A prayer rally organized by faith leaders Sunday to promote unity with police and elected officials was disrupted by anti-police activists.
The gathering of about 40, beneath a tent erected at the Hill District's Freedom Corner, was billed as “Unity March Pittsburgh.” A planned walk to Market Square was postponed, said the event’s organizer, the Rev. Deryck Tines.
Instead, the focus was on song, prayers, and exhortations to vote by Nov. 3. Speakers included Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, who has been criticized this year for police officers’ use of force against protesters.
During his brief talk, anti-police activists who had been standing on the sidewalk on Centre Avenue suddenly entered the tent carrying signs and chanting for justice for victims of police violence including Walter Wallace, George Floyd, and Antwon Rose Jr. Chants also included “No unity with police.”
“There’s too much hurt in the world right now,” said Peduto, as demonstrators tried to drown out his speech. “Love and unity is the only way. It’s the only way we’ll be able to see change happen.”
About 10 demonstrators lined up to block the audience’s view of Peduto and subsequent speakers, who included veteran Pittsburgh-based civil-rights activist Tim Stevens. Stevens addressed the counter-protesters directly and told them he had been fighting police brutality for years, including his activism in the death at the hands of police of black motorist Jonny Gammage here, in 1995.
Stevens added that he is among a group of community activists who has been meeting with Peduto to institute changes to policing in the city. He said Peduto had agreed to many of the suggested reforms.
Other rally participants took the microphone to admonish the counter-protesters for disrupting a peaceful event.
The disruption lasted for about 15 minutes of the 50-minute rally. Then the counter-protesters returned to the sidewalk and the rally concluded without further incident.
Tines said he is part of a group of pastors who have been meeting with police to improve community-police relations.