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Rights groups criticize police tactics at G-20

[JURIST] Police used unnecessary force to disperse demonstrations at the Pittsburgh Group of 20 (G-20) Summit [official websites], several civil liberties groups said Friday. Witold "Vic" Walczak, Legal Director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania (ACLU-PA) [advocacy website] said that police deployed throughout the city in a manner that prevented lawful demonstrations [AP report], suppressed free speech and failed to prevent criminal activity. ACLU-PA is collecting complaints [ACLU materials] about law enforcement activities during protests against the G-20 meeting, and has already filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] on behalf of Seeds of Peace and Three Rivers Climate Convergence (3RCC) [advocacy websites] alleging that police violated their constitutional rights. The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) [advocacy website] questioned [press release] the methods used by police during protests in the Lawrenceville and Oakland [JURIST reports] sections of Pittsburgh:

Police deployed chemical irritants, including CS gas, and long-range acoustic devices (LRAD) in residential neighborhoods on narrow streets where families and small children were exposed. Scores of riot police formed barricades at many intersections throughout neighborhoods miles away from the downtown area and the David Lawrence Convention Center. Outside the Courtyard Marriott in Shadyside, police deployed smoke bombs in the absence of protest activity, forcing bystanders and hotel residents to flee the area.

The NLG also noted that individual officers lacked visible identification, frustrating the work of NLG and ACLU legal observers. Police reportedly used similar tactics during a Friday night protest at Oakland's Schenley Plaza, where 110 people were arrested [PG report]. Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl [official website] has, however, praised police for showing restraint[PG report] and credited them with providing for a peaceful summit.

Some 60 people were arrested [PG report] during protests Thursday in Oakland, and several others suffered minor injuries. This was in marked contrast to peaceful protests [JURIST report] that took place earlier in the day when protesters took to Pittsburgh's streets to call attention to a range of human rights issues around the world, including in Tibet [WPXI report], Myanmar [JURIST news archive] and Ethiopia [PG report]. Last week, the Pittsburgh City Council [official website] passed [JURIST report] an ordinance [text, PDF] in anticipation of the G-20 summit that allowed police to cite people in possession of certain items if they intend to use them unlawfully. The temporary ordinance expires at the end of the month. It prohibits the possession of tools or other items such as handcuffs, padlocks, and pipes with an intent to use those items to block access to streets, sidewalks, and public buildings or to defeat crowd control orders. A proposal to ban masks and hoods [text, PDF] during the summit was voted down [PG report] by the City Council.

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