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The G20 in Pittsburgh showed us how pitifully fearful our leaders have become.
What no terrorist could do to us, our own leaders did.
by Bill Quigley
28 September 2009

Out of fear of the possibility of a terrorist attack, authorities
militarize our towns, scare our people away, stop daily life and quash
our constitutional rights.

For days, downtown Pittsburgh, home to the G20, was a turned into a
militarized people-free ghost town. Sirens screamed day and night.
Helicopters crisscrossed the skies. Gunboats sat in the rivers. The
skies were defended by Air Force jets. Streets were barricaded by huge
cement blocks and fencing. Bridges were closed with National Guard
across the entrances. Public transportation was stopped downtown.
Amtrak train service was suspended for days.

In many areas, there were armed police every 100 feet. Businesses
closed. Schools closed. Tens of thousands were unable to work.

Four thousand police were on duty plus 2500 National Guard plus Coast
Guard and Air Force and dozens of other security agencies. A thousand
volunteers from other police forces were sworn in to help out.

Police were dressed in battle gear, bulky black ninja turtle outfits -
helmets with clear visors, strapped on body armor, shin guards, big
boots, batons, and long guns.

In addition to helicopters, the police had hundreds of cars and
motorcycles , armored vehicles, monster trucks, small electric go-karts.
There were even passenger vans screaming through town so stuffed with
heavily armed ninja turtles that the side and rear doors remained open.

No terrorists showed up at the G20.

Since no terrorists showed up, those in charge of the heavily armed
security forces chose to deploy their forces around those who were

Not everyone is delighted that 20 countries control 80% of the world’s
resources. Several thousand of them chose to express their displeasure
by protesting.

Unfortunately, the officials in charge thought that it was more
important to create a militarized people-free zone around the G20 people
than to allow freedom of speech, freedom of assembly or the freedom to

It took a lawsuit by the Center for Constitutional Rights and the ACLU
to get any major protest permitted anywhere near downtown Pittsburgh.
Even then, the police “forgot” what was permitted and turned people away
from areas of town. Hundreds of police also harassed a bus of people who
were giving away free food - repeatedly detaining the bus and searching
it and its passengers without warrants.

Then a group of young people decided that they did not need a permit to
express their human and constitutional rights to freedom. They announced
they were going to hold their own gathering at a city park and go down
the deserted city streets to protest the G20. Maybe 200 of these young
people were self-described anarchists, dressed in black, many with
bandanas across their faces. The police warned everyone these people
were very scary. My cab driver said the anarchist spokesperson looked
like Harry Potter in a black hoodie. The anarchists were joined in the
park by hundreds of other activists of all ages, ultimately one thousand
strong, all insisting on exercising their right to protest.

This drove the authorities crazy.

Battle dressed ninja turtles showed up at the park and formed a line
across one entrance. Helicopters buzzed overhead. Armored vehicles gathered.

The crowd surged out of the park and up a side street yelling, chanting,
drumming, and holding signs. As they exited the park, everyone passed an
ice cream truck that was playing “It’s a small world after all.” Indeed.

Any remaining doubts about the militarization of the police were
dispelled shortly after the crowd left the park. A few blocks away the
police unveiled their latest high tech anti-protestor toy. It was
mounted on the back of a huge black truck. The Pittsburgh-Gazette
described it as Long Range Acoustic Device designed to break up crowds
with piercing noise. Similar devices have been used in Fallujah, Mosul
and Basra Iraq. The police backed the truck up, told people not to go
any further down the street and then blasted them with piercing noise.

The crowd then moved to other streets. Now they were being tracked by
helicopters. The police repeatedly tried to block them from re-grouping
ultimately firing tear gas into the crowd injuring hundreds including
people in the residential neighborhood where the police decided to
confront the marchers. I was treated to some of the tear gas myself and
I found the Pittsburgh brand to be spiced with a hint of kelbasa.
Fortunately I was handed some paper towels soaked in apple cider vinegar
which helped fight the tears and cough a bit. Who would have thought?

After the large group broke and ran from the tear gas, smaller groups
went into commercial neighborhoods and broke glass at a bank and a
couple of other businesses. The police chased and the glass breakers
ran. And the police chased and the people ran. For a few hours.

By day the police were menacing, but at night they lost their cool.
Around a park by the University of Pittsburgh the ninja turtles pushed
and shoved and beat and arrested not just protestors but people passing
by. One young woman reported she and her friend watched Grey’s Anatomy
and were on their way back to their dorm when they were cornered by
police. One was bruised by police baton and her friend was arrested.
Police shot tear gas, pepper spray, smoke canisters, and rubber bullets.
They pushed with big plastic shields and struck with batons.

The biggest march was Friday. Thousands of people from Pittsburgh and
other places protested the G20. Since the court had ruled on this
march, the police did not confront the marchers. Ninja turtled police
showed up in formation sometimes and the helicopters hovered but no
confrontations occurred.

Again Friday night, riot clad police fought with students outside of the
University of Pittsburgh. To what end was just as unclear as the night

Ultimately about 200 were arrested, mostly in clashes with the police
around the University.

The G20 leaders left by helicopter and limousine.

Pittsburgh now belongs again to the people of Pittsburgh. The cement
barricades were removed, the fences were taken down, the bridges and
roads were opened. The gunboats packed up and left. The police packed
away their ninja turtle outfits and tear gas and rubber bullets. They
don’t look like military commandos anymore. No more gunboats on the
river. No more sirens all the time. No more armored vehicles and ear
splitting machines used in Iraq. On Monday the businesses will open and
kids will have to go back to school. Civil society has returned.

It is now probably even safe to exercise constitutional rights in
Pittsburgh once again.

The USA really showed those terrorists didn’t we?

Bill Quigley is a human rights lawyer with the Center for Constitutional
Rights. Quigley77 at

Bill Quigley