Pitt students, faculty express concerns over City arrest in unmarked van


Sarah Cutshall | Visual Editor

Plainclothes police in an unmarked van arrested Matthew Cartier, a protest marshal helping to clear traffic for the Black Lives Matter march through Oakland, outside of Pitt’s Barco Law Building last Saturday.

By Rebecca Johnson, News Editor

For Eric Macadangdang, the arrest of a protest marshal by City police officers outside Pitt’s Barco Law Building last Saturday is a safety concern for all Pitt students.

“I remain concerned for the safety of our students this semester. Protests aren’t going to die down,” Macadangdang, the student government board president, said. “The last thing I want for students is them to live in fear that their First Amendment rights are going to be infringed upon by police officials who put you in an unmarked vehicle and drive off.”

Matthew Cartier — who served as a protest marshal helping to clear traffic for the Black Lives Matter march through Oakland — was arrested by plainclothes City officers bearing rifles, as reported by Pittsburgh City Paper. He was then taken away in an unmarked white van.

According to a criminal complaint filed by the City police, Cartier was arrested on charges of disorderly conduct, failure to disperse and obstructing a highway. The complaint said that Cartier was blocking the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Dithridge Street, leading to unsafe driving conditions and blocked access to UPMC hospitals for patients and ambulances. 

The complaint also alleged that Cartier refused to move after being asked by police officers multiple times. But Cartier claimed on Twitter the next day that when he approached the van to give directions to the driver, plainclothes officers “sprang out of the back of the van heavily armed to arrest me.”

Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said in a Monday statement that an investigation into the incident is important. 

“It’s critical that this incident get a thorough review,” Gallagher said. “The police play a key role in maintaining safety, and must ensure they use tactics that respect and protect the rights of those who are exercising their freedom to speak out.”

The arrest has left some of Pitt’s faculty concerned as well. Jerry Dickinson, a constitutional law professor at Pitt’s School of Law and former candidate for the local U.S. House seat, said the arrest is troubling, especially from a “human dignity” standpoint.

“Our government agencies, such as law enforcement, have a duty to respect the dignity of all persons, including protesters exercising their First Amendment rights,” Dickinson said. “The abduction of Cartier stripped him of his human dignity at that moment. It was troublesome to watch, to say the least.”

Dickinson added that he also questions the constitutionality of a “low visibility arrest” under the First and Fourth amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

“Every person has the right to peacefully assemble, to demonstrate, to picket,” Dickinson said. “The criminalization of Black Lives Matter protests discourages exercises of fundamental constitutional rights to assemble.”

Dickinson was not the only person who expressed worries over the constitutionality of the arrest. Witold Walczak, the ACLU of Pennsylvania’s legal director, said in a statement that the arrest violated their guidelines, based on protestors’ accounts.

“According to those who were there, the law enforcement officers involved made no effort to work with protest leaders to clear the area and gave no clear dispersal order,” Walczak said. “The ACLU of Pennsylvania has never suggested that the snatch-and-stash arrest of a peaceful demonstrator is ever acceptable.”

The statement from the ACLU followed a late Saturday night tweet from Mayor Bill Peduto where he said he originally worked with the ACLU and the Pittsburgh Citizen Police Review Board to craft the policies.

“The right to assemble is a guaranteed right, the right to shut down public streets, is a privilege,” Peduto said.

Macadangdang said he was upset by the Mayor’s first response.

“I was extremely disappointed that his first response was basically saying there were asterisks  to what was done, there’s limitations,” Macadangdang said. “He wasn’t really able to read the room in my opinion.”

Leandra Mira, a 19-year-old Upper St. Clair native and a local activist who has participated in and planned multiple Black Lives Matter protests, also had strong criticisms of Peduto’s response.

“He’s not for the people. He’s all talk and no walk. The election’s coming, we have the power to make him face the consequences of his actions,” Mira said. “In between all these awful statements, he’s retweeting Mr. Rogers, like what f***ing dimension are you living in?”

Mira said Pitt students should respond to the incident by showing up to protests and donating to local organizations like SisTers Pittsburgh or the Bukit Bail Fund.

“Protest — we really do need bodies out there,” Mira said. “Have common sense. Respect the organizers, come be with us, wear face masks and stay safe.”

Anaïs Peterson, a 2020 alumna and former SGB executive vice president, said they are also worried about students, paticurly student organizers on campus after the arrest.

“Anywhere this happens in Pittsburgh or the U.S. is abhorrent, but it’s more ironic that it happened right in front of the law building,” Peterson said. “It’s more uncomfortable because students are involved in a lot of these things and to know that even on campus there’s no safety is kind of scary.”

For students who feel unsafe, Peterson recommends filming police officers on campus. They also suggest that the University put more money into mental health services rather than the Pitt police.

“For people uncomfortable with the police presence on campus, always filming the police is such a good idea,” Peterson said. “The University has so much money to pour into Pitt police responding to a mental health care crisis when they could be putting that into actual mental health services for students.”

Macadangdang said even though the arrest wasn’t conducted by Pitt police, he joins with students who are worried about a police presence on campus.

“It was right on our campus so it’s valid for many of our community members to share their concerns,” Macadangdang said. “This is a City issue, but Pitt does have a role in advocating for the First Amendment rights of its community members and making sure that we are all treated fairly.”

Macadangdang added that he hopes Pitt can take a strong stance on addressing systemic injustices after this incident.

“It’s my hope that the University can take the lead here and call for some system-wide changes,” Macadangdang said. “This is a systemic issue that needs systemic changes, and Pitt with the resources and experts we have here on campus can really be at the forefront.”