a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Thursday, September 24, 2009

An afternoon outside the G-20 in Pittsburgh

Pennsylvania State Police push back a small crowd of Ethiopian demonstrators at the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh.

By Scott Beveridge

PITTSBURGH, Pa. – While leaving Pittsburgh tonight on foot I stopped and joked with a few members of the military who were guarding an entrance to a shopping and dining district void of business during the G-20 summit.

“It was the Armageddon that didn’t happen,” I said about what had been a lackluster showing of demonstrators in the heart of Pittsburgh on the first day of the gathering of leaders from the world’s largest economies.

“Just think what would have happened if we weren’t here,” said a police officer from Chicago who was hanging out with the four soldiers at the trendy Station Square in Pittsburgh’s South Side.

With a hint of sarcasm, I threw into the conversation that I felt so safe earlier in the day upon seeing the National Guard posted in such an unlikely location.

“That’s why we're here,” one of the guardsmen responded in fun.

But in reality I had wondered if the authorities overreacted by having guards stationed at a destination on the opposite banks of the Monongahela River from Downtown, and across town from the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, the location of the summit.

The same goes for the many businesses that had their windows covered in plywood. The management at PPG Industries went as far as to enclose PPG Plaza with a chain-link fence topped with concertina.

Even the colleges had shut down and sent home their students who could have gotten quite an education by witnessing such a rare occurrence playing out in this city. Meanwhile, much of the business here had come to a halt at a time when retailers struggling to survive a recession could have benefited greatly from all the international attention.

There were more police than spectators on these streets that have been devoid of cars since 8 p.m. Wednesday, isolated by barricades that separated the heart of the city from anarchists who were causing sporadic trouble in its outskirts. The size of the resistance crowd today did not reach the proportions the city initially expected, police said.

As far as demonstrators Downtown there were about 150 Tibetan exiles decrying China while demanding human rights and far-fewer Ethiopians taking a stand against genocide in their homeland. Add to them a half-dozen stoned Americans demanding their free right to toke ganja.

The protesters were peaceful, yet the Tibetans were surrounded by Pennsylvania state police officers on horseback or standing shoulder-to-shoulder with batons to corral the crowd. Another line of troopers pushed back the Ethiopians even though they weren’t getting in anyone’s way.

No one got hurt, and the demonstrators left peacefully after they shouted their chants for about an hour. I couldn’t help but wonder if these rallies accomplished much because the world leaders were locked away in a convention center behind row after row of tall, temporary steel fences.

It was impressive, though, to see this country’s law enforcement agencies in a massive showing unlike any that has been seen in Pittsburgh’s history.

Tibetan exiles from New York and Boston square off with Pennsylvania State Police in downtown Pittsburgh on the first day of the G-20 summit.


Anonymous said...

I agree that the show of force appears excessive. I would have hoped the handling of protests would have been conducted a little more artfully. Police per televised news reports appear to be ranging far and wide looking for protesters to confront. A more gentle, tolerant approach would have sent a more positive message about the burgh and our region to the world. On the other hand there is a sense of better safe than sorry so that Pittsburgh is not the next Dallas book repository.

MJ said...

I talked to a buddy who lives in Bloomfield and he said the police were TOO tolerant of the protesters. They apparently let them sit on the street for several minutes at a time without pushing them onto the sidewalks.

It's just a shame that we have this beautiful city (boarded up) and wonderful people (staying home) and no one is going to see any of it. And I don't blame them. I wouldn't want to go dahntahn and give maced because you're downwind from a bunch of jagoff anarchists.