by Kevin Hayes
You may have heard a lot about students in California occupying their own campuses in recent weeks. You may not have heard much about University of Pittsburgh’s campus being occupied at the end of September, however. Unlike the UC occupations, this was not students occupying their campus, but quite the opposite. About 4,000 police occupied the campus, and several cases of police brutality were reported. This was due to the G20 (which the Pittsburgh politicians painted as being an overwhelmingly positive thing for the city, and were honored to host). Six other Wesleyan students and I trekked to Pittsburgh to join the massive protests against the G20. I went to UPitt for two years before transferring here, so I was staying on campus and witnessed the police attacks on students.
Much could be said about the protests and the actions of the police throughout the two days of the summit, but this information can be easily found by browsing Internet news sources. Rather, I would like to focus on my own experience of what happened that Friday night on Pitt’s campus. It was a surreal experience to see what still felt like my campus taken over by men and women dressed like storm troopers. Thursday night there was a riot on campus and the police used extreme force on both protestors and students indiscriminately. This included rubber bullets, tear gas, clubs, mace, and the Long-Range Acoustic Device (LRAD). It was at these protests that the LRAD was used for the first time in the U.S.—it is typically used by the military in Iraq, and is basically a sound cannon that can damage your hearing.
They used this devide frequently over those two days. Friday night, Pitt students and many G20 protesters gathered at a park on campus to protest against police brutality in response to Thursday’s events.
As the crowd gathered, the police surrounded the lawn on all sides. They gave their dispersal order and opened a small corner for us to escape to the street. Once on the street, we were surrounded by two lines of police, a row of bushes, and another line of police to block us in. As this third line closed in on us, we (hundreds of students and protesters) were forced to jump over the bushes to escape. As we did this, a line of police moved into the lawn to cut us off, and my friends and I had to rush through this police line to avoid getting trapped. Those that could not do so (about 40 people) were ordered to disperse without being given room to move. The people asked where they should disperse to, and then were told to lie on the ground and were arrested. One cop was quoted as saying, “I was hoping I would get to beat you guys down, but you guys were pretty peaceful.”
The rest of the night, cops roamed the streets in packs attacking anyone they saw. I witnessed two students approach a line of police who were blocking the entrance to their dorm, asking (with their hands up) to be allowed to go back to their rooms. The police told them to get away, and as they backed up, with their hands still up, the police shot them with rubber bullets, causing them to fall to the ground. The anarchist medics swooped in to carry them behind a tree and take care of them. I talked to another student who asked a policeman how he could get back to his dorm on the other side of campus without running into trouble. The officer hit himin the stomach with the butt of his gun and told him to get away.
Two of my friends asked the same question as they left a restaurant after dinner, and were maced. One was shoved up against a wall as the cop told him, “I don’t give a fuck.” A group of girls in dresses and high heels exited a bar, and a cop, who watched them walk out of the bar, ran up to them and maced them.
Many more occurrences of police violence can be witnessed on youtube, including people standing on the second floor patio of my freshman dorm getting tear gas shot up at them as they taped the violence occurring in the streets.
The most frightening event for me occurred at the end of the night, as it seemed the out-of-town police were leaving. As I walked back to my friend’s apartment, a small crowd began chanting “let them go” at a few police officers arresting more Pitt students, who seemed to be returning from a party. The students were puking due to the excessive mace and probably some alcohol, as they sat handcuffed on the curb. Back-up came and shot tear gas into the crowd. My friend and I walked down a side street away from the tear gas, as a SWAT team came up the street. They grabbed a kid ahead of us, screaming, “You want some of this?!” as they turned him around and dragged him with them. We ducked into a parking lot and paused to get the kid’s name, so as to make sure he got legal support as the police walked up the street.
However, the police unexpectedly turned into the parking lot at us, screaming to “get out of here” and then to “run.” As we walked briskly away with our hands up, they fired rubber bullets at us until we ducked behind cars across the street.
UPitt students have since been working to get the school and the city to apologize for allowing this to happen, but both have refused to do so thus far. To use such extreme violence against people, whether protestors or students, is absolutely unacceptable in a free society. The occurrences of those days demonstrate that the state will sacrifice anything and anyone in order to protect the overarching system—the police were mobilized against the people to quell dissent. While the students of California fight for control of their own education, it is important to recognize that police were allowed to occupy Pitt’s campus for two nights, taking all control away from students, even the basic right to feel safe on campus. The rights of Pitt students were violated in order to strike fear in the heart of anyone who might express opposition to the G20 and the global economic system that they represent. The struggle for student’s rights is not unique to California, but is common to all of us.