A Brief Look at Pittsburgh’s New Protest Guidelines

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.

Some Notes on the Demonstrations for Antwon Rose

As everyone now knows, on June 19th East Pittsburgh police officer Michael Rosfeld murdered Antwon Rose Jr. by shooting him in the back three times as he ran from a traffic stop. When a video of the shooting went viral on social media, Pittsburgh exploded in protest. Explosions are relative of course, and the riots, looting, and torched convenience stores that characterized analogous uprisings in Ferguson and Baltimore have here translated to peaceful marches to block traffic. Nonetheless the current situation is a major departure from the usual activist routine that anarchists in Pittsburgh suffer through. We offer the following points for consideration.

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Friday Night March for Antwon Rose Jr.

Friday saw more protests over the police murder of Antwon Rose in East Pittsburgh. The evening’s action started conventionally enough, meeting at the Wood Street subway station downtown at 5:30, and stepping off around 6. At least 200 people took the streets, marching slowly through downtown and stopping frequently to block intersections while holding speakouts. A trailing caravan of cops accompanied the march, but they weren’t doing anything yet. More cops on motorcycles circled, blocking off intersections as marchers approached, and causing even further disruption to rush hour traffic.

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Undercover Police Surveillance at Courthouse Rally for Antwon Rose

A Torchlight operative managed to get a picture of an undercover cop filming the rally for Antwon Rose yesterday afternoon at the Allegheny County courthouse. The cop was posted up above Eddie V’s restaurant, kitty corner from the courthouse building. A tripod-mounted video camera is indistinct, but still visible, beside him. There was a second cop not present in this picture, but who was noticed by several witnesses. Both were observed looking at the rally through binoculars.

Undercover cop

The rally was the usual protest theater so common in Pittsburgh. The organizers might or might not have had time to get an official permit, but the rally was obviously sanctioned by the police, who placed sawhorses to block vehicles from that block of Grant, directed traffic, and made no attempt to interrupt the rally during the exact two hours that it ran. Speakers were chosen ahead of time, there was no space allowed for spontaneous action, and everyone was sent home at the end. The key demand was that everyone register to vote in order to remove Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala from office, which begs several questions. What the hell are we supposed to do in the year and a half Zappala still has in office? He’s not going anywhere until January 2, 2020. Who is going to run against him? He ran unopposed in the last election, and in any case a Republican would probably be even worse. That means knocking off a sitting DA in the Democratic primary, and maybe having to beat him again if he switches to the Republicans to run in the general election. And finally, even if an opponent steps up to take on Zappala, what assurance do we have that person would be any improvement?

But of course the electoral strategy isn’t really meant to install a progressive DA in Zappala’s place, it’s meant to divert and pacify anger in the current moment. Professional nonprofiteers like Brandi Fisher of the Alliance for Police Accountability depend on the good will of Pittsburgh’s political establishment to keep the grant money flowing, and coopting grassroots social movements is how they get it. Why then were the cops filming her protest? Maybe because they wanted to take attendance of the new people who came out, and arresting them all would have been too much work? Anyone with further insights please share, torchlight AT riseup dot net.

Reportback From the First Rally for Antwon Rose


Torchlight received the following reportback from an anarchist who attended the first rally for Antwon Rose on Wednesday evening. There was also a larger rally and march Thursday night that blocked Parkway East for over five hours. The reportback has been lightly edited for spelling and grammar, but is otherwise unchanged.

It’s Going Down has posted another reportback from the same rally.

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