Pittsburgh — When it was announced that the G20 Summit would be held in Pittsburgh, most residents thought it would be great for the local economy, a chance to dispel the “shot and a beer” steel worker stigmata and showcase some of the finer points of the city. What should have been one of the best opportunities to promote the city has turned into a police state. Businesses in and around the downtown area have been subject to wide scale investigation. A leaked list of possible protest sites surfaced last week and named PNC Financial Services, National Robotics, UPMC, University of Pittsburgh Biomedical Towers and the new Rivers Casino as points of interest. Private security for these areas were in place at the beginning of the week and are expected to remain there until the end of the weekend.
Entering the downtown area on foot was my only option as all streets and roadways were closed to thru-traffic. The only exceptions; delivery vehicles with a printed manifest, Port Authority buses or shuttle transport vehicles, police and emergency vehicles, residents of the downtown area that had proof of residency and official delegate motorcades. Metal detectors and magnetic hand wands were in use for everyone that wanted to pass a checkpoint and all bags, briefcases, backpacks and other parcels were inspected.
My first few attempts to enter downtown Pittsburgh before the G20 Summit started were frustrating. I was denied entry because I could not successfully pass through the metal detectors without setting them off. Even after I produced a notarized letter from my doctor stating that I wear a prosthetic limb I was still denied entry. Today there were more local police officers on the scene and after they inspected my prosthetic and checked my backpack I was allowed to enter “the red zone”. Outside the barricaded areas protesters were already making their presence known.
The Secret Service holds a strong presence in a three block radius around the David L. Lawrence Convention Center where the G20 Summit is taking place. Local law enforcement, military reservists and SWAT members were also placed at strategic points in the red zone. Neighborhoods around the downtown area include the Strip District, Polish Hill, Bloomfield and Shadyside. These areas experienced mild traffic congestion during the morning rush hour however it is anticipated that the even traffic will be gridlocked for hours as section of Route 28 and several bridges are closed when the G20 members are escorted to their dinner event. The rivers surrounding the city are being patrolled by the Coast Guard as well as City of Pittsburgh officers.
While on foot and trying to make my way to my bank on Smithfield Street I was stopped several times and asked rather curious questions. After the third time I asked then exactly why I was being questioned over and over. I was told that I was displaying “nervous tendencies”; when I asked for a definition I was told the following. “We have observed you reaching in your pockets over and over, shifting the weight of your backpack, looking over your right and left shoulder every few feet and walking with an erratic pattern” I explained that my iPod iTouch was in my pocket and I was switching songs, the shoulder straps of my backpack were sweaty from walking so much, I constantly check my blind spots for foot traffic and my erratic walking was not erratic; it was trying to avoid uneven sections of the sidewalk and bricks that weren’t level. Once satisfied with my explanation I was allowed to continue to my bank and received no further questioning.
Most of downtown Pittsburgh was empty; a vast majority of banks and ‘targets of interest’ were closed. Even so, the ATM machine at my bank was operational. Establishments that were open had sidewalk advertisements for lunch and dinner specials as well as temporary signs in windows saying, “Open For G20”. When I started taking pictures of various hot spots that are usually jam packed at lunch time I was approached by private security and asked to delete the images from my phone. I was not told exactly why I needed to delete them but with such a strong police, Secret Service and military presence I didn’t want to end up spending the next 48 hours being detained and questioned.
The Greater Pittsburgh Airport, Amtrak and Greyhound have all modified their transit schedules. Both Amtrak and Greyhound have moved their arrival and departure points outside the red zone but will not be resuming their regular schedules until Monday. The Greater Pittsburgh Airport will be experiencing blackout arrivals and departures until late Saturday. For commuters who travel into the city from the suburbs, most were given Wednesday, Thursday and Friday off or allowed to telecommute. This also impacted regular Port Authority bus routes because of the closed sections of the downtown area.
Protestors started their activities long before the dignitaries arrived for the G20. So far over 50 arrests have been made and 32 people have been detained and questioned about suspicious activity. Police asked for concerned citizens to contact them if they noticed anything suspicious or out of the ordinary in their community. Large amounts of PVC pipe have been found in alleys and behind buildings; police suspect that these items were to be used in protests and demonstrations. Greenpeace, Oxfam America, the Pittsburgh G-20 Resistance Project and Zero Carbon have all made their presence known. It remains to be seen if the anticipated riots and physical confrontations that plagued former G20 Summits will occur in Pittsburgh.