Pittsburgh preparing for Antwon Rose protests to continue through summer
Pittsburgh officials anticipate protests related to the police shooting of Antwon Rose will continue throughout the summer and they are preparing by studying riots that happened in Ferguson, Mo., and other cities following fatal police encounters with citizens.
Mayor Bill Peduto said Monday that Pittsburgh would continue its policy of permitting peaceful protests to occur. He said police would use force and don riot gear only as a last resort if a protest turns violent or extremely disruptive.
City officers have so far responded to seven protests, including several in the borough of East Pittsburgh, following the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Antwon Rose by an East Pittsburgh officer.
Peduto said police in Ferguson made a mistake by entering a protest clothed in full riot gear following the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, on Aug. 9, 2014, by a white police officer.
“Ferguson officers escalated the situation at the very beginning,” Peduto said. “Instead of looking at the situation as handling a protest they went in with full gear on. It has been looked at by numerous organizations. It has been recognized as a fatal flaw that caused 72 hours worth of uncontrollable action. Instead of diminishing the amount of protests they actually increased it.”
He said Pittsburgh won't make the same mistake.
“Our role is to de-escalate situations, that our officers go in with plain clothes, that they work to make sure the people who are demonstrating are safe and that they have a route to be able to have their demonstration take,” Peduto said. “Gear should be used in two situations. One, where there is danger to the officer and the crowd has decided to become aggressive against the officer, or two, where the situation warrants arrests and the officers will need to have additional protection.”
Robert Swartzwelder, president of Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge 1, said officers need riot gear for protection. He suggested the city should have riot officers on standby and out of sight in case a situation turns violent.
“If it turns violent then you need to have a contingency in place to immediately respond, because that's when people get hurt,” Swartzwelder said.
Peduto said he believes protests would continue and that intelligence officers monitoring social media have found “several viable threats” against police. Officers have been placed on 12-hour shifts and are patrolling with two officers in a car.
They also discovered that a city officer posted a comment to social media following Rose's death that “created additional duress during this situation, but also put his fellow officers in potential danger.” Peduto would not say what the officer posted.
The officer, who has not been identified, has been reassigned pending an investigation by the Office of Municipal Investigations.
The city was calm Monday during Rose's funeral, but a group of demonstrators gathered at the Hot Metal Bridge connecting Oakland to the South Side to protest the federal government's imprisonment of immigrants.
Peduto said Pittsburgh police have not arrested any of the demonstrators in the city, but they charged a tow truck driver during one protest for inciting the protesters.
“This is something that we are anticipating to occur throughout the summer for every major event and at different milestone events or anniversaries,” the mayor said. “Should this go to trial, which I believe it should, then we'll see probably demonstrations throughout the year. Our goal is to allow people to exercise their First Amendment Rights while at the same time keeping peace and protection throughout the city.”