I-Witness Video Blog : The Policing of Protest
Friday, 25 Sep 2009
Watch Video: YouTube
(See updates below.)
I-Witness Video is not present at the G-20 meetings taking place in Pittsburgh this week, but we can see from voluminous web postings and video that some very strange things seem to be going on—including what appears to be a kidnapping in broad daylight.
A bystander caught the abduction on video. The video shows several large, muscular men in camouflage uniforms grabbing a man, stuffing him into an unmarked car, and burning rubber to haul him away. As the car drives off, the camera pulls out and we can see a helmeted man who appears to be a police officer aiming a rifle or shotgun at people at the scene. (Note the fellow in the foreground holding the classic hands-up pose.)
While this video has already generated a lot of speculation online over whether either the event or the video were faked, reliable sources tell us that this event really took place. Unknown men (U.S. Army? police officers?) wearing camouflage uniforms kidnapped a G-20 protester around 5:30 P.M. on Thursday, September 24. The man who was grabbed was taken to the Allegheny County Jail where those arrested at the G-20 protests are being held. As of 4:30 P.M. on Friday, September 25, the abducted man had been arraigned but not yet released.
The Pitt News student paper has a photo of the armored riot police next to what appears to be the same camouflaged men, gold Crown Victoria and abducted man in handcuffs at some point later on in the day:
What terrible crime had this fellow done to merit such treatment by the authorities? Apparently, nothing out of the ordinary: at his arraignment, he was charged with only the typical minor offenses that all protesters seem to be getting, nothing noteworthy. So why did this occur? What the hell is going on in Pittsburgh in the name of safety and security? Why are the police/Army/Homeland Security/Secret Service wearing military attire and snatching ordinary people off the street while menacing the public with firearms, when they could easily have made a straightforward arrest? The answer can only be that they are seeking to terrify dissenters as much as possible.
We'll let you know when (and if) we manage to learn more information about this event.
The government has admitted that it was "law enforcement" and not the military or National Guard which arrested the abducted man. We still do not know if these law enforcement officers are federal agents, local cops or some mix.
The authorities have issued a statement to the right-wing College Politico website saying the abducted man was arrested for vandalism by "law enforcement officers from a multi-agency tactical response team assigned to the security operations for the G20." They attempt to explain the necessity of using kidnapping as a tactic by saying: "Due to the hostile nature of the crowd, officer safety and the safety of the person under arrest, the subject was immediately removed from the area."
There are numerous problems and questions raised by the official explanation of the video. As of 8:30 P.M. Friday, the abducted man is still in custody; he has been charged with some minor offenses, but so far vandalism is not one of them. The scene on the video, while admittedly not a complete view of the area, appears to be relatively calm, and it is not apparent what danger heavily-armed riot police and other law enforcement might believe themselves to be in. The use of military-style camouflage uniforms with no visible markings identifying either the agency or individual officers has caused a great deal of confusion in the mind of the public. This can be seen in the thousands of comments on YouTube arguing over whether the men in camouflage are real soldiers or if the video has been faked by lefty activists who will do anything to make the police look bad.
Personally, I would like to see the police stop using tactics that they seem to have learned by watching "The X-Files."
Although relatively few people arrested during the G-20 remain in jail tonight, as of 8:30 P.M. on Sunday, September 27, sources tell us that the abductee is still in police custody.
The blogger Sassy Republican has added a little more information about what happened immediately after the man was grabbed and the gold Crown Victoria pulled away:
They drove about 50 feet away from the tear gas and the crowd to Center Avenue. There, they got him out of the car, searched him and arrested him. I was there. I saw it happen. And would you guess what I did? That's right. I took a picture.
On Sunday, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, owned by extreme right-winger Richard Mellon Scaife, reported that the camouflaged men in the video were actually Pennsylvania State Police:
An Internet video appearing to show soldiers abducting a protester sparked outrage, though it turned out to be state police snatching the protester police accused of being the week's most destructive.
But the Tribune-Review's identification of the abducted man conflicts with this Post-Gazette piece about the California man who Pittsburgh police are saying was single-handedly responsible for $50,000 worth of damage to businesses. That man, David Japenga, was arrested late on Thursday night. The abductee on the YouTube video was grabbed in broad daylight.
So, while we now have more images, one eyewitness statement and a few more scraps of information, we are still largely in the dark about why the police grabbed the man and what he is being charged with.