September 21, 2009

UPDATE: A hearing in this case has been scheduled in Judge Gary Lancaster's chambers for Tuesday, September 22, at 10 a.m.

Pittsburgh -- The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania (ACLU-PA) and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed a complaint this morning in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania on behalf of the Seeds of Peace Collective and the Three Rivers Climate Convergence (3RCC). Seeds of Peace Collective are one of several groups operating buses that will be serving food for 3RCC's "climate camp" and "sustainability fair," political demonstrations that will be held in both Point State Park and Schenley Park throughout the week.

The complaint charges the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police with systematic attempts to harass and discourage lawful First Amendment activities by both organizations, who will be demonstrating against the G-20 Summit. Despite a preliminary injunction ordered by the court last week ordering the City of Pittsburgh to allow 3RCC to hold their demonstration at Point State Park, Pittsburgh police have been engaged in a pattern of illegal searches, vehicle seizures, raids and detentions of Seeds of Peace Collective members.

The complaint alleges that the illegal searches, seizures and harassment constitute retaliation against both 3RCC and Seeds of Peace Collective over their effort to engage in constitutionally-protected political activity in Pittsburgh public spaces, and for 3RCC's lawsuit and victory in getting a federal court injunction ordering the city to allow them to use Point State Park, both of which violate the groups' Constitutional Rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

The suit argues that the 3RCC and Seeds of Peace Collective face a credible threat, given the deliberate, intentional, and persistent pattern of misconduct by the Pittsburgh Police and that such misconduct will continue in the future absent judicial intervention.

ACLU of PA Legal Director Witold Walczak indicated that today's lawsuit was designed not only to restrain Pittsburgh police from a pattern of unconstitutional harassment, but also to serve as a message: "We may not be able to prevent the Pittsburgh police from playing games with protesters' constitutional rights, but we can make the game expensive."

The ACLU-PA and CCR are asking that U.S. District Judge Gary Lancaster hold an emergency hearing this afternoon and to issue an order restraining the police from engaging in a pattern of unconstitutional searches and seizures, none of which are supported by warrant or probable cause. The groups will also be asking the judge to tighten the injunction he issued in the Codepink case last week because of problems the plaintiffs in that case experienced over the weekend. A catalog of complaints is listed at the end of this release.

More information, including the complaint can be found at: /our-work/legal/legaldocket/g20protestorsharassedbypol/

Other problems demonstrators have encountered over the past few days include:

  • Police told Bail Out the People last week that they could not canvass door-to-door without a permit in the Hill District. The City Code does not require a permit and it would be unconstitutional to have such a requirement.
  • Police told Bail Out the People on Friday that they could not use amplified sound from a vehicle driving around the Hill District without obtaining a permit. The City Code does not require a permit for such activity.
  • Also on Friday, in addition to the problems raised in the Seeds of Peace Collective lawsuit, that evening the police threatened to tow the other food bus, run by Everybody's Kitchen. The bus was legally parked on a private driveway in Point Breeze. The police claimed the bus was obstructing the sidewalk. The obstruction? The emergency ladder on the back of the bus was encroaching on the sidewalk by less than a foot. After they removed the ladder from the bus, the police demanded identification from everyone and proof of vehicle ownership.
  • On Saturday, Pittsburgh police told people at CMU's outdoor camping space that all students without CMU ID's had to leave. CMU administrators arrived on the scene and countermanded that the City Police directive.
  • On Sunday, when organizers from Bail Out the People, a plaintiff in the Codepink lawsuit, arrived to set up at Freedom Corner for their rally, the Pittsburgh police told them they could not be in the street because they did not have a permit. Bail Out the People in fact did have a permit, which was issued after they filed suit on September 11. A call from Walczak to the Pittsburgh City Law Department resulted in the police recognizing the permit and closing a street to allow the rally to proceed.
  • Also on Sunday, another plaintiff in the Codepink lawsuit, G6 Billion, was told by police that they could not march through the 10th Street by-pass, below the Convention Center, because it was private property and they did not have a permit. The group was forced to march around the Convention Center. Subsequently, a police commander on the scene apologized to group leaders, saying he had not read the permit, which clearly allowed the group to march through the bypass. The property is also not "private," as it is owned by the Sports & Exhibition Authority, a government agency.
  • Also Sunday, Pittsburgh Police attempted to illegally enter a dwelling belonging to the Landslide Community, on Alequippa Street in the Hill District. The police then traipsed over private property, where the group grows food, without consent or a warrant. When an ACLU lawyer showed up the police told him that they were there just to remove some tires. There were more than 20 police officers in riot gear on the scene, a curious show of force just to remove some tires.