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Arresting Resistance

Police turned blocked sidewalks into violent confrontation, protesters charge

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Chanting "Shut it down, no recruiters in our town," 100 protesters marched down Forbes Avenue at 11 a.m. on Aug. 20 to Oakland's military recruitment center with help from two Pittsburgh Police cars blocking traffic.

 

 

Twenty minutes and a handful of arrests later, protest organizer Alex Bradley was left shouting at officers from a dozen police cars and three local law enforcement agencies: "You want to taser some more of us?"

 

A taser, an electrical device intended to shock someone into immobility, was used several times on at least one protester while the cough-inducing tang of pepper spray still hung in the air.

 

 "You got children here!" one protester screamed at police soon after the pepper spray was used. "You see this little kid here?" indicating 7-year-old Caitlin and 3-year-old Chenoa Scotti Eirene, who were accompanying their father, long-time protester Vincent Scotti Eirene. 

 

A police dog bit a 68-year-old participant who was carrying nothing but a small straw purse, while she stood with her back to the animal.

 

In all, six people were taken into police custody, four eventually to jail. They faced arraignment or received citations stemming mostly from their encounters with city police and those from the University of Pittsburgh and the Port Authority, rather than from the protest itself. It consisted of blocking the door of the recruitment center to make a speech and taping a sign over it, reading "No Lies Told Today, Recruitment Center Has Been Shut Down."

 

The march was led by several dozen people wearing black, many with bandanas obscuring their faces, who call themselves the Black Bloc. Protester Ruthie Neely, a 16-year-old Mount Lebanon High School student, was next to Black Bloc member Edris Robinson, the first to get arrested. Robinson was simply "standing there," she says, after the sign-taping when police rushed into the crowd to arrest him. Neely witnessed De'Anna Caligiuri, another protest organizer, trying to hold on to Robinson when both were forced prone onto the street by police.

 

 "I saw them taser De'Anna -- she was already on the ground," Neely says.

 

According to multiple witnesses, police arrested the first pair of protesters after a Tribune-Review photographer and a Fox News cameraman reported to police that the latter was struck while filming the sign-taping.

 

Robinson was charged with criminal mischief, disorderly conduct, simple assault and harassment, obstructing public highways and passages and resisting arrest. Caligiuri was charged with failure to disperse, obstructing public passageways and obstructing the administration of justice.

 

A third protester, Justin Krane, was also dragged out of the crowd by a plainclothes policeman and thrown face down on the street, where the officer kneeled on him. Krane was charged with riot, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and failure to disperse. It was unclear what precipitated this arrest; in a mass e-mail, Krane's father, Bruce Krane of the South Side, called the list of his son's charges "as truthful as George Bush's reasons for taking us to war in the first place."

 

"I'm not just being a loyal parent here," says Krane, 58, who for the past five years has hosted and produced the PCTV interview show Courting Controversy. "There should be an investigation. There is no indication that what my son was charged with ever happened," particularly the "riot" charge. In reviewing videotapes of the protest, shot by both participants and observers, he says, "The only riot I saw was from the city of Pittsburgh police department."

 

Krane says his son and other arrestees were meeting with lawyer Mike Healey and the ACLU on Aug. 22 to consider a legal response to their arrest.

 

"We haven't reached any firm conclusion," Healey says. "Tentatively, it would appear to be improper for the police to use tasers, dogs and gas at a peaceful protest." Pittsburgh police spokesperson Tammy Ewin would not comment on the arrests, referring any complaints to the city's Office of Municipal Investigations. Chief Robert W. McNeilly Jr. issued a statement saying police were responding to "the actions of several participants who chose to turn the allegedly non-violent event into something that warranted police intervention in order to ensure public safety." His statement also says that, during this un-permitted march, warnings to stop blocking sidewalks and "keep moving ... were ignored."

 

The first such mass warnings came after the first three arrests and after Black Bloc members pushed a large "Shut Down Recruitment" sign into the street at police, where it was confiscated. At 11:20 a.m., Sgt. Clint Winkler of the city police informed nearby colleagues that police might "start loading up wagons. If you need a bus we'll get a bus." Winkler would not respond to a request for comment later at the scene.

 

Although Black Bloc members left the protest site as a group temporarily at 11:25 and half the other marchers had gone, about 30 protesters were still stretched in front of the recruiting center and along five storefronts, facing about a dozen police vehicles. Several protesters held hands at the street edge of the sidewalk in front of the recruitment center itself, including Edith Wilson and Ed Bortz of the group Conscience, which encourages conscientious objectors, and Carole Wiedmann of Ohio Township. Wilson called it "a spontaneous stand as a peaceful, nonviolent response to what went on."

