Mayor Peduto: Create Equitable Police Response to Protests

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Shortly after the tragic synagogue shooting of October 2018, a coalition of like-minded organizations and community members joined collaborative efforts to draw the attention of the city of Pittsburgh’s administration to the evident bias in how it polices peaceful protests. The coalition admonished the city for glaring differences in how the police force handles protests by White bodies versus how they responded to protests by Black bodies. Yet, here we are again.

On April 20, 2020, a group of heavily armed, almost exclusively White men and women, stood in close proximity to one another on the steps of the City County building on Grant Street. They were met by a police force whose actions appeared more like those of helpful crossing guards. We did not see aggressive SWAT teams or riot police. We heard no rhythm of clubs beating palms of hands or boots pounding toward protestors. These aggressive reactions from the police, familiar to those who have sought to draw attention to injustice in the Black community, were deafeningly absent.  

We wonder when it will be deemed acceptable for heavily armed Black or Brown people to show up downtown--without a permit, faces covered in masks, weapons on shoulders, fingers on triggers, in military fatigues accented by ammo vests--to protest injustices on the steps of our government buildings while police make no attempt to suppress or criminalize the process?  The recent gender equity report showed that this is one of the worst places for Black people to live. The police response to Black and Brown people protesting continues to prove this time and time again

We, the community, demand the freedom to exercise our First Amendment rights and equity in the way law enforcement responds to those of us who so choose to do so.  We demand answers to the following questions:

  1. What metrics do Public Safety officials use to gauge the amount of police presence and force utilized to protect public safety during protests?
  2. Is there a policy regarding protests?
  3. Who is in charge of the decisions made during protests?
  4. Is there one top official in command when it comes to protests or several officials that rotate?  Who are they?
  5. What is the purpose of your Civil Affairs unit?
  6. What is the racial make-up of the officers that comprise this team?
  7. What is the protocol around when they are deployed/used?
  8. Were they utilized at the April 20th Liberty PA event? 
  9. What is the protocol around when riot police are used?
  10. Were they used at the April 20th Liberty PA event?
  11. What is the protocol around when K-9's are used?
  12. Were they present at the April 20th Liberty PA event?
  13. Do officers receive cultural sensitivity training ?  If so, who facilitates this and how often are officers required to have the training? 

Our questions are not merely rhetorical.  The decision-making processes used to manage protests are at best opaque, and at worst appear to be influenced by the racial and political makeup of those protestors. We are seeking clarification on our questions so that all citizens understand what they can expect when exercising their first amendment rights in the City of Pittsburgh.