August 9, the anniversary of the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, was also the opening day of the National Conference and Expo of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) in Pittsburgh, Pa., celebrating its 100th anniversary in the city where the organization was founded. Several thousand police officers from across the country were expected to arrive in the city for the convention, which also included a massive arms expo showcasing the latest technology in the ongoing militarization of police.
Several hundred protesters against racist police terror marched to the David Lawrence Convention Center in downtown Pittsburgh where the convention was being held to make the FOP know that they were not welcome.
The march was organized by the National Mobilization Against Police Brutality and FOP, a coalition of anti-racist groups including the New Afrikan Independence Party, the Anti-War Coalition of the Thomas Merton Center, We Change Pittsburgh, Sierra Club, and the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL).
The march began at the historic Freedom Corner in the Hill District and ended in a parking lot right in front of the convention center. Police on the rooftops of the convention center and other buildings surrounding the parking lot had cameras trained on the protesters as several groups and individuals spoke out against the racism and violence of the criminal injustice system.
Gene-Leigh Ziegler, a Pittsburgh organizer of the PSL, gave a message of resistance to the crowd and to the police spectators: “We can no longer stand idly by and wait for the wheels of justice to turn in our favor. We can no longer afford to be complicit, compliant, or afraid. The lives of Black and working class people are in peril, and it is through direct action and mobilization that we will be victorious. Know that resistance is a permanent feature in an unjust society, and serves as an assertion of human dignity. Nothing frightens oppressors more that the mobilization of the oppressed.”
Local media outlets who covered the protest made it appear that the main controversy was the coincidence of the date, as if protesters were mainly frustrated by the insensitivity of FOP starting their convention on the anniversary of Mike Brown’s murder. Khalid Raheem, convener for the National Mobilization, responded to this media spin, telling Liberation News that “we wanted to not only emphasize the apparent race-based insensitivity of the Fraternal Order of Police in starting its centennial conference on the same day that Mike Brown was murdered, but utilize the moment as an occasion to educate and mobilize the community regarding the role of the FOP in shielding and protecting dangerous and murderous police.”
In local cases of police brutality, the FOP’s response has been to shift blame from the officers onto the oppressed communities themselves. In a 2010 statement on the vicious beating of Black high school student Jordan Miles by three plainclothes officers who assumed he was an armed drug dealer, the then-Vice President of the FOP Lodge No. 1, Chuck Hanlon said the officers involved had been “nailed to the cross” by public opinion and the decrease in arrests for illegal firearms was a “direct cause” of the “chilling effect” of the officers facing trial. After public pressure mobilized by the national uprisings over the lack of justice for Mike Brown and Eric Garner forced the Pittsburgh Police Bureau to remove the cop who shot and paralyzed Leon Ford Jr. from the streets, FOP Lodge No 1 President Howard McQuillan responded by calling for community leaders and residents to “make themselves more accountable in dealing with the police.” The victim-blaming of the FOP inspired many to take to the streets.
Sporadic protests continued throughout the week as the convention carried on until August 13. Kai Pang, a student at University of Pittsburgh, posted about his experiences at one of these protests on Facebook:
“Never have I been surrounded by so many cops in my life and never have I felt so threatened. Spent four hours being heckled by Fraternal Order of Police members last night – including being pushed, being flicked off, told to f— off, that I was an idiot, dumb—, brainwashed m———–, etc. and ‘All Lives Matter’/’Blue Lives Matter’ countless times, not to mention the cop and his wife who came over with signs, one of which read ‘Suck my Chinese n—.’ All for holding a sign reading ‘Black Lives Matter.’ These are the people that serve around the country keeping us ‘safe.’ As one of many groups of police walked by, a protester asked ‘Who do we call when the police are beating us up?’ ‘Call the morgue,’ one answered.”
The groups making up the National Mobilization decided to carry on past the end of the FOP convention to continue organizing and educating the oppressed communities of Pittsburgh on the relationship between police and state, consolidate the efforts of various groups fighting police brutality, and build greater resistance to the various institutions fostering state-sanctioned police terrorism.