Pittsburgh's Long Night

By Richard Florida

Quite a scene in Pittsburgh last night in the wake of the G-20 on Forbes Avenue, in front of the Carnegie Museum, a block or two away from the campuses of the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. It's literally two blocks from my old Heinz School office, a block from my favorite coffee shop, and three blocks from where I lived.

Picture by Radder Photos, flickr

Here are some eyewitness reports from the Post-Gazette.

Drew Singer, editor of the student newspaper The Pitt News, watched the events from a window in the William Pitt Union, which has a view of Schenley Plaza. Two Pitt News photographers were among those arrested. "There were way more police than there were civilians, nonpolice," he said. He said the police gave a loud order to disperse. He said police usually arrest people who are especially unruly, but Friday night, "it seemed like anybody who didn't leave immediately was being arrested even if they were just kind of watching. Technically, they did not disperse." He said some Pitt News reporters saw people passing out note cards earlier in the day at the permitted "People's March to the G-20," which announced a rally that night in Schenley Plaza. While there may have been protesters, he said, "I personally didn't see a single protester. There was absolutely nothing like Thursday night. It was overwhelmingly spectators and people who just wanted to see what was going on. It seems like just after Thursday night, [police] just weren't taking anything. They just weren't up for any funny business. They gave the orders to disperse, and I guess anybody who didn't immediately disperse they were going after, it seemed like."

"It was all students and no protesters -- it looked like any Friday night in Oakland but with more people," said Nathan Lanzendorfer, 23, of Mt. Lebanon. He went to Oakland out of curiosity to see the protests. Shortly before midnight he was caught on Forbes Avenue, with police deploying OC gas from two directions. He was hit with a rubber bullet in his right leg and his left, started to run, and was then hit in an arm and his lower back. "I never heard any warning to leave the area -- all four [rubber bullet] shots were within five seconds," he said. "All the wounds on my back. If I was opposing [the police] at all you'd think I'd have a front wound." Mr. Lanzendorfer went to UPMC Presbyterian for treatment of his contusions, one of which is softball-sized, he said.

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.

Ellyanna Kessler, an 18-year-old freshman, said she had been watching from her dormitory in Forbes Hall when police shot OC gas canisters onto the balcony of the residence. "Everybody got tear gassed," she said.

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 ... By about 10:50 p.m., K-9 units and police with plastic shields had surrounded the plaza began to make arrests. Police fired OC gas canisters into a crowd of mostly students on the corner of Forbes and Bigelow. Many people ran down Forbes Avenue, coughing and screaming, as a line of police several officers deep stretched across the road and marched down the street, ordering the crowd to disperse. Some protesters taunted the police, he said. "How do you feel shooting students," one yelled.

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."

Molly Shea said she came to Pittsburgh to protest at the People's March but wanted nothing to do with Friday night's demonstration, she said. A 22-year-old senior at Ohio University, she was studying at Kiva Han coffee shop until about 10:45 p.m. Friday, when she left to look for her friends. She walked to the lawn next to the Cathedral of Learning to find them and soon realized she was surrounded by police, she said."We kept asking them how we could leave, or if we could leave," she said. "Most of them were unresponsive. Some of them just said no."She was on a police wagon and then a bus for about five hours without water or a bathroom break, though many girls with her were asking for both, she said."A few police officers were nice," she said, "but for the most part, they were not."She said one of the officers was "taking a lot of pride" in taking mug shots next to female detainees, and that other officers frequently used profanities specifically derogatory to women."Some of them were making jokes when they were moving around from paddy wagon to paddy wagon about 'getting the hot ones out,'" she said.She was released Saturday morning after being detained for about 10 hours, she said.

A 24-year-old member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, Army Sgt. Jeff Bartos had been deployed to Iraq as a medic in 2005. When he came to Pittsburgh this week from New Britain, Conn. to protest the G-20 summit, it was also as a medic.Friday night, he was helping to treat a reporter who had been exposed to OC gas near Schenley Plaza when he realized he was surrounded by police on all sides. He said he was corralled with about 40 "pretty nervous, 'What-are-we-doing-here' protesters" as well as "random college kids," including a girl who had been jogging through the park when she was trapped. He said he was charged with disorderly conduct and released about 6 p.m. Saturday.

Jordan Romanus, 22, who lives in South Oakland, a 15-minute walk from campus, was among those arrested Friday night on the Cathedral lawn. He said they were told to lie face down on the ground. "I feel pretty horrible. I think 99 percent of the people that were arrested had never been arrested before. The anarchists who did all the damage, none of them were there ... It was absolutely atrocious." Mr. Romanus, who said he was released around 12:30 p.m. yesterday, said police kept the detainees handcuffed all night. "My wrists are really sore. I didn't get any sleep. They made us sit in chairs. They [the handcuffs] were on really right. One kid's hand was bleeding by the end."

A former student of mine said in an e-mail:

"The police went totally haywire last night.  this article only gives a partial account.  they were bashing people, pretty much indiscriminately.  Nothing to do with protests, or vandalism, or anarchists.  Just people going to get Primanti's (a Pittsburgh institution famous for its sandwiches piled high with french fires and coleslaw) its , and then they get teargassed, or billy-clubbed, or arrested."

Update: Here is a video clip from in front of the University of Pittsburgh.

[Picture by Radder Photos, flickr]

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2009/09/pittsburghs-long-night/27332/