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Pittsburgh Police Challenged over Use of Sound Cannons During G-20 and for Wrongfully Arresting Dozens of University of Pittsburgh Students

StoryOctober 02, 2009
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Dozens of University of Pittsburgh students who say they were wrongfully arrested and subject to heavy-handed police tactics during the G-20 meeting last week are calling for an investigation into the police actions. Nearly 200 people were arrested during the protests last weekend. The vast majority of the arrests occurred last Friday night in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh, where the University of Pittsburgh is located. [includes rush transcript]

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


We turn now to Pittsburgh, where dozens of University of Pittsburgh students who say they were wrongfully arrested and subjected to heavy-handed police tactics during the G-20 meeting last week are calling for an investigation into the police actions. Nearly 200 people were arrested during the protests. The vast majority of the arrests occurred last Friday night in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh, where the University of Pittsburgh is located. Heavily armed riot police used tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and, for the first time inside the United States, sound cannons.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by two guests who were in Pittsburgh during the G-20. Bill Quigley joins us in our firehouse studio, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. Genevieve Redd is the president of the University of Pittsburgh student chapter of the ACLU, joining us from Pittsburgh.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Genevieve, let’s begin with you. Describe what happened on the streets. What are you most concerned about?

GENEVIEVE REDD: Right now the University of Pittsburgh student ACLU chapter is most concerned about the proper handling of the cases of students who were arrested, yet were innocent.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain exactly, though, what happened. Describe the police actions.

GENEVIEVE REDD: On Thursday and Friday night of last week, the police were called into Oakland, I believe, because of some potentially violent protests. They ordered the crowd to disperse immediately by use of a helicopter. They did this announcement in front of the residence dorms that hold over 2,000 students. The students heard the announcement from the helicopter but couldn’t understand what was being said inside of the residence halls. The news, the local news channels, were broadcasting live from outside of our front doors with — showing riot troops. We really didn’t know what to expect. We thought there was an emergency. We didn’t know if we had to evacuate. And the students ran outside to find out if there was an emergency and they had to leave Oakland. Essentially, we walked into a crowd of rioters and were then tear-gassed, because the rioters were camouflaged inside the student groups.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Bill Quigley, you were there in Pittsburgh. What did you see?

BILL QUIGLEY: Well, we saw a heavily militarized town. The University of Pittsburgh was really one of the only places that, you know, there were people in the town. And unfortunately, I think the police — you know, there were forty different law enforcement agencies there. The police really were supposed to be there for terrorists, and when no terrorists showed up, they turned their power and their toys, including this, first time in the United States, sound cannon, on protesters, and unfortunately, in the evenings, on the students.

Students were in a public park in a place that they — certainly, legally allowed to be. They arrested journalists. You know, they just told everybody, “Get down on the ground,” started arresting everybody. It was a complete overreaction. The people of Pittsburgh worked really hard to put on a good peace protest, to talk — challenge globalization, to talk about immigration, Iraq, Afghanistan and all these things. And the security forces were just totally out of hand.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And what about this sound cannon? The company that manufactures it, American Technology Corporation of San Diego, calls it the Long Range Acoustic Device, or LRAD. How exactly does it operate? And what is the sound that it makes?

BILL QUIGLEY: Well, we were — I was in a group of people that were coming down a hill, and all of a sudden the police backed up this huge black truck. And on the back of the truck was a great big black device. We didn’t know what it was. And they said, “You either leave, or we’re not responsible for any injuries that occur to you at this point.” And that truck then started a very high — for lack of a better term, it was like a chirping noise, but it was at an extreme volume and in a piercing sound that really made you try to hide.

And they used it repeatedly against people there and only — I’ve been at protests all over the country and in other countries, as well, never seen it. And come to find out that the only time we — the military has used it in Iraq a couple of times against crowds there. So this is really the first time that this has been used on civilians in the United States. So we got a little taste of what our military is doing to everybody else around the world, and it wasn’t a very satisfying taste, I’ll tell you that.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to just talk about the LRAD for a minute. I mean, you have the American Tinnitus Association saying protesters at G-20 were “acoustically assaulted” with a sound of over 140 decibels, which it described like “the kind of sound pressure members of the armed services might face from an Improvised Explosive Device.” You also have Pittsburgh officials saying, yes, they believe it’s the first time that this LRAD sonic cannon was used against civilians in US history. And interestingly, the Washington Times says, “With the help of Homeland Security grants, police departments nationwide looking to subdue unruly crowds and political protesters are purchasing a high-tech device originally used by the military to repel battlefield insurgents and Somali pirates with piercing noise” —-


AMY GOODMAN: —- “capable of damaging hearing.”

BILL QUIGLEY: Yeah. It was horrifying to think — you know, we had already been tear-gassed. They used the rubber bullets, all this other stuff, which was — it was totally unacceptable. But to have this truck come out, which was an assault on people — and it was not a riotous crowd or anything like that. It was an unpermitted march down deserted streets of old people, young people, everybody. And it was just an outrageous militarization that’s trumping our constitutional rights.

AMY GOODMAN: Genevieve Redd, you’re at the Pitt, you’re at the University of Pittsburgh, president of the local chapter of the student ACLU. What are students doing right now? How are you organizing?

GENEVIEVE REDD: Students right now are coming together through organic methods. There are a lot of individuals who have come to the ACLU chapter at the University of Pittsburgh, asking for some sort of action. Thus, last night we had a speak-out session called Oakland Unites for First Amendment Rights, where we had students sign petitions asking for an investigation into the unconstitutional orders that police executed and also requesting an apology from the city of Pittsburgh.

Actually, right after this meeting, I’ll be meeting with the dean of students, Dr. Kathy Humphrey, to discuss what options students will have when it comes to the judicial process in the university, as well as dealing with the charges that have been brought against them by the city.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And what was the initial response of university officials and faculty to this kind of police activity?

GENEVIEVE REDD: You know, it was really amazing that on Thursday they didn’t close the university, but then after all of the police action on the streets of our neighborhood on Thursday night, the university remained open on Friday. There was no reaction that we saw, except for the use of the emergency notification system, which sent students a text message that said, “Conditions in Oakland may have deteriorated. We advise students to stay in their residences,” when, outside of our dorms, students were being tackled and beaten by the police.

AMY GOODMAN: Genevieve Redd, thank you very much for being with us, president of the University of Pittsburgh’s student chapter of the ACLU. Bill Quigley, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, I thank you so much, both, for being with us.

BILL QUIGLEY: Thank you.

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