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Peaceful Pittsburgh Protest

I hope to give a perspective into the protest that occurred on Saturday in Pittsburgh. I want to be clear that I went with the intent to protest peacefully the injustices that occurred in the recent weeks, and systemic racism that has afflicted black people and this country for generations.

I caught up with the marchers around Fifth and Grant. Once you got into downtown you could hear the chanting, so I followed the noise. What I saw as I turned the corner was the largest crowd I have seen outside of a championship parade making its way up the street. I began walking and chanting along with the crowd. The atmosphere was just as charged as a parade, but with a different focus. (Pgh Public Safety page gave updates to the route better than I could here, check it out.) I kept my eye out for my cousin as I moved forward in the crowd. As I looked around I took full notice of the individuals in the crowd. I saw people from seemingly all walks of life, marching in solidarity. Young and old, a spectrum of colors and ethnicities walked, and most wearing masks too. It started to swell me with pride as we made our way through the city streets. I stepped off to the side to try and call my cousin. While I could have a conversation with him, finding him proved more difficult. He ultimately left shortly after the crowd paused under the highway. The crowd paused as motorists revved their engines, drummers kept the rhythm, and the crowd engaged in multiple chants of the names of our brothers and sisters. Chants of "I can't breathe,” "Say his name,” and other call/response. I called out as many names as I could remember and clapped right along.

It was the first of many powerful moments that day.

The next moment is one that many have heard about by now. We passed through a portion of the Duquesnes campus heading towards PPG Paints Arena. (We were ultimately headed towards Freedom Corner, but where I was in the crowd, I didn't know that.) As we marched up Centre Avenue, I saw what I believe was the first cop car on the path. Previously, others and I helped get drivers turned around who were being impeded by protesters. Most honked in approval and went about their day. Now I can't speak on intent or political affiliation, but what I saw was hundreds of people walking past this cop car. It was unattended, and I simply thought the officers it belonged to were at the arena. Then, as I got 30 feet from the vehicle, I saw people move quickly away. In the void created, I saw a young white man swinging something at a rear window. A man and woman confronted him and he again pounded on the window. The young man, who has since been identified, then began smashing the rear window again, succeeding this time. As one began to pound, three more white men began to hit the car and jump on the hood. "There are children right here!," a woman yelled while shielding them. People helped move children and elders away, as now people of all ethnicities began smashing the car. Protesters yelled for them to stop, that it wasn't the message to be sending. Hard to physically get involved with those who are armed and angry though. At that moment, I made my way away from the car.

Many people had not taken notice of the events occurring with the car and were still moving up the road. The crowd had now become almost two groups, with stragglers catching up to the destruction of the cop car. Mounted units attempted to stop the destruction but were quickly, and quite literally, chased out of there and up into the parking lot by some. Not soon after, the car was beaten to a pulp and littered with graffiti. The second group had begun marching onto 579 it seemed, knocking down construction signs along the way. Despite multiple pleas by older people to stop and leave them be. I made my way into the parking lot along with a large portion of the crowd as we witnessed the cop car catch fire. As a young man near me had grabbed a broken glass bottle, I urged him to leave it, as he would only hurt someone or himself if he continued. Thankfully he listened, and it seemed as if not just him but the crowd had calmed down finally. The crowd watching the burning car now collected down the hill in the intersection. Again we filled the air with chants for justice, and peace.

The next moment is one I will never forget. As we began to march back down the road we had come, a squad of police were waiting at the bottom of the hill, standing several feet apart in a circle. As we moved closer to the police, we raised our arms up, chanting "Hands up, don't shoot." However, they did not yield to let us pass, so we took a knee, raising a fist in the air. At that moment, I was roughly three rows of people from the front, and watched as more officers arrived. Weirdly, one had a backpack I thought. The man with the backpack stood in the middle as others gathered near him.

As if on cue, a rock followed by a water bottle flew through the air towards the officers. Within a few seconds, I heard the words "Tear gas!,” and saw several canisters being thrown at the crowd.

As intended, we dispersed to avoid the gas, and I began to look for anyone who had been hit. A man with dreads was laying on the ground. I ran over and sat him up, when a woman came in with milk and some solution for his eyes. As others ran over to help, anyone with more solutions were sent to help others. We tied the man's hair back, tilted his head and helped as best we could. Once he could stand, someone walked him off towards the parking garage. I looked up and saw the officers had seemingly tear gassed the crowd then ran into their vehicles as they circled around to leave the area. Within a few minutes, the officers had left completely, chased by water bottle-throwing protesters as they fled, leaving only one vehicle behind. This vehicle was quickly destroyed and set ablaze as well, with much more fervor than the former.

I turned and made my way back up the hill as the organizers were screaming on the megaphones for people to go home. Tear gas was the first escalation, I was told. A large group of the protesters then made their way through downtown, again turning around cars who would be stuck. We marched through the heart of the city again, this time with chants of "We shut it down" and repeating the names of fallen brothers and sisters. The whole crowd unified by the experience of the day. As we approached the Andy Warhol Bridge, I made my exit.

I wanted to make my voice heard; I had done that. Now was the time to get home before things would continue to escalate. As the crowd marched onto the bridge, I slipped off to the right and away I went. Time to reflect, recharge, and engage myself in the work needed to help produce the changes to the system.

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