In Defense of Pittsburgh

A response to Rachel Lange.

Tony Calderone is 31 years old, possesses a masters degree in public management, registered to vote as Independent, works as a financial manager in the non-profit sector, and lists Ringo as his favorite Beatle.

I would like to comment on Rachel Lange's account of the protest she participated in on March 20th in Pittsburgh. She makes a few factual mistakes that I would like to address. I would also like to show that this demonstration was not the Kent State that she seems to think it was.

She makes it sound as if the protest was not planned in advance, that it sort of just happened randomly and therefore was not permitted. This is hardly the case. The protest was announced by the group that organized it well in advance. The group that organized the protest announced that they were deliberately marching without a permit as an act of civil disobedience, and that it was planned to take place during rush hour to cause disruption to get attention and spread their anti-war message. Permits are not that hard to get in Pittsburgh as Rachel incorrectly implies. In January, the same group applied for and was granted a parade permit. That march took place on a weekend, peacefully without a single arrest. Let's keep in mind that the march she joined took place during rush hour. No city in this country would grant a permit for a march to take place during rush hour.

Local officials and the Pittsburgh Police bent over backwards to allow the antiwar demonstrators to protest while maintaining some semblance of order. The protestors met in front of the Federal Building where most of Pittsburgh's federal offices are located. Because this event was so well publicized and in an effort to minimize clashes with workers and protestors, all employees in the Federal Building were sent home at 3:00 that day, two hours before the protest was scheduled. The group gathered at 5:00 and after about 20 minutes of speeches, the protestors hit the downtown streets.

Police remained ahead of the crowd redirecting and holding back rush hour traffic to allow the demonstrators to march through the streets without incident. After about an hour, the demonstrators had made a complete circle of downtown Pittsburgh and returned to the Federal Building. Most of the crowd dispersed at that point. Since this would have been about 6:30, I suspect this is about the time Rachel must have joined the demonstrators, especially since she saw it on the news and on a whim decided to join the march. This smaller crowd of demonstrators began to march in the streets and disrupt traffic again. At this point, the police ordered the crowd to disperse and that they would be arrested if they did not. This is when the 122 arrests were made which according to newspaper accounts represents about one third of the group that remained to continue to demonstrate.

The next day, about 100 demonstrators reconvened at the Federal Building and marched to the courts building where the arraignments for these 122 individuals were taking place. This time the marchers stayed on the sidewalk, again with police escorts, and there were no arrests.

On March 30th, a rally was scheduled in a city park. After the rally, the demonstrators took to the streets, again illegally without a permit. Again, the Pittsburgh Police escorted and let the marchers walk in the street. This march went without incident until the procession left the city limits and entered a neighboring borough. When the crowd reached the borough of Swissvale, the borough police ordered the demonstrators onto the sidewalk. Most of the demonstrators obeyed the police's direction, but those that did not were not arrested.

I think it is clear that the Pittsburgh Police have gone out of their way to accommodate anti-war demonstrators repeatedly and if anything, they should be commended. And to possibly help dispel any notions that Pittsburgh officials are in favor of the war in Iraq, I should mention that Pittsburgh's City Council passed a resolution condemning the war before the war started, and the resolution was signed by the mayor.

It is unfortunate that Rachel was arrested and had to spend 30 hours in jail, but I take issue with her tone when she makes herself out to be a victim. I'm sure she didn't plan on spending the night in jail as she left the house to find the demonstration. However, she clearly knew that the demonstration was not permitted and that she ran the risk of being arrested by taking part in the march. But isn't that part of the point of civil disobedience, believing so strongly in a cause that one is willing to get arrested over it? In addition, people should look into things a little more closely and get the facts straight before they write the Mayor's office and put their own integrity on the line. Accounts of the anti-war protests can be found at the web sites of Pittsburgh's two newspapers: www.post-gazette.com and www.triblive.com.

By the way, I am not a Pittsburgh Police officer, nor do I know any. It's unfortunate that there are a few bad cops that use excessive force giving a bad name to all officers, just as it is unfortunate that there can be a few protestors who damage people's cars or throw rocks at the police who can detract from the message of a large number of peaceful protestors.

I am a Pittsburgher who recognizes that at times this city leaves much to be desired. At the very least, Pittsburgh needs to be more accepting of change and it needs to be more tolerant of people who don't look like a middle-aged Irish male, but there a lot of good things about this town as well. I'm all for being critical of the bad things, but when I see something critical of this city being misrepresented I feel the need to speak up.




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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

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