Police lock down Oakland after Friday night gatherings

By Staff Report

Police officers arrested 110 people after a protest in Schenley Plaza Friday, leaving many… Police officers arrested 110 people after a protest in Schenley Plaza Friday, leaving many students angry and confused.

At 10 p.m. Friday, about 50 people gathered in Schenley Plaza to protest the way police had acted the night before.

Some people in black clothes played a version of duck-duck-goose, replacing the words with “anarchist-anarchist-cop.” A man who was speaking into a megaphone advocated nonviolence and said that the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were part of a conspiracy.

The University had sent out an Emergency Notification Service alert via text message, pre-recorded phone message and e-mail by 7:28 p.m. that warned students to exercise good judgment and be careful, as more G-20 disturbances could occur that day.

By 10:05 p.m., the University issued a second message using the Emergency Notification Service: “Conditions may be deteriorating in Oakland. Students are advised to remain near their residences.”

People attending the People’s March, which ran from Oakland to Downtown that afternoon, handed out fliers encouraging others to assemble in the plaza.

Police began to surround the park about a half an hour into the protest. The police encircled the plaza in lines that were about two or three officers deep. Police vehicles and school buses delivered more officers to the area.

They brought in a Long Range Acoustic Device, which sends piercing noises or plays pre-recorded messages. By that point, between 100 and 200 people had gathered in the plaza.

Pitt student Matt Schultz was standing in the plaza when police began closing in on it, making him nervous.

“Guys, we have to leave,” he told his friends, who said they weren’t protesting but just watching the action unfold.

Within 10 minutes, the plaza was surrounded.

At 10:42 p.m., police declared the gathering an “unlawful assembly” and told people to disperse or risk going to jail.

“We don’t think there was anything going on,” Pitt student Hannah Holland, who was in the plaza Friday night, said. “People are just playing duck-duck-goose … We don’t know why [the police were] even here.”

The problem, Pitt police Chief Tim Delaney said, was that Schenley Plaza closes at 11 p.m.

“We could not have what happened last night,” he said, referring to a demonstration-turned-riot Thursday that resulted in damage to at least 10 Oakland businesses.

He referred additional questions about why the order to disperse was given before 11 p.m. to the city police. City police spokeswoman Diane Richard did not respond to phone calls or e-mails.

Police announced nine times that people should disperse from Schenley Plaza and the surrounding area. One time, they played the pre-recording warning message in Spanish. The last broadcasted message to disperse was given at 10:58 p.m., two minutes before the plaza closed.

Crowds began to gather as students watched from the Cathedral lawn.

Many of the people gathered in the plaza exited onto Forbes Avenue, eventually turning up Bellefield Avenue.

Schultz and his friend, Justin Wasser, ran through an alley off Bellefield Avenue to avoid the police.

Four hundred officers were working that night, thus outnumbering protesters and students 2-to-1 in Schenley Plaza, according to Pitt News and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette estimates.

City police estimated in a news release that 1,000 people had gathered in Oakland Friday night.

Police shot rubber bullets at Schultz and Wasser, hitting Wasser in the chest, the men said.

“A gun was being pointed at my chest,” Wasser said.

“Not by a criminal. By a police officer,” Schultz added. “There was no guilt inside of me for what I’d done, but I was running for my life.”

Pitt student Bob Anderson said he and his friends were walking along Fifth Avenue when he saw a man on a scooter flip off police. Officers shot him with rubber bullets.

“I don’t think that anything would have gone down if there were no cops there,” Anderson said.

Police released smoke or OC vapor gas, which is similar to pepper spray, in at least seven locations throughout Oakland.

By midnight, most of the officers who had been at Schenley Plaza had moved to other areas. Still, a school bus full of officers in riot gear unloaded outside of the Hillman Library on Forbes Avenue.

Meanwhile, a K-9 unit, vans and a police line moved down Fifth Avenue toward Downtown. At least one State Correctional Institute bus went down the street, too.

Central Oakland was virtually locked down. Officers directed pedestrians to their dorms or away from campus.

Just before 1 a.m., police were questioning seven people, who had plastic zip ties — which serves as handcuffs that night — wrapped around their wrists.

Students observing the arrests said they were upset about the show of police force.

Varun Viswanathan, a Pitt sophomore, said he saw a police officer hitting one individual.

“I think they completely use unnecessary force on us,” he said. “They have no right to do that.”

Pitt senior Ken Egler called the police action “one of the crazier things” he’d seen during the protests, especially since he didn’t see many demonstrators in Oakland.

“I really think it’s ridiculous,” Egler said. “We should be allowed to protest. This is needed, and they’re just basically trying to scare us.”

Police left the area by 2 a.m.