Police plan to charge driver of car that plowed through protesters Friday
Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich’s biggest fear about ongoing demonstrations nearly happened Friday when a car drove through a crowd protesting outside PNC Park.
Two people were injured, according to police. One suffered an ankle injury and the other a back injury and bruises. Police have the car’s license plate number and video footage and plan to charge the driver, who was not identified.
Hissrich, talking to reporters after protesters again took to the streets Tuesday morning, said someone could have been killed.
“The problem that we’re facing right now, and we experienced it this morning, is we had some drivers get out of the vehicles and basically start screaming at the protesters,” he said.
Activists and residents have taken to the streets during a series of demonstrations in Pittsburgh and its suburbs after East Pittsburgh police Officer Michael Rosfeld shot and killed 17-year-old Antwon Rose.
The demonstrations on busy city streets during morning and evening rush hours have angered motorists stuck in traffic.
Protesters on Tuesday marched from the Hill District to Downtown. Hissrich said the city expects demonstrations to continue through summer, and he called for better communications between organizers and city officials.
“It would be very beneficial to us and to the protesters if they would at least provide us their routes (and) how many people are going to potentially show up,” he said. “There’s very little cooperation with the organizers, and we are trying to solidify that.”
Christian Carter, 18, of East Liberty, a prominent figure in the demonstrations, said he shouldn’t have to tell the city where and when protests might happen.
“It’s my First Amendment right to protest,” Carter said. “I’m not asking you to escort me anywhere. I’m not afraid to get run over by a car. I don’t need police to block the street. I’m going to protest where I want to.”
Pittsburgh City Code requires a permit for protests that block streets and sidewalks, but Hissrich said the city is not enforcing the rule because of the potential for violence.
“We’re making an exception,” he said, acknowledging the inconvenience for drivers. “They’re going to march anyway, and we know that. I don’t want to get into a mass arrest situation just because they want to voice their concerns and their opinions. Our primary goal here is to de-escalate a very tense situation throughout the city. That’s why we’re not coming out in riot gear and saying, ‘No, you can’t march.’ ”
Shouting matches broke out during protests Friday, Saturday and Tuesday between angry drivers and demonstrators.
Police plan to file charges by summons against a tow truck driver who confronted demonstrators Friday in the North Side following the incident at PNC Park, according to Deputy Chief Thomas Stangrecki. Police have not arrested any protesters demonstrating in the city.
Officers will break up a demonstration if it poses a threat to public safety or blocks access to critical streets. Police on Saturday ordered protesters to leave Carson Street after three hours.
“It will be a judgement call between the (police) command staff as to when enough is enough,” Hissrich said. “Today, we allowed them to block roads for up to 20 minutes, and they continued on. We can live with that. However, we have to look at the locations they’re blocking.”
The city has been using snow plows and police cruisers to block traffic flow, but they have to keep moving the barriers.
“It’s very difficult because you would like to lead the protesters, but you don’t know where they’re going,” Hissrich said. “We’re basically playing catch-up with them.”
He described the protest situation as draining for city finances and employees. He could not provide the exact overtime cost but said it’s significant. Police officers will continue working 12-hour shifts at least through the weekend, he said.