensive one to slowdown police behind the block - but this was by and large not readily explained to passersby, many of whom couldn't figure out why the anarchists were even there in the first place.

Back on Liberty Avenue, we took footage from behind a mobile field force unit of about 25 as the block pushed dumpsters down the hill towards them. Officers scrambled to push them out of the way, and the commanding officer lost control of his officers, screaming at them to get back in formation as the anarchists kept going. The episode provided a glimpse of the police behind the turtle gear and how easily they can lose control. At this point, the demonstrators had more composure.

As the riot lines began to close in, one lone man dressed in a cow suit (complete with plastic udder) used a different type of tactic to gain some time for the large group. For 5 minutes, he danced and did handstands in front of the advancing line of police, attracting a gaggle of journalists and cameras and effectively blocking the police's movement.

"You guys should be paying me to watch this!" he yelled at police with a smile, "But instead, I'm paying you!" Meanwhile, marchers went 2-3 blocks away.

As my first experience alongside a black bloc, I was struck most by its similarities with the mobile field forces. Both frantically screamed out commands; the police, from a commander, the black bloc, from many participants, leading to even more confusion and chaos. Both did not take time to explain their actions. Both were, to be frank, rather scary. But of course, one had substantially more resources than the other, while another had a substantially more astute political consciousness and resolve.

The bloc in one form or another ended up lasting for hours; it later moved on to a business district where its tactics were more appropriate and effective. But in Garfield, the bloc was tactically questionable.

As the cat and mouse game went on in Garfield, we decided to interview many residents leaning out their doors and passing by. Many were eager to talk about how their community never asked for this; they feel neglected by the city on a regular day. One man, named Paradise, whom I interviewed alongside a skirmish line of police, spoke both to me and the officers about how the PD consisted of working class men like him - true, to a point - and how they were the most disciplined he's ever seen at a protest - also perhaps true, to a point. With minimal prompting, however, he began to talk about the social justice issues affecting his neighborhood, particularly the "prison industrial complex," neglect of the homeless, and joblessness. Some of the police began to squirm.

A short while later, after another interview with black residents in front of run-down, graffitied row houses with used needles in the accompanying alley, we turned directly across the street to see the cops huddling up in the driveway of a condominium. The white residents of the condo were filling the cops' water bottles.

Although Pittsburgh organizing bodies drafted a set of Pittsburgh Principles modeled after the St. Paul Principles at the 2008 RNC pledging solidarity between differing tactics and organizing models, I haven't heard them mentioned here as of yet. I have however, heard many an anarchist scoff at the "liberal" permitted actions and many a liberal thank the police for attempting to quell the anarchists. In addition to the NLG green-hat legal observers we saw in St. Paul, in Pittsburgh the ACLU has added their orange hats to the mix, and markedly unlike the NLG, the ACLU takes notes and records demonstrators engaging in activity they deem inappropriate, even activities protected by the 1st amendment or by freedom of conscience.

Nonetheless, later in the afternoon, when the protests had moved to Baum Boulevard and I arrived after only to find hundreds of riot police blocking traffic and making the occasional snatch-and-arrest of both demonstrators and passersby, we spoke with many who began to understand that first they come for the anarchists, and you're next. One man was dragged and beaten in the middle of the streets as our camera rolled. An older man, invoking Gandhi, yelled from the sidewalk. "If you want to arrest me too, I'll go peacefully," he told them.

And they did.

The total after the afternoon actions: about 25 arrests. But after a somewhat spontaneous uprising around the University of Pittsburgh that ran late into the night, the total ran to around 60.
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