September 29, 2009
-- by Dave Johnson
I was in Pittsburgh and I have never seen anything like the police atmosphere there. I go back to the 60s protests, including Mayday when they set up machine guns on the White House grounds so I have seen it. But that was more military, not police. There were almost zero "civilians" in the city and a massive militarized police presence beyond anything I have ever experienced.
Here are a few impressions. Everyone had been whipped up with fear leading up to the Summit - both police and townspeople. It seemed as though the police had been through some sort of military training in advance of the Summit. The militarized attitude was not what I have seen from police before. It appeared they had been led to expect massive trouble on the order of tens of thousands. What I suspect happened was that the local media scared the wits out of the population by playing clips of huge WTO protests over and over until people were convinced that they were going to be besieged by a violent Woodstock of some sort. (Like how they have scared people to the point where they won't let their kids walk to school anymore.) I don't know that but what I saw there makes me thing it was something like that.
Everyone had brand new equipment. The uniforms were new, freshly pressed. Riot helmets without a single scuffmark. New trucks, rifles, communications equipment, body armor, all new. Millions upon millions of anti-terrorist gear was finally going to be tried out.
The weirdest thing was that buildings clear across town from where the would be any expectation of trouble had anti-tank barricades set up around them. I mean the concrete divider segments that are put between oncoming lanes on highways had been moved into place around builds, entrances, etc all over town! Of course the security around the perimeter for the Summit was crucial, the barricade with the trucks filled with heavy materials at every intersection stops potential attacks from a hijacked bus or truck. The fencing and checkpoints ... these are 20 of the world's leaders in one place. Fine. But why anti-tank barriers on buildings on the other side of town?
There were thousands of police. There was police from all over the East and Midwest. There were police on horseback, bicycle, motorcycle, van, car, truck, dump truck, military-style vehicle, helicopter, speedboat, and on foot. There were police dogs. There were Coast Guard, Secret Service, National Guard, State Police, Park Police and every other agency you can imagine.
The actual People's March was orderly, almost fun, except for the masses of police. It went on for quite a while, followed by hundreds of Falun Gong, then followed by hundreds of police on foot, followed by mounted police, followed by dozens of police vehicles with doors open, fully-armored police with machine guns ready to jump out.
The really, really needed a police marching band as part of the display. Seriously. This was a missed opportunity.
The effect was intimidation. No way around it, no one could have been anywhere near Pittsburgh for this Summit without receiving a loud and clear message, "We are in charge, we don't want to hear what you have to say, shut up and behave." And for the public, the expectation that an unspeakable force of evil was coming - and then when the DFHs show up, this has to translate to the message the people who protest against elites are somehow in the wrong. Massive intimidation. The security was necessary for the Summit, but the rest of it was intimidation of democracy. Police are trained to respect the citizens, but this militarization changed that, turned "the other side" into enemies.
Another problem was the effect of anticipation. The police were intimidated, too, led to expect a massive wave of weirdos attacking them. And so of course after months of preparation and anticipation were naturally ready to go after them and win.
Posted by Dave Johnson at September 29, 2009 8:06 AM
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