By Ryan Deto
Pittsburgh City Paper
June 10, 2020 – There have now been more than a dozen protests across the Pittsburgh region for George Floyd, a Black man killed by Minneapolis Police, and Breonna Taylor, a Black woman killed by Louisville police. The protests are condemning police brutality against Black people; the tens of thousands of Pittsburghers who have marched are calling for swift and decisive reforms to police departments.
The vast majority of the protests have concluded without incident or serious confrontation with police. But there has been a lot of confusion around what happened during protests that took place on May 30 and June 1, both of which ended in confrontations with police and police firing tear gas and sponge rounds or rubber bullets.
Many reports have largely relied on information solely from police. And considering that police admitted lying about using tear gas during the protest on June 1, Pittsburgh City Paper is attempting to document what happened on May 30 and June 1 through its own reporting, videos on social media, and other reports from journalists on the ground during these events.
University of Pittsburgh criminology professor and national policing expert David Harris also provided insight after CP informed him in detail of both what has been reported and what CP witnessed on both May 30 and June 1.
Here is what is known from the protest and events following on May 30:
More than 3,000 people marched for about two hours Downtown to PPG Paints Arena without incident. Shortly after they arrived outside the arena, a 20-year-old white Shaler man allegedly damaged an empty police vehicle, spray-painting it and smashing its windows. Shortly after, more young men, both white and Black, continued to damage the vehicle with blunt instruments like baseball bats. Then, several police officers arrived on horseback and surrounded the vehicle, causing the crowd to recede. Some protesters threw a few water bottles at the officers, hitting at least one in the back. The police officers then rode away from the car toward Downtown.
After mounted officers left, more damage was done to the empty vehicle and then it was set on fire. Calls began for the protest to disperse from some apparent protest organizers. At this point, the vast majority of the crowd left. However, about 200 people remained and began demonstrating on Washington Place in front of several police officers, who had already lined up, in riot gear such as face shields, helmets, and batons. Protesters kneeled en masse, and then were instructed to disperse. Then, one or two tear-gas canisters were fired in front of protesters. Many retreated, but then shortly returned. At that point, police broke their line and retreated from the scene entirely. One empty undercover police vehicle was left behind. A small group of protesters then smashed it and set it on fire.
After this, more protesters dispersed and left the scene, but a group of about 100 remained and marched back Downtown. WESA reported that “store windows were shattered along Smithfield Street, and some looting was reported” and that “police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse crowds, as demonstrators again used signage to erect barricades.” Pittsburgh Mayor Peduto tweeted at the time that “those vandalizing Downtown … will be arrested” and protesters who continued Downtown had “turned on the very mission, and more importantly — the people, you supposedly marched for two hours ago.”