A Brief Look at Pittsburgh’s New Protest Guidelines — TORCHLIGHT

Originally published by Torchlight

The latest guidelines for unpermitted street protests issued by the Pittsburgh cops have generated a lot of outrage, but not much in the way of tactical or strategic analysis. We gave the document a quick glance to see what it might reveal about the cops’ plans and thoughts. In no particular order:

  • It’s tempting to laugh at the list of intersections and colored coded zones for revealing exactly where protesters should set up blockades for maximum disruption, but let’s face it, that wasn’t exactly classified information anyway. More interesting are the locations that were left out. Butler Street in Lawrenceville? Allegheny Center in Northside? Both are perfectly acceptable protest spots under the new rules, and both are virtual parking lots during rush hour even under ideal conditions. Pittsburgh’s, um, idiosyncratic street layout offers many more such choke points. Maybe it’s time to branch out geographically, if only for the hilarity of watching a police liaison wave a copy of the guidelines under the nose of a frustrated cop, screaming “We’re nowhere NEAR the red zone, what are you even complaining about???”

    They do give themselves some wiggle room toward the end with “Officers may use their discretion to make other roadways or intersections off limits to protests if judged necessary to ensure public safety”, but still…
  • This sentence is highly interesting: “Whenever possible, warnings should be given with a bullhorn, a squad car PA system or LRAD.” For those unfamiliar with the term, “LRAD” stands for Long Range Acoustic Device, a crowd dispersal weapon that emits a piercing noise loud enough to cause pain and hearing damage. It can also be used as a loudspeaker. The LRAD made its US debut right here in Pittsburgh during the 2009 G20 protests, where it permanently damaged the hearing of a woman who wasn’t even protesting. She sued the city, won a $72,000 settlement, and Pittsburgh’s LRAD has been in mothballs ever since. The guidelines only mention the LRAD’s loudspeaker function, but the fact that the cops are bringing it up at all is intriguing. However, given their past experience with the thing, and their general hands-off approach to the protests for Antwon Rose II, they’re probably bluffing. Even if they bring it out, chances are they won’t use the crowd dispersal function. Protesters are advised to pack earplugs just in case though.
  • The guidelines say absolutely nothing about requiring permits. This should be a standing rebuke to all the liberal nonprofit organizations in Pittsburgh that refuse to set foot in the street without getting permission from the people they’re protesting against.
  • Zooming out a little, the guidelines as a whole make it obvious that the cops are gaining confidence and worrying less about Pittsburgh going up like Ferguson. At the most recent march for Antwon they shadowed the march with the usual phalanx of city cops, but they didn’t feel it necessary to call in the state police, and no more than one undercover was spotted in the crowd. Even after marchers got right up in the face of Chief Schubert and Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich, no further reinforcements were called in. If the cops feel like they’re getting away with the current set of restrictions, more will surely follow.

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