EdBoard: Peduto must take a stand for protests

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Mayor Bill Peduto was elected the 60th Mayor of Pittsburgh on November 5, 2013, and has served since January of 2014, elected to a second mayoral term in 2017. Previous to being Mayor, Peduto worked for the Pittsburgh City Council for 19 years, where he worked on “the most comprehensive package of government reform legislation in Pittsburgh’s history. He strengthened the Ethics Code, created the city’s first Campaign Finance Limits, established Lobbyist Disclosure and Lobbyist Registration, and ended No-Bid Contracts.”

According to his profile on Pittsburgh’s official .gov address, “The Peduto administration is committed to modernizing city government and implementing leading practices to provide taxpayers with an efficient, effective, transparent, and a more accountable government.”

Peduto has made some significant infrastructure improvements during his tenure as Mayor, facing criticism for his support of bike infrastructure. He was given the nickname “Bike Lane Billy” by critics of increased funding for bike lanes and other infrastructure improvements, which does not seem to have affected his zeal for improving the state of Pittsburgh’s bike lane network. Peduto has also kept Pittsburgh in the Paris Climate Accords, has joined the UN’s Compact of Mayors committed to fighting climate change, and, according to his profile, “is working to ensure that everyone benefits from Pittsburgh’s transformation and growth because ‘If it’s not for all, it’s not for us.’”

Why, then, does the Mayor hate protesters? Since the murder of George Floyd on May 31 of this year, Pittsburgh Police have arrested dozens of protesters and organizers, for heinous crimes like spray painting buildings, or being present when the police decide to shoot everyone in the face with rubber bullets and tear gas. Several organizers have been charged with felony riot charges, while the Pittsburgh Police Department, which faces multiple class action lawsuits from protesters in connection to their violent crackdowns on peaceful protests.

Meanwhile, the police have continued to escalate, with plainclothes officers armed with assault rifles kidnapping a marshall at a recent protest in Oakland. This kidnapping, similar to arrests made in Portland and New York City, sparked a tweet from Mayor Peduto, who said that it made him “very uncomfortable.” Peduto and police officials later held a press conference where, according to the Post-Gazette, “They spent much of the conference saying some organizers of Black Lives Matter protests have become increasingly antagonistic, refusing to tell police their planned routes and blocking traffic on their own, leading to what police say are unsafe situations.”

In response to a protester being kidnapped, marches were organized to the Mayor’s house in Point Breeze and the nearby Mellon Park over the next three days, and resulted in police declaring the protests an “unlawful assembly” and forcibly removing (peaceful) protesters.

Rather than working with the protesters, listening to their demands, and doing everything he can to support the Black community in Pittsburgh, Peduto has preferred to complain about the disruptions to his afternoons, saying that “Using protests to create conflict and division, as some are doing, only impacts the ability of others to exercise their constitutional rights safely.” Curiously, the Pittsburgh Police don’t seem to care about whether protests are peaceful to begin shooting rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters, so the Mayor’s statement reads as more of a threat: either don’t create ‘division’, an impossible task when it comes to effectively protesting (either there is division in society that necessitates a protest against it or there is not), or there will be no protests allowed at all. The Mayor wants everyone to sit quietly and ask, with hat in hand, whether he could please defund the violent street gang protecting the private property of the wealthy, if it isn’t too much trouble.

Rather than responding to the demands of the protesters, Peduto has stepped up his Twitter activity, with one tweet from Sept. 6 reading “Politics 101. Have the Alt-Left attack Democrats & the Alt-Right support their efforts.” This tweet seems to imply a coordinated political strategy of discrediting Democratic politicians from the ‘alt-right’, a fringe group of Nazis and white supremacists, and the ‘alt-left’, a fictitious categorization used by President Trump to excuse the Nazi murder of left activist Heather Heyer at the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville. This comparison is an especially egregious one given that a member of the ‘alt-right’ was responsible for the Tree of Life shooting in 2017, making the Mayor’s attempts to conflate protestors speaking up against police brutality with white supremacists all the more disgusting.

The question is, why is the Mayor more interested in denigrating and defaming the activists seeking to change a system that disproportionately murders and oppresses Black people than in listening to and instituting the changes called for by those activists? The police are a gang, the police commit murder and get away with it, and the police must be abolished before they decide it’s really them, and not the people of Pittsburgh, who run this city. We need a Mayor who understands that the people are the State, not the police. Our streets.