Statement on Police Violence at Pittsburgh Protests

Why does Pittsburgh police only deploy tear gas during Black-led protests? 

We, the members of Bend The Arc: Pittsburgh, were horrified to witness Pittsburgh police gassing protesters at the June 1 protest in East Liberty. Tear gas is a weapon of war, banned by the Geneva Convention. American forces should never use it against American citizens.

We were particularly enraged to see this happening at the end of a peaceful protest, organized by Black activists, in response to yet another senseless murder of a Black person by the police.

Bend the Arc: Pittsburgh has also organized peaceful protests. We’ve seen first-hand how Pittsburgh’s mayor, director of public safety, and police department have a long track record of treating White protesters far differently from how they treat Black ones. Last Monday’s state-sponsored violence stands in stark contrast to the police’s response to our protests. We’ve marched, and we’ve blocked streets, just as the protesters did on Centre Ave. on June 1. When thousands of us marched through Squirrel Hill, clogging the streets for hours, the police behaved like our partners in keeping us safe. When a smaller group of us were arrested for civil disobedience, we were gently handled as we were arrested one-by-one, despite the full riot gear donned by the arresting officers. We’ve never had rubber bullets shot at us, or smoke fired at us. We’ve never been tear gassed. 

The use of tear gas on June 1 was very different from the response to the “re-open” protests just a few weeks ago, when an almost exclusively white, heavily-armed group descended upon the City-County Buildings to confront our city officials where they work, with barely a hint of a reaction from Pittsburgh police.

The double-standard is stunning and sickening. 

On Monday of last week, our Black and Brown neighbors and their allies were speaking out against the very kind of police violence they experienced that evening. As they publicly gave voice to the anguish of their community, the Pittsburgh police took an unprovoked confrontational stance to worsen that anguish. We’ve seen the Pittsburgh police do better. 

We demand that the city protect the rights of Black and Brown protesters to gather peacefully. We call on the City of Pittsburgh and the PPD to immediately develop equitable policies and practices around peaceful public protest. These policies must include channels for the community to hold police officers and leadership accountable. Finally, we call on Mayor Peduto, Public Safety Director Hissrich, and City Council to start an open process of reconsidering how our scarce tax dollars can best be used to achieve what the goals of our police force should be: to build a better Pittsburgh that is safe and secure for all of our residents.


The Members of Bend The Arc: Pittsburgh