Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is perhaps best known as the home of the Pirates and the Steelers, and the birthplace of the mighty Ohio River. This week the city is trying to put on its best face for the International Coal Conference and the G20 Summit of world leaders, chaired by President Barack Obama.
"The Pittsburgh Summit is an important opportunity to continue the hard work that we have done in confronting the global economic crisis, and renewing prosperity for our people," said President Obama in a statement. "Pittsburgh stands as a bold example of how to create new jobs and industries while transitioning to a 21st century economy."
Yet thus far this week, Pittsburgh has shown itself to be a bold example of police harassment of private citizens.
Hundreds of people from across America have arrived in Pittsburgh to voice their concerns about the fundamentally undemocratic nature of the G20, in which a small group of people from the largest, most powerful nations make decisions behind closed doors that will affect the health and prosperity of millions of poor people in smaller, developing countries.
The protesters are relying on food provided by two small volunteer groups, Seeds of Peace Collective and Everybody's Kitchen, which have refurbished old school buses into traveling kitchens. These buses have fed thousands of people for free at disaster sites, such as during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
"People protesting the G20 are hungry for justice, they are hungry for democracy -- and they are just plain hungry," said Eric Blevins of Grand View Tennessee, an activist with Mountain Justice, a group fighting mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia. "We rely on Seeds of Peace and Everybody's Kitchen."
Pittsburgh police have targeted both traveling kitchens for continuous harassment since last week.
According to Casey Capitolo, a mother of two, Dean's list college student and organizer with the Three Rivers Climate Convergence, "The police have targeted the kindest, gentlest, most compassionate people that you could ever hope to meet. They have driven all the way from Montana to feed people, and have gotten nothing but a nightmare since they have arrived."
Capitolo initially allowed the Everybody's Kitchen bus to park in her driveway after they arrived Friday night (Sept 18), but the police showed up and claimed that the bus was hanging over the sidewalk. As a helicopter hovered overhead, police began measuring the height of the bus and the bus tires, trying to find a violation. "We are the most harmless of people," Capitolo stated.
At the Landslide Community Farm, an organization that teaches people how to grow food, 15-20 carloads of police showed up late at night and stayed for 6 to 8 hours, according to Capitolo. She said that on Sunday night around midnight, a police raid with 18 carloads of heavily armed police descended on the kitchen buses, which were parked on private property in Lawrenceville, a Pittsburgh suburb.
The kitchen buses "are not presenting any threat at all. The police are all pumped up about terrorists and anarchists. They are all dressed up for a party and have nowhere to go," said Capitolo.
A news article in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, "Flash Mobs Test City's Tolerance," states that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Seeds of Peace and Three Rivers Climate Convergence, which claims that "30 officers armed with semi-automatic weapons raided private property in Lawrenceville and attempted to search the buses with no warrant."
"It's the police that are making it a problem -- they seem to be doing some kind of pre-summit pre-emptive strike to discourage people from protesting, and trying to make them out to be trouble-makers," said Danae Clark of the Larimar Green Team.
All of this harassment of non-violent citizens would be somewhat understandable if it was happening under the Bush Administration. When asked how this could happen under Obama, Capitolo noted that the Patriot Act is still in effect -- President Obama can't change that. "Our right to assemble and freedom of speech have been taken away -- that structure hasn't changed."