Police Harassment Greets G-20 Protesters

Pittsburgh plays host this week to the G-20 summit, a gathering of
leaders of the world's largest national economies and the European
Union. And, as with many past international summits, protest groups are
embroiled in legal battles over their ability to voice opposition to
international political and corporate elites.

On Tuesday morning, lawyers for the ACLU of Pennsylvania and the Center for
Constitutional Rights presented arguments before US District Court Judge
Gary Lancaster describing a pattern of unconstitutional searches and
seizures on the part of local law enforcement against two protest
groups--the Seeds of Peace Collective and the Three Rivers Climate
Convergence (3RCC).

, filed Monday, details how over the past several days
Seeds of Peace workers have been systematically harassed by Pittsburgh
police. This past Friday, police confiscated a school bus from which the
group serves food to demonstrators. The group was able to retrieve the
bus later that night but only after paying a fine. On Sunday, the
Pittsburgh residence where the group was based was raided by more than thirty
police officers armed with submachine guns, who demanded to search the
premises for weapons.

Seeds of Peace Collective member Max Granger told The Nation: "By
providing logistical support, primarily food and medical assistance for
social justice mobilizing, Seeds of Peace is playing an integral role in
making it possible for people to express their First Amendment rights.
Because of this, we have become a primary target for those who wish to
repress this expression, such as the Pittsburgh Police, Secret Service
and Homeland Security."

As of Tuesday at 3 pm, Judge Lancaster had not issued a ruling on the
ACLU/CCR request for an injunction against further unconstitutional
searches and seizures by Pittsburgh police.

Several groups, including 3RCC, have been denied permits for overnight
camping in city parks during the week of demonstrations. The city has
restricted use by protesters of several city parks to the hours of 6 am
to 11 pm. 3RCC has set up a Climate Convergence Camp in Pittsburgh's
Schenley Park. Another encampment highlighting the plight of women
refugees, set up by Code Pink, is located in downtown Pittsburgh's Point State

Tuesday's legal arguments are the latest in a long-running legal
confrontation with the City of Pittsburgh in the run-up to this week's
protests. For several weeks protest groups have been unable to acquire
city permits for use of several public parks and for protest routes that
allow demonstrators to march within sight and sound of the G-20

Meanwhile, even legally permitted protests have faced severe constraints
by local law enforcement. On Sunday evening, a 400-person march
demanding that the G-20 pay greater attention to the plight of workers
who have lost their jobs as a result of the international financial
crisis was momentarily halted by police, who alleged that the group did
not have a permit, which it did have. Then on Tuesday morning the police
similarly blocked an interfaith march downtown, which was also legally
permitted. Police said they were responding to a request by convention
center staff to route the march away from the facility.

Witold Walczak, state director of the ACLU, pointed out
to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
that the area around the
convention center "isn't private property; it's public property. It's a
through street, and they had a permit."

He added: "The more distressing thing for me is that the first two
demonstrations that were the subject of a federal court lawsuit got
bungled by the police, and bungled in a way that they tried to restrict
activity. It's either sheer incompetence or something more insidious.
It's one or the other, and neither is very flattering."

David Meieran, an organizer with 3RCC, described to The Nation
the level of police intimidation during the group's activities. "Not
only have we not received our permit," he said, "but the vehicles that
are related to our climate camp, including the [vehicle belonging to]
Seeds of Peace, have been continually harassed by police, some with
assault weapons, from many different law enforcement agencies."

Explaining the rational for the ACLU/CCR suit, Meieran said, "We're now
back in court demanding that the judge enjoin the city against further
harassment, confiscation of vehicles and arrests."

As barricades are put into place and the police presence downtown
becomes more noticeable, few people on the ground in Pittsburgh seem
confident that the court will remove impediments to this week's

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