Police response to riots unnecessarily harsh

Credit: Jessica Thurston/Art Editor Credit: Jessica Thurston/Art Editor

Welcome to the unlawful assembly. Please fasten your seat belts tightly around your waists, note we have riot troops surrounding all the exits, whose guns are loaded with rubber bullets. In the event of tear gassing, oxygen masks will not be provided, so be prepared to cry. Please relax as you begin your final dispersal while several of your fellow passengers are arrested. Thank you for flying G20 Pittsburgh Air.

This is, of course, the scene at Schenley Plaza late last week recast as a particularly bad airplane trip. Why? Because we have all heard this story told and re-told since the G20 ended; we have seen the videos; we have heard the official reports and the news coverage. Yet we are still trying to put together the events in our own heads; we are still trying to make sense of the events in Oakland.

Why are students showing up with bruises on their bodies? Why were Carnegie Mellon and University of Pittsburgh students held overnight in Allegheny County Jail? Why is YouTube filled with videos of students trapped in stairwells and shoved to the ground? How did this happen in our city; what did we do wrong? How could the police here have possibly been that cruel, that brutal?

These questions will not all be answered to our and your satisfaction, but we can now begin to reflect on what occurred. The G20 came like a whirlwind and inconvenienced people across Pittsburgh. It shut down parks, streets, and institutions of higher education so that the most powerful rulers of our modern world could have dinner and shape our futures. Not everything went according to plan, and we wish some events would have unfolded differently.

We could wish a bit more common sense into the college kids who believe that by simply standing and gawking at what seemed to be a scene from a movie, they were innocent. Simply by being present at the protest, they were taking part in an assembly, a non-registered, after-hours gathering of protesters and passersby that was deemed unacceptable. And some got caught up in events that they could certainly have avoided by staying in their homes and rooms.

And while they could have stayed home, they didn’t. Many behaved like it was a normal Friday night in Oakland, which to the police lining the streets was most certainly an unfamiliar sight. We do wish the police would have used less force; it was not necessary. They could have been kinder to the “protesters” who by all accounts were mostly college kids with cell phones and a bit too much curiosity. But even as our city and our students may feel beaten, the trip is over, the plane is landed, and we won’t be flying with that airline again.