 

But the arrests were not over. A city police officer with a German shepherd barking and straining at its leash arrived, while another officer announced that protesters should leave -- and that any college or high school students arrested would face expulsion when police notified their school.

 

"Oh no! There goes my career," shouted the self-employed Vince Eirene.

 

As the crowd, joined once again by the Black Bloc, began to move up Forbes toward Squirrel Hill, the dog lunged at Wiedmann. She was facing away from the dog when it bit her on the back of the upper thigh, leaving her pants torn and stained.

 

 "I was leaving. I was afraid. I was doing as instructed," says the 68-year-old Wiedmann. "The handler did not have control of the dog.

 

 "They added insult to injury," she says, by handcuffing her about 25 minutes after the dog bite for her trip to the UPMC Presbyterian emergency room. She is "not even clear" what charges she might face. Although the hospital determined the dog didn't break her skin, she was left bruised and unhappy. "I did nothing wrong," she says. "I was there at the end because I was concerned what was happening to the young people. I didn't leave as soon as perhaps I should have. But I don't apologize for that."

 

Police spokesperson Tammy Ewin says her department is preparing a warrant on Wiedmann for unspecified charges.

 

"A good number of the police were out of control -- screaming, using tasers, using pepper spray," says Bortz. "The people were dispersing when most of the violence was done against individuals." Wiedmann's handcuffing was just "a show of force" to head off citizen complaints, he believes. "I sat through the arraignments. They piled up the charges. I think it was way over the top, considering these people were beaten, tasered, pepper-sprayed by police. I saw the violence as a one-way street here, and it was police violence. I hope people bring these cases to the Citizens Police Review Board and I hope we see real due process."

 

David Strouthers was also arrested for remaining seated on the sidewalk as the canine officer ordered the crowd to move. Pittsburgh Independent Media Center's Web site (http://pittsburgh.indymedia.org) contains a photo of a seated Strouthers facing off against the snarling dog. He was charged with failure to disperse and obstruction of sidewalks and public passages.

 

As the crowd was being pushed further up Forbes, Ruthie Neely was crossing Oakland Avenue when she says she couldn't move quickly enough to suit police.

 

 "All of our tempers were getting a little short," says Neely. "The officer had been telling us to disperse. ... He was pushing me at first with the fat of his belly. There was a mob of people behind me -- there just wasn't room for me to go." She was inching along, she says, when she and the officer noticed Carole Wiedmann being questioned.

 

"You really need to learn to control your dogs," Neely said she told the officer.

 

"'I have two sons in the Army,'" Neely says the officer responded, "'and one of them is in Iraq and you know nothing about the military.' And I said, 'My brother is in the Marine Corps and your two sons are as good as dead, just like my brother.' And that's when he pushed me harder and harder and I was of course shouting, [including] a few swear words there. That's when he lost patience with me."

 

Police won the ensuing tug-of-war with protesters. "They slammed me against the paddy wagon and handcuffed me and searched me," Neely says. She sat with De'Anna Caligiuri in the paddy wagon for perhaps 40 minutes. Caligiuri seemed "really shaken up," Neely says. "It was so hot in that van. We didn't talk too much, it was so hard to breathe."

 

Neely was released with three citations for failure to disperse, failure to obey an officer and obstructing traffic.

 

Bortz, of Conscience, believes the rally still made its point, despite the chaos and arrests. "It's important to boldly put the issue of military recruitment into public discussion," he says. "Most of the time, the young people who are joining [the military] are getting only one side of the issue. There has to be the alternative viewpoint presented.

 

 "I think the city administration needs to realize this [rally] is part of the public discussion," he adds, "and the police need to protect the rights of the people who want to take part in this public discussion."

 

Jonathon Robison, Fourth Ward Democratic chairman in Oakland, took part in the rally. "I think there should be an investigation" into police conduct, says the 62-year-old Oakland resident, who rides a scooter because he has multiple sclerosis. He and his scooter were knocked to the ground as protesters fled police during the first arrests.

 

 "I suspect the investigation will find there are things to fault on both sides," he concludes, calling for non-violence training for selected police and monitors trained in non-violent protest techniques for the demonstrators.

 

Such arrest scenes are "probably going to be repeated," says Robison. "People are very angry. We've been tricked into another terrible war. I'm afraid it's going to get worse before Bush leaves office."

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