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Police Shoot Protesters With Tasers at Pittsburgh Demo Against Jeb Bush & Sen. Rick Santorum

StoryOctober 09, 2006
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Florida governor Jeb Bush was confronted by protesters on the streets of Pittsburgh on Friday. Police responded by ushering Bush into a closet and tasering two of the protesters. The Florida governor was in Pittsburgh to attend a fundraiser for Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. [includes rush transcript]

A crowd of demonstrators made up of United Steelworkers and members of Uprise Counter Recruitment were there to greet him.

They followed Governor Bush as he was making his way to the Duquesne Club in Downtown Pittsburgh. He was accompanied by a security guard and an aide. As the protesters came closer, Bush retreated toward a nearby subway station. The crowd followed him inside chanting “We don’t want you here” and “Jeb, go home.”

Port Authority spokesman Bob Grove told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that six or seven officers responded to the scene. He said the crowd was asked repeatedly to disperse. Two officers used their tasers on two of the protesters. The police ushered Jeb Bush into a supply closet where he stayed until the crowd left. No arrests were made and no citations issued.

  • Jon Vandenburgh, a researcher for the United Steelworkers who was at the protest.
  • Protester, one of the two protesters who was shot with a Taser. He has asked not to be identified.
  • Al Neri, editor of “The Insider” a bi-weekly newsletter on Pennsylvania politics.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Jon Vandenburgh, researcher for the United Steelworkers was at the protest, joining us from a studio in Pittsburgh. Also on the phone, we’re joined by one of the two protesters who were tasered. He asked not to be identified. We’re also joined on the phone by Al Neri, editor of “The Insider,” a biweekly newsletter on Pennsylvania politics. Let’s begin with Jon Vandenburgh. Can you describe how this protest went down? And where were you, Jon?

JON VANDENBURGH: Sure, Amy, and thanks for having me today. Basically, the protest happened. We found out a couple of days in advance that there would be a fundraiser at the Duquesne Club in Pittsburgh that Jeb Bush would be attending. We decided we would gather a crowd of union members, not just steelworkers, but people from the Transit Workers Union and SEIU and other unions, in the lobby of the Steelworkers Building, which is a few blocks from the Duquesne Club, and march over to the site of the fundraiser. And then, along the way, we sort of fortuitously came across Jeb Bush on a street corner. Somebody said, “Hey, there he is!” And he was just across the street from us, and so we started chanting and yelling at him from across the street. And it seemed that there was going to be this [inaudible] where we were on one side of the street and he was on the other.

And then he blew us a kiss, and that seemed to sort of trigger an anger in our crowd of demonstrators, that then sort of sparked us to head out into traffic and cross the street and start making our way towards him. So he pretty quickly, I think, changed his mind about whether or not he wanted to engage with the crowd, and I wouldn’t call it a trot necessarily, but he certainly was uncomfortably moving down the sidewalk with his aides sort of flanking him in the rear, and we were right on his heels. And a couple of members of our group, in fact, were maybe getting in front of him and getting in his face.

And he ducked into a subway station, like you described in the introduction. And we had him pinned up against the wall, really, chanting with signs, a crowd — I think of about 30 or 40 of us actually went down into this subway station in Pittsburgh and had him pinned against the wall with his staff in a corner, chanting at him. You know, there was certainly no violence on our part, but we were very close and very loud and letting him know in no uncertain terms how we felt about him being in Pittsburgh.

And then, the police showed up and had a key that unlocked a supply closet. And a couple of members of our group got tasered, and they were just about ready to unveil the pepper spray and German shepherds, when we decided, I think, collectively that we would get out of there.

AMY GOODMAN: I would like to turn to the person who doesn’t want to be identified, who got tasered. First, why don’t you want to say your name?

PROTESTER: I feel that in the current security situation in the United States with specifically the terrorism bill that was passed last week, that it’s very dangerous for demonstrators, specifically anarchists, specifically radicals, to identify themselves in the media. The U.S. government has been tracking down anarchist activists for a while, and I don’t really feel like ending up in prison, and I really want to be on the streets doing stuff, so I feel that this is for my own safety and the safety of my collective.

AMY GOODMAN: And what is your collective?

PROTESTER: We decided that we wish not to be named in the interview.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what happened?

