Hundreds of people marched peacefully through a handful of Pittsburgh neighborhoods on Friday afternoon. This marked the seventh straight day of local demonstrations against police violence, following the death of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer on Memorial Day.
The afternoon march started in Friendship Park, where organizers called for white people to take up the mantle of protest so black people can rest.
“We will be using our privilege as white people and white allies today to amplify the message of the movement,” said co-organizer Rachel Nunes. “The message has been of non-violent rebellion in our community.”
Organizers urged participants to remain peaceful and to avoid confrontations with police and hecklers.
— Liz Reid (@WESALiz) June 5, 2020
As they wound through the East End, the crowd chanted phrases such as "black lives matter," "this is not a riot," and “no justice, no peace, no racist police.” Demonstrators also sang the old union tune “Which Side Are You On?,” calling out George Floyd, Antwon Rose and Breonna Taylor as freedom fighters in the lyrics.
While moving down Liberty Avenue in Bloomfield and Walnut Street in Shadyside, workers at many businesses came outside to show support for the crowd.
Most large businesses in the Shadyside shopping and restaurant corridor were still boarded up, but many smaller and locally owned ones were open.
At one point protesters sat on Walnut Street and remained silent for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time George Floyd was pinned down.
Protesters made their way down Fifth Avenue and into Point Breeze, stopping in front of Mayor Bill Peduto’s home. While police were present for the entire three-hour duration of the march, they kept their distance and there did not appear to be any confrontations.
Peduto and the Bureau of Police have come under fire in recent days for law enforcement’s use of force at protests last Saturday and on Monday. Peduto has since called for independent investigations into Monday evening’s events, and for a host of police reforms, but black activists say those moves don’t go far enough.
Doctors take a knee
Meanwhile, dozens of health care workers gathered on the lawn outside of UPMC Presbyterian Hospital to support the movement against police brutality. Workers also kneeled for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in honor of Floyd.
— Katie Blackley (@kate_blackley) June 5, 2020
University of Pittsburgh medical student Ayo Ifidon said it was important to use her voice as a black medical professional to call out systemic racism.
“It is a disservice to the public if we do not say something,” Ifidon said. “It is a disservice to George Floyd, it is a disservice to everybody outside protesting, if we do not say something and say that it is literally a public health crisis.”
In 2019, the city’s Gender Equity Commission released a report that found significant inequity when it comes to employment, poverty and health for black residents. It reported that maternal mortality was twice as high for black women than white women, and that black men had a higher risk of cancer and drug overdoses.
In response, Pittsburgh City Council adopted “10 commitments to racial equity,” aimed at reducing race-based disparities and eliminating systemic racism. Allegheny County Council later took on the issue, officially declaring racism a public health crisis in May.
Ifidon said while the country is having difficult conversations about race and inequity, she, and other students of color, are making sure they happen in medical schools.
“They’re starting because we’re here. We’re forcing it. We have to be heard,” Ifidon said.
According to a 2019 report from the Association of American Medical Colleges, 6,783 students who identified as Black or African American were enrolled in medical school. Asian and white students accounted for the highest enrollment, with 20,836 and 46,205 students respectively.
“There are not enough underrepresented minorities in the medical fields,” said Dr. Brandon Hague, a psychiatry resident at UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital. “That’s something that needs to change. They need to have the opportunity to, just like everyone else, to be able to practice medicine, to be able to facilitate change from the top down.”
Learning medicine amid a pandemic and the unrest around the country can be fatiguing for black students, says Ayanna Garland, a medical student at Pitt, and it’s difficult to focus and study.
“Certain things, they're not meant to be triggering, but they are,” Garland said. “We have cases where people are presented with not being able to breathe and that becomes very triggering.”
Levi Bowers, also a Pitt medical student, echoed Garland’s statement, and said it’s important for white allies to educate themselves.
“This is very tiring to have to be in medical school learning all the information we need to learn to be able to save lives, and at the same time trying to teach everyone who is suddenly wanting to help the cause, is extra exhausting,” Bowers said. “I implore everyone to … rely less on the experience of a black friend and [read] more articles.”
Dr. Carol Greco, who is white, works in the Department of Psychiatry at Pitt and said she’s been trying to learn more about how she can fight racism.
“I’m trying to educate myself and, as best I can, be anti-racist and show up and work for change,” Greco said. “It’s long overdue.”
Protesters march through Beechview
Later Friday afternoon, hundreds of protesters gathered outside of a McDonald's along West Liberty Avenue in Beechview at a demonstration organized by Ashley Love of Beechview and Camille Redman of West View.
The neighborhood has become home to many Hispanic and Latinx residents in recent years and has seen incidents of racism in recent years. Signs at the protest read "Racism is a pandemic, too" and "Hate has no home here."
Monica Ruiz, executive director of Casa San Jose, brought her two young sons to the demonstration. "Right now, we're at a monumental time in history," she said. "It's very important for my kids to see that we're not going to stand for these things anymore. My kids are children of color and I want to make this world a better place for them."
Organizer Camille Redman laid out the rules at the beginning of the gathering, asking for a peaceful protest and commending the amount of people who attended.
— Kiley Koscinski (@kileykoscinski) June 5, 2020
“I thought that this would resonate with people we grew up with, because they know who we are,” Redman said. “But to see so many faces out here that I don’t know … is wonderful. It speaks volumes.”
Demonstrators marched down West Liberty Avenue toward the Liberty Tunnels. They also sang “Happy Birthday” to Breonna Taylor, a black coronavirus frontline worker who was killed by police inside her Louisville, Ky. home while she was sleeping.
Protesters were met by a line of police officers at the Liberty Tunnels where they had originally planned to march through. In keeping with the demonstrations goal of remaining peaceful, organizers stopped along West Liberty Avenue to listen to speakers.
Near the tunnels, Redman spoke about George Floyd.
"That could have been my father. That could have been your father. That could have been your son. That could have been your partner." Redman said. "How many more are there going to be?"
The demonstrators also sat in silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds before turning around and going back the way they came on West Liberty Avenue. Protesters dispersed without incident.