FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE –
At 2:00 PM on Sunday June 11th just past the intersection of Washington Place and Centre Avenue, police officers dressed in riot gear helmets, padded vests, and clubs, with some officers around the periphery wielding shotguns with rubber bullets, blocked a group of pride parade marchers.
The People’s Pride March 2k17 was a group of over 600 marchers who secured a permit to march behind the EQT Equality March. The permit was granted for 2 representatives of the march “at a distance of 50 feet behind EQT marchers”. According to the event page on social media, the EQT Equality March was set to start at 12:30 PM from 1320 Centre Avenue whereas the People’s Pride March was set to start at 1:30 PM from 359 Crawford Street, over 1000 feet away.
EQT marchers lined up along Fullerton Street whereas People’s Pride marchers expected to line up along Crawford Street but instead were directed by police to line up on Centre Avenue, police stating that they needed to keep Crawford Street open due to difficulties with traffic. This placed People’s Pride marchers at 1420 Centre Avenue while police created a barrier between People’s Pride marchers and EQT marchers, who were instead at 1320 Centre Avenue, a distance of just over 500 feet.
Originally the People’s Pride March was planned to start at 1100 Liberty Avenue, continuing onto Grant Street, and turn right onto Fifth Avenue, wrapping around Stanwix Street and ending at Market Square, but this permit request was denied. The group organized with the city to create a more suitable route and one of the options given from the city to the group was for the People’s Pride March to follow the EQT March at a distance of 50 feet. This permit adaptation was granted.
The total route was just over a mile, which would take a regular individual at an average pace almost 20 minutes to complete. Both marches were permitted to take this same route.
By 1:30 PM, the EQT march was no longer visible from Centre Avenue, and People’s Pride marchers were organized and ready to proceed. After 15 minutes of waiting for police to confirm that EQT marchers reached certain check points and were not delayed, the People’s Pride march started at 1:45 PM. They were instructed to reach Centre Avenue and Washington Place and to pause. After beginning their march, pausing, and then waiting a few minutes, police communicated that the march was going to be delayed for 30 minutes as they wanted the EQT marchers to all arrive at Market Square before letting People’s Pride marchers proceed.
An anxious and physically overheated group of marchers requested to proceed, explaining their permit status and expressing concern for growing anxieties, and pushed forward, traveling 200 feet until several police vehicles drove to the front of the march to pause. The marchers then took to the sidewalk after which police lined up with riot gear to stop the march.
After several minutes of chanting from the marchers, “We have a right to be on the sidewalk”, “We have a permit”, “Hands up, don’t shoot”, and requesting that lawyers in the group step forward to de-escalate the situation, the police requested two minutes before allowing the marchers to proceed. An individual stepped forward to start a timer and shouted the time remaining after every 15 seconds. At the two-minute mark, police withdrew their weapons and allowed the march to continue. The remainder of the march was led by three police on motorcycles and completed at market square by 2:30 PM, as planned.
The People’s Pride March 2k17 event page listed on several occasions before the event anti-riot messages which stated:
“Although we all share the same anger and frustration we must also acknowledge that the People’s Pride March 2k17 is NOT a battle against EQT Equality Marchers nor will this amount to a riot or destruction of our beautiful city of Pittsburgh. We will not be fighting in the streets, we will be protesting peacefully, resisting confidently, and celebrating loudly! This march is about love, liberation, pride, and spotlighting our marginalized communities.
End of statement
Update – On Monday, June 12, the Chief of the Pittsburgh Police, Scott Schubert, called Ciora Thomas to personally apologize for the police response. It is unclear if there was any actual policy violation with the use of riot gear or where Chief Schubert was physically during this situation. It is also unclear whom was the commanding officer at the scene or if the City or the ACLU or other bodies had observers on site. To my knowledge, no elected officials were present or participated in the Peoples March.
I’ve been informed that allegedly the EQT March was stopped to allow for a firetruck to get through in response to an emergency. That should be verifiable. If so, why not just tell the Peoples Pride Marchers what was happening? A little accurate information goes a long way toward defusing frustration. No reasonable person objects to making way for an emergency vehicle. Why not have the City send up an ambulance or fire pickup with water for the marchers and an explanation? There are many steps before riot gear becomes necessary.
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