In the last week, Pittsburgh police have charged several leaders of local ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests. Those charged include Christian Carter, Nique Craft and Dena Stanley.
All three are accused of riot, harassment, and other offenses related to a June 24 protest at a Downtown bar, 941 Saloon, where marchers allegedly chanted "burn it down.” Police affidavits say the protesters tried unsuccessfully to gain entry to the business, and then trapped patrons inside for about 25 minutes by duct-taping the front door shut. Marchers are also accused of damaging a security vehicle outside the bar by stabbing one of its tires and jumping on it.
Last week, activist Lorenzo Rulli also surrendered to police after being charged with 14 offenses related to the protest at the bar and two other demonstrations. Rulli was released from the Allegheny County Jail on the day he turned himself in. Carter, Craft, and Stanley also secured release pending further proceedings.
Demonstrators gathered outside the Pittsburgh Municipal Courthouse Monday to show support for those charged. Supporters of the activists say the allegations are trumped up and an attempt to distract from the protests’ message.
“The discussion is being shifted away from the criminality of law enforcement officers to, now, the criminality of protesters protesting the criminality of law-enforcement officers,” said Craft’s attorney, Paul Jubas.
A Pittsburgh police spokesperson countered that the bureau is not charging people for the protests themselves, but for crimes committed at protests. In a statement, Chris Togneri said, “People who peaceably participated in the same public demonstrations and did not commit criminal acts were not charged. The Pittsburgh Bureau of Police respects the rights of people to exercise their First Amendment rights.”
But Giuseppe Bagheera, a protest organizer for Black, Young, and Educated, said the recent arrests reflect law enforcement’s refusal to recognize the humanity of the charged protesters, who are all Black and LGBTQ.
“We say terrible things as humans, but we don’t mean it all the time … And we also regret it a lot of the time,” Bagheera said of the allegation that protesters threatened to burn down 941 Saloon. “So it’s not something that we need to be arrested for.”