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August 20, 2009

Pittsburgh's G-20 and the Battle in Seattle

Ten years ago, protesters at the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle overwhelmed local preparations and local police. The clash between the 40,000 protesters and the police resulted in a police panic and a conflict known as the Battle of Seattle.

The Seattle News carries the story that the protesters rioted one day (Nov.30), and the police rioted the next day (Dec.1). The Seattle News said,
Despite months of planning, city and conference officials confessed they were unprepared for the costly protest violence and, by inference, that police intelligence had failed them. But police sources say City Hall had the threat analysis information it needed and chose to disregard it, enacting a less dependable, stand-back plan.

Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper was forced to resign over his police force's use of chemical weapons (tear gas) on the protesters. Seattle Mayor Paul Schell lost his re-election over the insufficient preparations for the WTO meeting.

According to this BBC correspondent's eyewitness report, police had engaged peaceful protestors who were gridlocking streets. At the moment that the police were completely engaged, the "black anoraked anarchists came into play". Police were unable to stop the rioters from smashing windows and damaging property.

I think the most interesting read is the Seattle Police Department's After-Action Report, including this--
In retrospect, SPD commanders put their faith in historical precedent – the Seattle tradition of peaceful protest – in assessing the needs for policing the WTO event. While we needed to think about a new paradigm of disruptive protest, we relied on our knowledge of past demonstrations, concluding that the “worst case” would not occur here.

...In summary, the Department’s planning assumptions and analysis
underestimated the capability of criminally disruptive forces.
According to Appendix C and D of the After Action Report, Seattle had 1200 police officers, and roughly 650 officers from local mutual-aid police departments, for a total of 1850 state and local police. Estimates of protesters have been as high as 40,000.

My purpose in writing is not to be a Cassandra, predicting woe and misfortune. But I'd like to repeat some police staffing numbers I've presented before, and ask some questions.

According to the Beaver County Times, as of August 9th there are 900 Pittsburgh police officers, and 1800 officers committed from other local departments. Pittsburgh Police Chief Nate Harper hopes to bring his force up to 4000 police.

In Chicago 1968, an overwhelmed police force rioted.
In Seattle 1999, an overwhelmed police force rioted.

What happens when an under-prepared and under-staffed police force is challenged by overwhelming numbers of protesters, some of whom are malefactors with criminal intent? The police will draw their weapons and defend themselves. I would too. But it ends up with a body count. That body count is attributable to inadequate prior preparation, and there's usually a politician responsible for that.

Police presence for G-20 meetings in the last year:
  • Italy had 15,000 police
  • London had 10,000 police
  • Pittsburgh hopes to have 4,000 police

Here's my questions:
Why is Pittsburgh police staffing so low for the G-20?
And a few follow-up questions:
  • What branch/level of government is responsible for security in the streets of Pittsburgh - not within the closed inner circle, but in the protest areas? Is it the City, the County, the State?
  • Who is the politician responsible for security in the streets outside of the central perimiter? Is it Luke, Onorato, Rendell, or the Attorney General?
  • Who made the decision to invite/accept the G-20 in Pittsburgh?
  • Tell me again - why are we doing this?


Bram Reichbaum said...

"Tell me again - why are we doing this?"

Because it's there.

Because it's a chance to tap into something huge. Because it's the world and the President and the global economy. Can I draw a straight line as to how the physical presence of these things in this format is supposed to benefit us? No, not a convincing one. Do I understand the urge? Yes, and I think it's a no-brainer on a human level. This represents a chance to be a big shot, and if Pittsburgh has been about anything for at least thirty years it's been about missing that feeling of being a bigshot.

The information you provide (repeat and expound upon, actually) on the numbers of officers that seem to be required and that we are lacking scares me. In truth, if we had that many officers encamped and on-duty in Pittsburgh, that would scare me also. But ... one has to pursue these things. It is the human way.

Mark said...

Brian O'Neill today in the P-G talked about the loss of trees in Mellon Square, but noted in aside that he suspects the city of closing off a possible demonstration site by barracading the square just before G-20. I think they are counting to some extent on the constricted streets of Pittsburgh to assist their control of crowds.

There is also the issue of unapproved permits, which the city claims are being held up by more specifics from the Secret Service. One might suspect that they are starting to predict greater than previously suspected numbers of protesters.

Jim Russell said...

I was in Seattle for the WTO Ministerial studying global civil society. The point about the numbers of police officers misses the real problem. The protesters set up shop earlier than the police officers did. Delegates couldn't even get from their hotels downtown to the convention center because the protesters already owned the streets.

The stuff about the anarchists is horseshit. They were late to the show. It was chaos before any of them showed up to smash the windows of McDonalds or Starbucks. But that got all the press. Too bad.

a 11 year old kid said...

this is sad. why don't people never get along. everybody should get along so the g-20 isn't a crises.

Anonymous said...

The protests in Europe tend to be MUCH larger and far more militant -- so a larger police force is to be expected. But the fact is that the police are as likely to abuse their power whether they are vastly outnumbered by the protesters or not -- and regardless of if those protesters are peaceful or not.

The Group of 20 International Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors are the ones who are largely responsible for bringing about the current economic crisis. They orchestrate things like the trillion dollar bailouts of their corporate friends. They have very simply robbed the taxpayers (in whose names they could have paid off a lot of debt) and gave that cash to the corporate banks with no strings attached. This is reverse Robin Hood CORPORATE SOCIALISM and it is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of misappropriation and malfeasance which the G20 bankers are involved with. They can't continue to go around pillaging and plundering without facing some well-deserved protest.

I mean really... do you think that Corporate Socialism is a good thing? Did you approve of the bailouts? Do you agree with both Bush and Obama in this regard? Well, I don't -- and neither do a lot of others.

Anonymous said...

Everybody Anarchist wanna SMASH G20 !
Students SMASH G20 in Pittsburgh, US 24-25th September! Smash G20 !
All goverments = all problems, they r LIARS !
i know that ! )

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