A Beautiful Night In The Neighborhood, If You Find Police Brutality Attractive
On Wednesday, August 19th, just a little before 8 pm, Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto tweeted a picture of himself sitting on the steps of his Hasting Street home. It’s a curious image. He’s in a plaid shirt and dark jeans, the shirt untucked to signify relaxing but still buttoned almost all the way to the neck, that detail of “kicking back from a rough day of running a city!” overlooked. A baseball cap with “JAZZ” is solidly atop his head and his beard is gray and thick. He looks like he owns a company that makes artisanal maple syrup for $15 a bottle and is named after the tribe that used to occupy the land on which he now taps trees.
He’s posed in a studied and unwieldy attempt to look candid and casual, one forearm resting strangely on a thigh, one hand on a knee. It looks like he might be holding something in his fingers, it’s difficult to determine what, but loosely, like he’s not sure if he wants it or not. The lives of his constituents perhaps. He might be just about to get up or might have just sat down but he’s clearly uncomfortable where he is. His face is kind of smirky and there’s something off in his direct gaze. Without context, it might just seem a weird choice of photo or that he’s awkward.
The text that accompanies this image is “A Beautiful Night in the Neighborhood”, referencing the theme song that opened the children’s show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”. The eponymous host lived not too far away; also within a few miles is the studio from which the beloved icon taught multiple generations of children that we were special, valuable, deserving of love and worthy of care.
The man in the picture is about to show his neighbors something very different.
The night previous he ducked hundreds assembled in the street outside this same house. They were rallying in response to the actions taken by SWAT police at a protest a few days earlier. Matthew Cartier was serving as a bike marshal during one of the weekly Civil Saturdays actions when he was inveigled to an unmarked van under the pretext of the passengers seeking directions. Once called over, multiple men, heavily armed and without uniforms, manhandled him into the van, eventually taking him to Allegheny County Jail where he was charged with disorderly conduct, failure to disperse, and obstructing traffic. The night previous, citizens showed their objection by gathering in front of the Mayor’s house until the morning.
The night previous, while his neighbors opened their homes and restrooms to those convened, the Mayor stayed elsewhere.
Knowing what happened the night before, one views this picture, and statement, differently. He doesn’t look awkward. He looks smug.
Knowing what will happen less than three hours later, he looks like he’s offering a challenge.
Minutes after this tweet was sent, protesters, also known as his constituents, also known as his neighbors, were again peacefully assembled in front of his house seeking some show of accountability. They were asking the Mayor to take responsibility for the unprecedented and terrifying action of police luring a peaceful protester, a protector, to a van, to jump out with rifles and strong arm him into it when he approached to offer help.
Throughout the evening, activists chanted and sang. Eventually the mayor popped out and invited leaders in the movement to come up and speak with him. It didn’t go well. The Mayor was unprepared. Not only did he not have answers, he lacked the resolve to work towards a solution. He went back into his house, leaving those congregated frustrated. All remained peaceful.
At 10 pm, as activists were in the process of dispersing, a dispersal order was given. Riot police began to move in as people tried to move out. Avenues of exit were obstructed by motorcycle officers, leaving the route from Hastings Street to Elysian as the only means of egress. Police followed behind to Fifth Avenue where additional motorcycle officers were stationed. With roads ahead and on all sides blocked, protesters and press were forced to the section of Fifth Avenue fronting Mellon Park and ordered out of the road, moving from the street to the sidewalk. Once everyone was on the sidewalk, they were ordered into the park. All orders were universally met with compliance.
Police began to force people further backwards onto park grounds, using hands, batons, screaming, and anger. Without provocation, as protesters did their best to obey instructions, officers began to use pepper spray against them. As it was blasted directly into faces, rubber bullets were employed. One woman had her goggles and mask ripped aside by an officer to remove any obstruction to his causing as much damage as possible. A loudspeaker broadcast that the actions being taken by law enforcement were lawful as people screamed, gasped, vomited.
At 10:45 an announcement was made that occupation of the park which all citizens had been forced into was unlawful as the park had closed at 9 pm.
The park in fact closes at 11.
People did everything they could to safely remove themselves and their friends from the environment, as police who had never once been attacked or endangered held down their existing positions without pursuit.
A block away the Mayor of the city sat in his house.
A beautiful night in the neighborhood got really fucking ugly.
The photographs herein are the work of Don Carpenter, who additionally provided eyewitness information for this story.