Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Protestors vs. Police: Anarchists claim victory in G-20 marches

Published in the Portland Phoenix

Safely home after protesting for two full days, and being among the first American civilians ever attacked with a sonic cannon, two Portlanders are calling their efforts a success.

Wearing black T-shirts reading "The G-20 is full of jagoffs" (a common Pittsburgh insult, apparently), Paul McCarrier and fellow Portlander Jordan (whose last name we are withholding) recounted their experiences in the Phoenix office on Monday, just hours after returning home (see "Protestors Head to the G-20 Summit," by Jeff Inglis, September 25).

During an unpermitted march on September 24, police used a sonic cannon (technically known as a Long-Range Acoustic Device, or LRAD) in an attempt to disperse 1500 or so marchers protesting against capitalism and G-20 policies they say harm the world's people. A high-volume combination of high and low pitches, the sound made McCarrier "sick to my stomach and weak" when it was directed at where he was standing. Jordan, who was not targeted directly, says the low frequencies bounced off buildings and echoed throughout the area. "You can feel it in your skull, rattling your eardrums around," he says. (Hear a sample of the sound, recorded by McCarrier, at

But both pronounced the device a failure, because it did not break up the march. Police also used rubber bullets and pepper gas (a vaporized form of pepper spray).

While police were eventually able to split up the march, protestors regrouped a short while later and continued on their way, according to news reports from Pittsburgh. "It was empowering," McCarrier says of his realization that a group of unarmed protestors was able to stay on the streets in the face of overwhelming police strength. (And in the face of emergency ordinances that allowed people to openly carry assault rifles but not gas masks or PVC pipe.)

They were able to do so, McCarrier says, by being collaboratively organized and by using technology, such as Twitter and text messages, similarly to how Iranian protestors communicated back in June.

The following day, protestors also succeeded at keeping the streets, even as violence flared. It began peacefully enough, with Buddhist monks and others marching to protest the harsh military junta ruling Burma. Even that group was surrounded by armed riot police, to intimidate "anyone who wants to even be associated with any sort of dissent or protest," McCarrier says.

Later in the day someone broke a window at a BMW dealership, and that likely provoked a startling move, caught on a bystander's video camera: Military personnel clad in camouflage snatched a protestor off the street in broad daylight, stuffed him (without bothering to search or handcuff him) into the back of an unmarked car, and sped away.

"They probably did that to scare the shit out of people," McCarrier says. "It was after that that people started throwing rocks at the cops."

"We stretched them thin," says Jordan, noting that on Friday night, police radios carried messages indicating vehicles had run out of fuel and officers' radios' batteries were running low. At one point, dispatchers announced that cops were no longer responding to calls throughout most of the city, to be able to focus on activities in the university area. There, police surrounded dormitories and fired pepper gas through the hallways and into the courtyards.

McCarrier says police also fired pepper balls, which the Boston police stopped using in 2004 after one killed a 21-year-old college student celebrating the Red Sox clinching the American League pennant.

A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter covering the protest and police response was arrested, according to the paper's report, which described police surrounding a group, ordering the people to disperse but giving no route for them to do so, and following them even when they tried to leave.

But despite the difficulties, "the anarchists won," McCarrier says, basing his claim on the fact that marchers were in the streets for more than 12 hours on both September 24 and 25. Police spent an estimated $32 million on security and equipment for the weekend, which amounts to roughly $16,000 per protestor. McCarrier and Jordan say that money could have been much better spent helping the people who live in Pittsburgh and building up community organizations.

They are both looking forward to future opportunities to exercise their "rights to freedom of speech and assembly," and wondering what the police will do differently next time.