A group of students marched throughout Oakland Friday afternoon waving flags and signs with slogans such as “Disarm the police, arm your desire” and chanting “A.C.A.B., all cops are bastards.”
Their words elicited varying reactions from observers.
“Go home commies!” someone yelled from a window in Holland Hall.
“They’re making fools of themselves,” a man outside of Noodles and Company said.
Another man standing outside of Uncle Sam’s Sandwich Bar cheered them on and sang along with their chant.
“I could get in on this!” he shouted.
The march — which began on Fifth Avenue, went through Schenley Quad onto Forbes and ended on Oakland Avenue — was the aftermath of a rally staged Friday afternoon by about 40 students and community members.
The rally marked the end of an “occupation” of the Cathedral of Learning which began Tuesday. The “occupation” began with a small group of students who went to Chancellor Patrick Gallagher’s office early Tuesday morning with a letter of 15 demands, including disarming the Pitt police, divesting from fossil fuels and implementing a University-wide $15 minimum wage.
According to a rally organizer, who didn’t want to be named, the four-day occupation and Friday rally were held to coincide with the first anniversary of a protest last November against student debt and President Donald Trump. Pitt police arrested two people during the protest last year after an altercation took place in Towers lobby.
“We wanted to show [the University and Pitt police that] we are still here, still taking action,” the organizer said.
Associate Dean of Students Linda Williams-Moore and Dean of Students Kenyon Bonner were present to observe the rally. About 10 to 15 Pitt police officers stood inside Towers lobby while four to five stood outside the entrance of Towers. Several police cars were parked across on Thackeray Avenue. Unlike last year, there were no violent confrontations between rally attendees and the police.
Prior to the rally, Bonner approached the protesters with some “ground rules” for the event, including that they could not go into Towers lobby and that they would face repercussions if the rally turned into anything confrontational.
“I just told them policies and protocol. This is a reservable space, they need to reserve the space for a protest here,” he said of Towers lobby. “There’s plenty of places off-campus where they can protest, just not this place.”
Students and community members — several clad in “Black Lives Matter” shirts or with their mouths covered by bandanas — joined hands and formed a circle in front of Tower B around 4 p.m.
Several individuals spoke at the rally — including a Pitt alum who recounted their experience at last year’s protest and another student who read an account said to be from one of the individuals arrested at the protest last November. The first speaker reminded attendees that the demonstration was being held to protest against the Pitt police.
Each rally attendee asked refused to provide names to The Pitt News.
The Pitt alum, who was present at last year’s protest and witnessed and filmed the incident between students and police, said the police’s action were “brutal and unjust” and blamed the University for allowing it to happen.
“I love this University, I grew so much here,” they said. “But in my experience they only care about what you have to say if it aligns with their goals of power, prestige and profit.”
Another rally attendee spoke about deaths of people of color by the hands of police, citing individuals such as 14-year-old Jason Pero, an eighth grader who died on the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa’s reservation less than two weeks ago after police shot Pero.
“All these cops are stealing life every day, it’s their job to do that,” they said.
A student who wished to remain anonymous said he wasn’t involved with the group that organized the rally but joined it halfway through because he wanted to show support for their views. He was unsure if some of the messages of the group were well conveyed, though.
“The chanting was good, but I don’t know if it was productive,” he said of the “group of white people” chanting anti-police slogans.
The student said plenty of cops do have their priorities in the wrong place, but there are many who just “want to make a living.”
“I don’t think the right response is to dehumanize the administration,” he said.
The students and community members ended their march on Oakland Avenue around 5 p.m. Several broke off to go elsewhere. Others hung around and engaged in a discussion with Cameron Hallihan, a sophomore neuroscience major and member of the Pitt College Republicans who came to the rally to ask its attendees about their political views and goals.
“I think they’re misguided and I disagree, but I don’t disagree with their right to free speech,” Hallihan said.
Another rally attendee said they thought the rally served its purpose in showing continued opposition to the Pitt police’s actions last year and their involvement in “defending capitalism.”
“More needs to be done, but it says something that there were less than 50 of us and like 20 cop cars were around that place. It shows the University’s scared of us,” they said. “It went well, but it’s not over.”