PROTESTER: Well, I think the description was pretty accurate. When we charged down into the subway basement — well, when we seized the lobby and then charged down to the subway basement, they kind of pushed Jeb Bush into a closet, at which point I boosted myself up on a marble ledge and started screaming out, and then got my arm pulled back behind my back by a cop and then tasered by another cop and then pulled out by, you know, other demonstrators, pulled away from the grasp of the police and caught my balance and walked upstairs and out. From what I understand, the picket outside maintained itself throughout that entire situation, and that’s really important. I mean, that provided a lot of support for the people who were willing to take direct action to prevent Jeb Bush from getting where he needed to go.

AMY GOODMAN: When you say tasered, explain exactly what happened and what that means.

PROTESTER: Well, a taser is different than a stun gun. They keep saying it was a stun gun. But a taser, it’s like a yellow or black gun-looking thing. It’s plastic. It shoots out two wires that have barbs on the end that hook into your skin, and then it fires electrical charges into you. I didn’t get hit with the full voltage [inaudible] dropped the full-voltage cartridge, but essentially when you get hit with a taser, every muscle in your body bunches up, and you can’t control your movements at all. So when I got pulled back, the taser came out of my body, which allowed me to regain my balance and keep moving. But the effects of that are pretty long-lasting. You know, I was hazy and couldn’t concentrate on anything for about a day and like my whole body hurts now, and things like that. It’s a pretty vicious weapon. People have died because of it.

AMY GOODMAN: And what are your plans now?

PROTESTER: Well, my plans are to continue on with the activities that we’re doing, which, you know, include continuing to be an activist. But right now I’m trying to take care of myself the best I can, because it was a pretty — it’s pretty traumatic when you get tasered. It’s not an easy thing to deal with.

AMY GOODMAN: Al Neri is also on the line with us, editor of “The Insider,” a biweekly newsletter on Pennsylvania politics. Can you put this protest in Pittsburgh in the larger context of what is happening today in the senatorial race? Jeb Bush in Pittsburgh for a fundraiser for Senator Santorum in a very close race to try to keep his seat. He’s up against Bob Casey.

AL NERI: Sure. First thing, I asked a basic question of the protesters and that is: Were they protesting Senator Santorum or were they protesting Governor Bush indirectly for the actions of his brother, President Bush?

AMY GOODMAN: Repeat that point?

AL NERI: Oh, were they protesting Senator Santorum, or were they protesting Governor Bush for the actions of President Bush?

AMY GOODMAN: Jon Vandenburgh?

JON VANDENBURGH: Sure, I think I can say we’re equal-opportunity protesters. I think the labor movement certainly has a beef against both individuals, Governor Bush for his role obviously in the 2000 election and his support of his brother’s administration and Senator Santorum for a whole raft of votes during his tenure in the Senate that have been bad for working people in Pennsylvania and all over the country. So I think, you know, the answer to your question was, we set out to protest the Santorum fundraiser. And the fact that Jeb Bush was there was, I suppose, an incentive for Santorum donors to show up and buy a plate at this meal or speech or whatever it was, but it was also an incentive for us, I think, to turn out a larger crowd. It was an opportunity, with a high-profile person in town, to send a strong message about where we’re coming from as the labor movement.

AMY GOODMAN: But Al Neri, for our national audience — we only have two minutes — and I just want to — I wonder if you can give us a thumbnail sketch of what the issues are, what the polls indicate right now between Santorum and Casey and where they stand? What are the key issues that they differ on?

AL NERI: There’s really no key issue. The issue is Senator Santorum. This whole election is a referendum on Senator Santorum. And what’s changed since his last election in 2000 is that the senator has been on a downward spiral. It started with 2004, when he supported moderate Republican Senator Specter and that shook up Senator Santorum’s conservative base. He responded with a book that was to shore up his conservative base, but ended up riling working women, when he suggested that, you know, that there should be only one parent working when raising children. And then it continued on with a controversy about his children being cyberschooled at the expense of Pennsylvania taxpayers when they were living in Virginia.

And it’s just been a downward spiral since then, and what’s happened is that the polling shows that Senator Santorum can’t get past 40% support. Bob Casey, the State Treasurer and son of the former governor, his support, you know, wavers between 50% and 60%. A large part of his support is just pure opposition to Senator Santorum. So the race is purely a referendum on Senator Santorum. Senator Santorum can’t seem to jack up his numbers beyond 40%, and barring some political miracle, he will be out of the Senate in January.

AMY GOODMAN: Al Neri of “The Insider.” Jon Vandenburgh, a researcher for United Steelworkers, and the person on the phone, the protester, I want to thank you all for being with us.

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