Social Policy & Programs Consulting
Training and Services for agencies working toward social and economic justice
Pittsburgh Police, the G-20 Arrests, and the US Constitution
October 21, 2009
During the week of the G-20 summit, Pittsburgh police and their deputies arrested 190 people on various charges relating to the G-20 protests and demonstrations. So far, the courts have dismissed charges against some of those defendants and reduced charges for others.
The protesters and their allies are outraged at the police for their blatant civil rights violations. I wholeheartedly agree. Before the G-20 summit week, I said that Pittsburgh should encourage the protests, not stifle them, and that they must put a leash on the police. They did neither. There are three distinct groups of people involved in this discussion.
My article, Disrupting and protesting the G-20, expressed my opinion that the violent, destructive anarchist protesters were wrong and that they did not accomplish their stated goals. I was in the building with the G-20 delegates. They did not disrupt the G-20. They disrupted school children and their parents, small business owners, residents of working-class neighborhoods, and people who work for very minimal wages. They did not make life better for anyone. They deserved to be arrested. If convicted, they deserve to be punished for their behavior. The G-20 is no excuse for criminal behavior. The G-20 leaders have a moral responsibility, and so do these idiots.
We should honor and commend those who participated in The People’s March, and others who behaved appropriately, maturely, and responsibly. Had I not been working in the convention center, I would have been with them.
Most of the spectators and journalists are innocent too. You most certainly have every right to peaceful protest and to walk unmolested on public streets. But given the Pittsburgh police department’s history, you really shouldn’t be surprised when they are out of control.
Without prior experience, the Pittsburgh police just don't know how to handle such massive demonstrations. So they reverted to their Rambo mentality. They treated everyone standing in the street as a criminal and an enemy. So now, District Attorney Stephen Zappala and the courts are dismissing many of those arrests. That’s not good enough. This kind of blatant violation of civil rights happens all too often throughout the United States, every day. Cops who violate our constitutional rights are dangerous. We have to stop them.
The police are always quick to claim that it’s only “a few bad apples” in their ranks who violate the law. The Fraternal Order of Police, their nationwide union, claims
To support and defend the Constitution of the United States; . . . to promote and foster the enforcement of law and order; . . . to create and maintain tradition of esprit de corps insuring fidelity to duty under all conditions and circumstances;
to cultivate a spirit of fraternalism and mutual helpfulness among our members and the people we serve;
to increase the efficiency of the law enforcement profession and thus more firmly
to establish the confidence of the public in the service dedicated to the protection of life and property.
So if the majority of the cops are honest, decent, and fair, then why don’t they have the guts to speak up against the criminals in their ranks? Why do they have a legal defense plan, but not a word about their own constitutional violations on their website? Gee. If they stopped committing crimes, they wouldn't need so much legal defense, would they?
This applies to every town, borough, township, and municipality in the country. A law would be the ideal solution, but the mayors and police chiefs in the country still manage the police departments. Why do they let the cops get away with this?
Why are Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, County Executive Dan Onorato, and the Pittsburgh and Allegheny County Council members silent on this subject?
Just as civilians face arrest and penalties when they violate the law, so police officers should also face penalties when they make false arrests and deliberately violate civil rights. Ideally, federal law should address the issue. However, until we can get Congress to act, every town, city, county, and state should make it a crime for any police officer to knowingly arrest someone on false pretenses, with enhanced penalties for civil rights violations. Mayors and police chiefs must insist that their officers obey the constitution and the laws that already exist.
We also have to change the way we hire cops. We need to stop hiring people who are so willing to throw away their oath of office and violate our Constitution just because they feel like it. We have to ELECT people who are willing to change this for us. This should be an issue in every election – mayor, council, governor, legislator, and president. The next time a candidate knocks on your door, ask her or him what they intend to do about it.
Naturally, we have to be careful about the wording of such a law. Police officers still have a difficult job, and they must be able to do it. I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know what the details will look like in the end. I’m just opening the topic for discussion. But we must not tolerate cops who pride themselves on violating our constitution.
Okay, Luke Ravenstahl, Dan Onorato, Bob Casey, Arlen Specter, Ed Rendell, Mike Doyle, Tim Murphy, Jason Altmire, John Murtha, the Pennsylvania General Assembly, Pittsburgh City Council, Allegheny County Council, and the mayors, commissioners, and council members of every one of the 129 other municipalities in Allegheny County – yes, I’m talking to you. What are you going to do about this?
Go ahead. I dare you.
Patricia A. O'Malley
Social Policy & Programs Consulting ~ Community Matters
P.O. Box 97803 ~ Pittsburgh, PA 15227 ~ 412-310-4886 ~ firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright Patricia A. O'Malley ~ All rights reserved