‘Unacceptable': Pittsburgh police, public safety issue statement as investigation into weekend protests continues

Police, public safety officials issue statement after weekend protests seen widely on social media

PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh public safety officials issued a statement after videos were widely shared on social media over the holiday weekend showing protesters confronting restaurant patrons downtown.

Here is the statement in full:

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Pittsburgh Public Safety and Pittsburgh Police have stated repeatedly that officers will protect citizens’ First Amendment rights. The Civil Affairs Unit will continue to attempt to communicate with protest organizers and Cycle Units will continue to close roadways around protesters in order to keep everyone safe.

However, the actions of a few protesters last weekend were unacceptable. Police are working with our law enforcement partners, including the US Attorney’s Office and FBI Pittsburgh, to investigate. Part of that process is collecting video evidence and attempting to interview witnesses. If laws were broken, charges will follow.

Public Safety understands the desire to protest and will continue to respect and protect that right.

But the public expects this department to uphold the law and we will follow that mandate.

“People have the right to dine in public without being accosted and without vulgarities being thrown at them,” Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich said. “What we saw this weekend was assault and battery. It was embarrassing. The vast majority of the protests in Pittsburgh have been peaceful, but this weekend was anything but peaceful.”

“As a native Pittsburgher, what I saw this weekend was disturbing and cannot continue,” Police Chief Scott Schubert said. “Sadly, the protesters’ message gets erased when you have certain organizers inciting violence, which is what a handful of them are doing. It creates a dangerous and volatile situation. Our goal, now and always, is to maintain safety for everyone, and that includes protesters, residents, visitors, business owners and patrons and our police officers who are working under difficult conditions to serve the public.”

One of the incidents occurred in front of Sienna Mercato on Penn Avenue. A social media video showed Black Lives Matter protesters yelling and cursing at people eating outside the restaurant. One woman marched up to a table and downed someone’s drink while several other people started smashing drink glasses on the ground.

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The video does not show if there was anything to provoke the confrontation or which specific group the protesters are affiliated with.

In another video that went viral, a man walking with a bicycle got into a confrontation with that group of protesters in the street next to Sienna Mercato.

The video shows one protester push a bullhorn toward the man, and he then slaps it away. Immediately after, another person behind them hit the man across the head with a skateboard.

Pittsburgh police shared these images of the person suspected of hitting the man with a skateboard:

Another video shared on social media appeared to show the same angry group of people chanting and using a bullhorn inside a nearby McDonald’s.

“With glasses shattering and everything, it ruins it for everyone. People don’t feel safe and they don’t know why you’re protesting. They get distracted from the whole reason and the point is lost,” said Tanmay Mahapatra.

“I think there’s always going to be a couple of people who push the limits on both sides of this argument. That’s the kind of stuff we have to take a step back and show we’re better than that,” said Pittsburgh Councilman Corey O’Connor.

O’Connor said there’s needs to be a balance found between supporting protesters while protecting small businesses, which have struggled.

Others, like U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey denounced the angry crowd on social media.

Pittsburgh police are asking anyone who was assaulted during the confrontations to come forward and file a report.

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