For Immediate Release-September 25, 2009
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Pittsburgh--National Lawyers Guild members witnessed
first-hand yesterday the unwarranted display and use of force by
police in residential neighborhoods, often far from any protest
Police deployed chemical irritants, including CS gas, and
long-range acoustic devices (LRAD) in residential neighborhoods on
narrow streets where families and small children were exposed. Scores
of riot police formed barricades at many intersections throughout
neighborhoods miles away from the downtown area and the David Lawrence Convention Center.
Outside the Courtyard Marriott in Shadyside, police deployed smoke
bombs in the absence of protest activity, forcing bystanders and hotel
residents to flee the area.
Later, while some protests were ending, riot-clad officers
surrounded an area at the University of Pittsburgh, creating an
ominous spectacle that some described as akin to Kent State. Guild
legal observers witnessed police chasing and arresting many uninvolved
Among other questionable tactics, officers from dozens of law
enforcement agencies lacked easily-identifiable badges, impeding
citizens' ability to register complaints.
Heidi Boghosian, executive director of the National Lawyers
Guild, said: "Accountability and chain of command is virtually
impossible to establish given the lack of visible individual
identifying badges on officers. The small, paper armband badges that
law enforcement are wearing are difficult to read, and many wore black
chest coverings with absolutely no identifying information. We've seen
many law enforcement personnel, including Pittsburgh Police Department
officers, deliberately covering up the arm IDs by rolling their shirt sleeves up over
The National Lawyers Guild is a progressive bar association,
founded in 1937, with chapters in every state. Its national mass defense program includes education
about laws and practices that affect individuals engaging in dissent, criminal defense of
protesters and civil litigation to curb unconstitutional police
practices, and its legal observing program. Resources detailing police
tactics are available on the Guild's website, www.nlg.org
, including Punishing
and The Assault on Free Speech, Public Assembly, and
In Pittsburgh yesterday, "By midnight, hundreds of police
in riot gear moved down Forbes Avenue. With no obvious protesters in
sight, they sprayed pepper gas on passersby and even students looking
down from the balconies of their residences above the
"'We were just looking, then there were loud sirens and
then it was hard to breathe and I was coughing up a lung,' said
student Dustin DeMeglio, 19, who was watching as police moved by his
"Justin Hershkovitz, 26, a student from Michigan,
complained about the police tactics as he ran from the officers.
'This kind of force has been used as an option of first resort by cops
(at summits) in Italy, London and now Pittsburgh,' he
"'We're here to put pressure on the G20 to ultimately
abolish global capitalism,' said a 24-year-old man from Delaware, who
declined to give his name." The young man should know that
you will be tear gassed, beaten and arrested in the Land of the Free
for this kind of talk, which is not allowed by the ruling
NPR sees nothing wrong with the treatment of
protesters in Pittsburgh, concentrating this morning on protests in
Iran. Steve Inskeep interviewed Iranian President Ahmadinejad
this morning, rudely raking him over the coals for his treatment of
protesters in Iran, pointing out that people have died in Iranian
Ahmadinejad replied that people die every day in American
prisons, but of course, this does not make the corporate media news,
although human rights abuses in American prisons are condemned by
international human rights groups.
French news reports onyesterday's G20
demonstration,"About half-an-hour into the march, the
police began broadcasting a pre-recorded announcement in English and
Spanish, declaring the protest was an 'unlawful assembly' and ordering
the crowd to disperse." What is lawful, in fact the highest
law of the land, is defined in the First Amendment, and says nothing
about police having the right to demand a permit as justification to
harass those peaceably assembling.
"'They pushed us into a side street in a residential area
and then shot tear gas at us. They shot like three canisters,'
demonstrator Ross McCoy told AFP."
"The main message the mass march wanted to convey to the
world leaders at the G20 was that human rights and dignity were more
important than capitalism and profit margins, several of the
demonstrators told AFP," but of course, such a message is not
"'The people who developed the system that's falling
apart and trying to fix it? That's just crazy,' said Sondra Perry, an
art student from New York state.
"'Our message here is about climate change, poverty,
capitalism: they're all very intertwined and it's time that we all
understand that if we are going to do anything, we have to work
together,' she said."
"Paul Erb, a student from Ohio, said he had come to
Pittsburgh to protest against a system that puts monetary profit
before all else.
