PITTSBURGH (TheLoop/AP) — Police threw canisters of pepper spray and smoke at marchers protesting the Group of 20 summit Thursday after anarchists responded to calls to disperse by rolling trash bins and throwing rocks.
The march turned chaotic at just about the same time that President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama arrived for a meeting with leaders of the world’s major economies.
The clashes began after hundreds of protesters, many advocating against capitalism, tried to march from an outlying neighborhood toward the convention center where the summit is being held.
Police in riot gear stood guard near the protesters, who banged on drums and chanted “Ain’t no power like the power of the people, ’cause the power of the people don’t stop.”
The hundreds of marchers included small groups of self-described anarchists, some wearing dark clothes and bandanas and carrying black flags. Others wore helmets and safety goggles.
Some held a banner that read, “No borders, no thanks.” Another banner read, “No hope in capitalism.” A few minutes into the march, protesters unfurled a large banner reading “NO BAILOUT NO CAPITALISM” with an encircled “A,” a recognized sign of anarchists.
The marchers did not have a permit and, after a few blocks, police declared it an unlawful assembly. They played an announcement over a loudspeaker telling people to leave or face arrest and then moved in to break it up.
Protesters split into smaller groups. Some rolled large metal trash bins toward police, and a man in a black hooded sweat shirt threw rocks at a police car, breaking the front windshield. Some protesters used pallets and corrugated steel to block a road. Police said the windows at one bank branch were broken.
Officers fired pepper spray and smoke at the protesters. Some of those exposed to the pepper spray coughed and complained that their eyes were watering and stinging.
About an hour after the clashes started, the police and protesters were at a standoff. Police sealed off main thoroughfares to downtown. Some of the protesters were seen ducking into alleyways to change out of their all-black clothing and then milling about in the street.
Twenty-one-year-old Stephon Boatwright, of Syracuse, N.Y., wore a mask of English anarchist Guy Fawkes and walked up and down in front of a line of riot police yelling at them. He then sat cross-legged about eight feet from the riot line, telling the police to let the protesters through and to join their cause.
“You’re actively suppressing us. I know you want to move,” Boatwright yelled, to applause from the protesters gathered around him.
Protesters complained that the march had been peaceful and that police were trampling on their right to assemble.
“We were standing there. We were barely even protesting. We were really just watching the line,” said T.J. Amick, 22, of Pittsburgh. “Then all of a sudden, they come up and tell us we’re gathered illegally and start using force, start banging their shields, start telling us we’re going to be arrested and tear gassed. But we’re just standing there watching them. We haven’t broken any laws.”
Bret Hatch, 26, of Green Bay, Wis., was carrying an American flag and a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag.
“This is ridiculous. We have constitutional rights to free speech,” he said.
The march had begun at a city park, where an activist from New York City, dressed in a white suit with a preacher’s collar, started it off with a speech through a bullhorn.
“They are not operating on Earth time. … They are accommodating the devil,” he said. “To love democracy and to love the earth is to be a radical now.”
The activist, Billy Talen, travels the country preaching against consumerism. He initially identified himself as “the Rev. Billy from the Church of Life After Shopping.”
The G-20 summit begins Thursday evening with a welcome ceremony and ends late Friday afternoon after a day of meetings at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.
Dignitaries were arriving in waves and were heading to a city under heavy security. Police and National Guard troops guarded many downtown intersections, and a maze of tall metal fences and concrete barriers shunted cars and pedestrians.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.