Two weeks later, police and protestors still at odds
Three weeks after city police and protestors collided outside an Army recruitment station in Oakland, tensions and emotions are still running high. Protestors are currently filing complaints with the Municipal Investigations Department and the Citizens Police Review Board (CPRB). The Pittsburgh City Council has decided to hold a meeting regarding the proper use of Tasers. But according to those involved, the issues that arose from the conflict will not easily be resolved.
The Pittsburgh Organizing Group (POG), a local organization spearheading the counter-recruitment protests in Oakland, wrote on its website: ?What happened on August 20th and the days that followed was a defining moment for Pittsburgh?s peace and justice community.? David Meieran of POG said that his organization is pursuing a two-step approach in demanding complete accountability from the Pittsburgh police force and calling for a total ban on Taser use.
The individual complaints concerning the police force?s handling of the situation are currently being processed by the CPRB. However, CPRB Executive Director Beth Pittinger said that those protestors filing the complaints ?have declined to follow through? and have neglected to give more information. ?I mean, what?s their point?? she said.
Since the protest, Tasers have emerged as a subject of heated discussion. On September 1, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote: ?Councilman Sala Udin, who pushed for legislation passed in February allowing the Police Bureau to buy Tasers, said he did so ?to prevent the loss of life? and not ?to use Taser guns for crowd control or for someone who was mildly resisting officers? orders or arrest.???
The Pittsburgh City Council held a televised meeting on August 24 to discuss Taser use and is planning to launch an investigation into the police?s use of the tools on August 20. Nathan Shaffer of the POG asserted that the demonstrators did not do anything to provoke the use of Tasers.
Pittinger, who has reviewed films of the August 20 incident, disagrees. ?Frankly, what happened on August 20 had a little mix of everything,? she said, referring to the protestors? behavior. ?We saw the whole gamut of police conduct, too. Some were consummate professionals; others were just looking for a fight.?
Pittinger also pointed out that the Pittsburgh police do not have a set policy on crowd management. ?That?s a liability for them.... The officers on the scene didn?t know what their parameters were.? Mike Seate of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review said that the police gave the ?wrong answer? to the protestors and that the city cannot afford the legal ramifications of the blunder. ?The city is just plain broke. That?s all there is to it,? he said.
Meieran said that the POG will continue its counter-recruitment efforts, and Shaffer affirmed that POG will continue its ?tactic of assertive nonviolence.?
On Saturday, the POG and other groups continued their campaign by once again protesting outside the recruiting station in Oakland. Roughly 30 people occupied the sidewalk and held up signs that requested passing drivers to honk for their cause. Many cars obliged; one older woman yelled from her window, ?Get an education!?
Although police were present, they remained on the periphery of the group, and protestor Bridget Colvin commented that ?the community is generally supportive.? When asked how long protestors would continue to organize outside the recruitment station, she said, ?We?ll keep going until the military stops telling lies to kids.?
Although the weekend?s demonstration proceeded peacefully, not all are optimistic about police?protestor relations. Seate believes that with the constant mindset of war and conflict, tensions are unnecessarily high and that police retaliation to protests will only worsen.
David Meieran, however, hopes that for future protests, ?the public outcry will make the police think twice.?