The first Pittsburgh City Council hearing on G-20 security was long on speculation and short on information.
Both the lawyers for those who may end up incarcerated after protesting the international summit here Sept. 24-25, and a security consultant aiming to predict activists' actions, advised the city on the futility of mass arrests. But the city's police chief and public-safety director were no-shows, and the room's only anarchist -- whose groups' tactics were the subject of much guesswork -- was held to a short statement at the end.
"The vast majority of violence we've seen at demonstrations has not been undertaken by protesters. It has been undertaken by police," contended Heidi Boghosian, head of the progressive National Lawyers Guild. She suggested the city "avoid an over-militarized police presence that punishes dissent" and instead "send a message to the rest of the world that those protesting are not the enemy." She cautioned the city against using so-called "less-lethal" weapons -- from electroshock Tasers to projectiles -- against passive or dispersing crowds. She also advised against using pre-emptive detentions on protest organizers, corralling marchers or establishing so-called "free speech zones."
Placing too large a security perimeter around the summit at the Convention Center, warned local American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Sara Rose, also "places a heavy burden on government to justify any restrictions on speech in that area."
With the Secret Service taking charge of G-20 security, added Downtown lawyer Mike Healey, who has defended many local protesters, "the city ends up being on the front lines in terms of the police and on the hook for lots of legal stuff" -- lawsuits for false arrests, for instance. The addition of more than 3,000 police from all over the country, he said, means including "lots of officers from outside the city who haven't been exposed to picket lines" or demonstrations, "and there's a good chance that they might overreact."
Pittsburgh City Councilor Bruce Kraus, chair of the public-safety services committee, had called the hearing seeking "recommendations to have orderly demonstrations," noting that law enforcement and protesters had equal responsibilities for the outcomes. But Councilor Jim Motznik wasn't buying the defense lawyers' perspectives.
"[T]here are unlawful protests, people don't have permits, people blocking sidewalks," he said. "They should be dealt with, lawfully." Those employing violence "need to be dealt with and dealt with severely," he added. And police should come dressed in riot gear, using every tool at their disposal "to protect the citizens. That's what it's all about."
Sam Rosenfeld, a former British Army officer now heading the Plano, Texas-based Densus Group of security consultants, told council to expect trouble only from 1 to 5 percent of "hardcore" protesters -- and anyone caught up in their tactics.
"They want confrontation with police -- in fact they don't care if an innocent person gets pulled in," said Rosenfeld, "because they know if it bleeds, it leads" on TV news. He contended some protesters are bent on confronting police simply to be able to sue the city.
Yet Rosenfeld also cautioned against police arriving dressed for battle, overusing less-lethal weaponry and arresting large groups -- because it made those committing actual violence feel less responsible and less targeted. "There are times when police by their actions can escalate the situation," he said.
He also claimed that Pittsburgh Organizing Group, responsible for years of local anti-war and anti-military recruiting protests, is leading the charge against G-20 by holding classes on such protest tactics as building shields and using "long poles from behind to stab at police officers ... a la the Romans."
POG is indeed teaching "Tactical Training Initiative" classes this summer on everything from G-20 history and politics to methods of passively capturing public space for protest. But POG is not itself organizing G-20 protests; its members are part of a larger Pittsburgh G-20 Resistance Project. And while both POG and Resistance Web sites mention an anarchist summer camp teaching shield use this summer, TTI instructors Patrick Young and Alex Bradley both denied that POG classes teach any offensive techniques.
Rosenfeld said later that he had never personally seen POG in action or talked to any members. TTI's curriculum is posted at www.organizepittsburgh.org/TTI.
Casey Capitolo, an organizer with several of the other protests soon to be announced by local groups, presented council with a petition to hold a future G-20 hearing that allows public comment.
"The major thing that is going on with most of these protests," Capitolo said, "is that we have no seat at the table."