Militant Journalism

Pittsburgh mayor and DA clamp down on anti-racist activists

Last week, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala, Jr. refiled charges against 24 anti-racist activists. The refiling was due to what the DA’s office described as “tangible evidence” recently submitted by the Pittsburgh Police “at the direction of [Pittsburgh] Mayor [Bill] Peduto.”

The original charges filed against the 24 anti-racist demonstrators were withdrawn by the DA on June 18, 2020, because the charges had been “badly lacking in evidentiary sufficiency.” The charges originally stemmed from a June 1 demonstration in the East Liberty neighborhood of Pittsburgh in response police murders of Black people that sparked a nationwide rebellion. Out of 46 arrests on June 1, 39 demonstrators had been charged with offenses such as disorderly conduct and unlawful assembly and subsequently had those charges withdrawn by the District Attorney’s office due to lack of evidence.

All of the anti-racist activists whose charges had been withdrawn and subsequently refiled were charged with “failure to disperse” from what the Pittsburgh Police had arbitrarily decided was an “unlawful” assembly. However, the Pittsburgh Police’s own unlawful actions and wonton use of force on June 1 has led to a class action lawsuit against the City of Pittsburgh, which has also named Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and other city officials as defendants.

The lawsuit, which is still pending, describes a peaceful protest which was escorted by city police through East Liberty. Police were redirecting traffic and communicating with protestors until a group of unarmed demonstrators eventually met with a contingent of SWAT team officers nearly the same in number, clad in riot-gear and gasmasks. The police then surrounded the group of demonstrators and blocked off nearby streets.

A curfew had been placed on the city by Mayor Peduto that went into effect at 8:30 p.m., but at approximately 7:17 p.m., the police declared that the demonstration was illegal and ordered demonstrators to leave. The police then deployed an LRAD (Long Range Acoustic Device), flash-bang grenades and tear gas. They also fired “less-lethal” rounds, such as rubber bullets, into the crowd. Police were witnessed pepper spraying demonstrators in close proximity even though they were attempting to surrender, as well as throwing teargas at demonstrators as they attempted to leave.

Seven months have elapsed since the initial charges had been withdrawn against the demonstrators, who stood in solidarity with victims of racist police killings and demanded an end to the war on Black America. But on January 8, within 48 hours of the fascist incursion into the halls of the United States Capitol Building, charges against anti-racist activists were refiled implicitly at the direction of Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto. After the announcement by the District Attorney’s office, Peduto’s office put out a separate statement, claiming that the DA’s office had been “presenting disinformation,” but it is unclear exactly what this meant.

The fascist insurrection that occurred in D.C. on Jan. 6 put on display the hypocrisy of the U.S. government, as a largely white, fascist mob was able to break into the Capitol Building during a joint session of Congress with the actual assistance of elements of the Capitol Police. This stands in stark contrast to the violent repression anti-racist and left-wing organizers experienced throughout the country this past summer.

The decision to refile charges against anti-racist demonstrators, in this context, highlights the hostility Democratic Party politicians like Mayor Peduto and District Attorney Zappala have towards the movement to end racist police violence, or racism generally.

To the leaders of the two ruling-class parties, there is no distinction between a righteous cause or a disdainful one; what matters to them is whether the cause challenges their power or furthers their ambitions. The capitalist class and the bourgeois politicians are insulated from the devastating police violence that terrorizes communities of color and the endless, precarious economic state that working-class people experience. The capitalist class along with their politicians and police agents remain unaccountable, while working people face an unforgiving and capricious system that can levy arbitrary punishment months after the fact, or end a persons life while they sleep in their own bed, all without having committed a crime.

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