"'I'm here because the current global economic system,
which they are meeting about, values profit over people,' Erb told
"'Profit, power and control have become more important
than human lives. But that's not what we were raised to think is
right. That's not where we come from,' the 24-year-old
It has been widely reported in the corporate mediathat
some of the youthful demonstrators employed violence in isolated
incidents, themselves, without mentioning that there may have been
by Jeff Cohen
No matter what the facts are, some liberal activists and
leaders persist in seeing President Obama as a principled progressive
reformer who lives and breathes the campaign rhetoric about
"change you can believe in."
When he compromises, it's not Obama's fault - it's the
opposition. Retreat is never a sell-out but a shrewd tactic,
part of some secret long-range strategy for triumphant
He's been in the White House eight months. It's time for
activists take a harder look at Obama. And a more assertive posture
Because if Obama believes it's okay to pass healthcare
"reform" that subsidizes insurance firms without a robust
public option and he dispatches still more troops to Afghanistan, it
could demobilize progressive activists while emboldening the Teabag &
Beck crowd to bring the GOP back from the dead in low-turnout
congressional elections next year. That would be a rerun of the 1994
rightwing triumph brought on by President Clinton's weakness (e.g.
healthcare reform) and corporatism (e.g. the business-friendly
Some activists still see Obama as a brilliant political
superhero who - although maddeningly slow to fight back against his
opponents - always manages to win in the end . . . like Muhammad Ali
defeating George Foreman.
But watching Obama last weekend on the news shows gave little
reason for confidence. It's hard to win the public toward reform if
you accept - as Obama often does - the rightwing terms of debate. The
right frames healthcare as a debate over a dangerously over-intrusive
government taking away individual freedom. The left says it's about
greedy insurance and drug companies - with CEOs getting paid $10 million or $20 million per
year - putting profits above public good.
Last weekend, when he was repeatedly asked to comment on Jimmy
Carter's view about anti-Obama animosity being racially motivated,
Obama kept wielding the rightwing frame about big "intrusive"
government. On ABC, Obama talked about people being "more
passionate about the idea of whether government can do anything right.
I think that that's probably the biggest driver of some of the
On NBC, Obama said: "This debate that's taking place is
not about race, it's about people being worried about how our
government should operate." He asked: "What's the right role
of government? How do we balance freedom with our need to look out for
The president has a huge bully pulpit, which he's largely
squandered. I've heard him discuss healthcare close to ten times in
recent weeks without once hearing him rally the public against the
corporate greed that leaves our country No. 1 in healthcare spending
and 37th in health outcomes, on par with Serbia. Without a populist
challenge to corporate profiteering, what's left is either a bloodless
debate about "cost containment" or a rightwing debate about
"big government." Neither mobilizes the public toward
Recent U.S. history shows that you can't serve corporate interests at
the same time you're seeking reform - of healthcare or Wall Street or
any other sector. Not when big corporations are the problem . . . and
the major obstacles to change.
Placating big business en route to social reform is like
downing a flask of whiskey en route to kicking alcoholism.
Yet there was the Obama White House this summer entering
into secret deals with the pharmaceutical lobby
protecting that industry's outsized profits.
If Obama is radical about anything, it's about NOT rocking
That's why he received more Wall Street funding than any
candidate in history and why - before he was a front-runner in early
2007 - he was raising more money from the biggest Wall Street banks
than even Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani, presidential candidates
from New York.
That's why - as soon as Hillary left the race - he went on
CNBC and assured big business: "Look: I am a pro-growth, free-market guy.
I love the market."
That's why he declared to the New York Times last March that his economic
policies were absolutely not socialist, but rather "entirely
consistent with free market principles."
That's why during his 2008 "I love the market"
interview on CNBC, he shunned the "populist" label.
President Franklin Roosevelt showed in the 1930s that major
reform is possible if a populist upsurge of ordinary people is
mobilized to overcome the entrenched opposition of business interests
- derided by FDR as the "economic royalists."
The problem today is that Obama doesn't seem to have a
populist bone in his body. A smart guy, he should know that it's
absurd - in an era when a shrinking number of ever-larger corporations
dominate Congress and regulators as they deform markets in industries
like banking and healthcare - to keep believing we have a "free
market." Yet he waxes on about being a "free-market
I guess he's smart enough NOT to call himself "a
Liberal activists need to be smart enough to see Obama for the
status quo politician he is - and to act accordingly.