This is What Happens When We Stop Rioting || TORCHLIGHT PGH

Originally published on 07.24.20 by TORCHLIGHT – Anarchist News from Pittsburgh

A local anarchist who has recently been involved in legal support sent us [Torchlight] this compendium of repressive activities by law enforcement. It has been edited for spelling and grammar, and supporting links added, but is otherwise unchanged.


* The so-called Damage Assessment Accountability Task Force has been going through surveillance camera footage from protests in late May and early June, and arresting protesters for allegedly throwing things at the cops, looting stores, etc. Right now they are pretty narrowly focused on the protests that happened on May 30th and June 1st, but it’s not hard to imagine them expanding into a more general role in the future. So far they’ve arrested at least 20 people, most of whom were new to protesting and don’t have any connections in activist circles. We don’t know exactly which police forces are in DAAT, but news reports point to the FBI, ATF, and Pittsburgh police.

* Grand juries are hella sketch, especially federal grand juries. There is one at work in Pittsburgh that has already indicted three people. All of them were allegedly part of the same two protests being investigated by the DAAT, but federal grand juries last 18 months. If this one has just started up, it has plenty of time left to indulge in mission creep.

* The FBI has approached two activists that we know about. They also attempted to talk with several protesters arrested at the action on June 1st. We don’t know what the feds were able to learn from these interviews, but we have to assume they’re coordinating with the DAAT and the grand jury.

* An anarchist squat was recently evicted. As awful as this would have been on its own, there is reason to believe that the squat was targeted specifically for the politics of its residents. Several cops tried to get the squatters to talk about their beliefs, and an “intel unit” officer took pictures of the inside of the house and tried to get permission to take several zines with him. Even the building inspector called in to condemn the house was getting in on the act, by taking pictures of the license plates of cars coming to help people move.

* The Allegheny County district attorney has been trialing facial recognition technology from Clearview AI, a company founded by an alt-right grifter and spammer. While the DA doesn’t appear to have a current contract with Clearview, they’re obviously interested in the technology and might have just gone with a different supplier.

This report shows the backlash is well under way. DA Stephen Zappala pulled off a neat PR coup by charging 61 arrested protesters with misdemeanors – and then loudly announcing that he was dropping the charges for lack of evidence. This let him take credit for respecting protesters’ civil rights while dodging the flood of criticism that would have accompanied the prosecution of proverbial peaceful protesters for minor offenses. Now he gets to rack up felony prosecutions in relative peace, knowing Pittsburgh’s liberal activist groups won’t give him any shit as long as he’s only going after “violent looters”.

In the street, actions continue under the same old implicit bargain with the cops. Incredibly aggressive marshals scream at anyone deviating from the organizers’ script, undercover cops shadow every march taking pictures, and any possibility of militant action is snuffed out at birth. Multiple peaceful marches are taking place every week, which stretches police resources and forces them to spend money on overtime, but this is a very small consolation. The absence of state police and other outside reinforcements at recent protests indicates the Pittsburgh cops think they’re on top of the situation. It’s hard to argue with their assessment.

This pacification is reflected in the absolute denial of any concessions by local politicians. Unlike cities such as New York or Portland, where police departments have seen slight budget cuts and minor restrictions on their authority to use force, in Pittsburgh the police are getting more money. The 2020 operating budget grants them a 10% increase in funding. At the county level, the Allegheny county council refused to ban tear gas or even do mass coronavirus testing at the jail.

Alternative approaches to defunding the police abound. In Minneapolis, where resistance fighters burned down the third police precinct building, cops are resigning in droves. While they might just be taking advantage of their generous health benefits to retire early on disability pensions, the fact remains that they won’t be murdering unarmed Black people on the streets anymore. In Portland, police admit to $8 million and counting in overtime expenses from two months of riots, already over half the paltry budget cut imposed by the Portland city council.

We could go on, but you get the idea. Shrinking the Pittsburgh police is going to have to be a DIY effort. The sooner we start the better.



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