Protesters, City Officials Want Answers Regarding Arrest During Saturday Demonstration

Activists and elected officials say they want answers about the arrest of a protester Saturday during a peaceful and regularly scheduled Black Lives Matter demonstration. 

City of Pittsburgh plainclothes officers in an unmarked white van arrested Matthew Cartier, 25, at the intersection of South Bouquet Street and Forbes Avenue. Cartier has been charged with failure to disperse, disorderly conduct and obstructing a public passage.  

Police allege in a criminal complaint Cartier was running ahead of the group of demonstrators to block intersections. According to the police account, Cartier’s actions were “startling motorists” and creating unsafe conditions for motorists. Police said when Cartier blocked the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Dithridge Street, officers asked Cartier to move out of the intersection multiple times, that he refused and was then taken into custody several blocks later. 

The incident was captured on the body cam of a Pittsburgh Bureau of Police officer, according to the complaint. 

Lisa Middleman, the attorney representing Cartier, said in a statement that the press conference “deflected from the wrongful arrest’s dangerous and unconstitutional nature and instead focused on insincere and false hypotheticals.”

“The current atmosphere of distrust and wariness has been created by years of failing to meaningfully engage with the actual people whose day-to-day lives are impacted by our broken legal system.”

 

Meanwhile, local activists and some elected officials have called the incident a “kidnapping.”

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto tweeted late Saturday night that the arrest was made by Pittsburgh Police in a transit unit. He added that he will “wait until I receive all evidence, before making any decisions.”

Peduto said he had ordered Police Chief Scott Schubert and Director of Public Safety Wendell Hissrich to fully examine “operations taken by Pittsburgh Police and by the individual arrested”. 

Cartier, the protester arrested, wrote on Twitter Sunday that he was at the 11th Saturday protest organized by Black, Young and Educated, serving as a bike marshal. According to his tweets, the Pittsburgh Police approached the bike perimeter in an unmarked van and “lured me closer by pretending to need direction around the march”. He said he was then grabbed by heavily armed men from the van and transported to the Allegheny County Jail where he was arraigned and released early Sunday morning, according to online court records. 

At a press conference Sunday afternoon, Sgt. Donald Mitchell told reporters Cartier had been warned several times to move his line and that he had refused “not on one occasion, but several occasions.” Cmdr. Ed Trapp with the city’s Special Deployment unit said officers became concerned that Cartier was going to cause an accident or prevent medical emergency vehicles from passing. So police planned what Trapp called a “low-visibility” arrest.

Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Wendel Hissrich speaks during a press conference on Sunday, Aug. 18, 2020.
Credit Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

“We waited for an opportunity...away from the main body of the march,” Trapp said. 

Trapp went on to say that there is allegedly a growing group of individuals who aren’t “really part of the protest group” that are becoming “increasingly belligerent” toward police and some other members of the public. Most of the demonstrators are peaceful, Trapp emphasized, but that group has prompted police to consider reinstating protest “zones,” in which marchers are asked to avoid. They include places like hospitals, tunnels and bridges.

 

 

Pennsylvania state Rep. Summer Lee retweeted a video showing armed officers running back into the white van before leaving the protest.

 

The arrest follows a string of charges against several leaders of local Black Lives Matter protests.

 

City Council member Erika Strassburger tweeted Saturday that she is asking for a full explanation as to “why this bike marshal – how does what he was doing differ from other protesters? When they say other charges might be forthcoming, for what? Why the unmarked vehicle with heavily armed police?”

 

Council member Corey O’Connor tweeted his concern that “peaceful protesters are being abducted by unmarked, armed Pittsburgh police. We need answers as to why it was allowed to happen.”

 

 

Jalina McClarin, a protest organizer, speaks in Mellon Park. At Bill Peduto's house, McClarin said nobody should call the arrest an "arrest," but an "abduction" or a "kidnapping."
Credit Marylee Williams / 90.5 WESA

Demonstrators gather in Mellon Park

Around 4 p.m. on Sunday, demonstrators began to gather at Mellon Park to protest the arrest of Cartier the day before. Anna McKenna, 25, did not attend the Saturday protest, but has been to others in the city. She said she wasn’t surprised by the incident.

“I know there have been a lot of attempts and some successful attempts at arresting specifically the Black organizers of these events that happen every Saturday,” McKenna said. “I don’t want it to keep happening, but I’m not surprised that it’s been happening.”

Police were present near the park, but demonstrators were told not to engage with them. Mary Henjes, 26, said she doesn’t think the mayor and city officials are listening to requests from the protests. 

“I think the city’s pretty lacking in listening to any of the demands, especially of the Black organizers,” Henjes.

Miracle Jones, director of policy at 1Hood Media, which has been supporting the Black, Young and Educated demonstrations, said the press conference held earlier by public officials was “disrespectful.”

“Lies and falsehoods about protesters causing safety [issues] were once again repeated...by the administration,” Jones said. “These demonstrations have been peaceful and the violence that has occurred has been at the hands of the police and the police state.”

Demonstrators then made their way to Mayor Bill Peduto’s home in Point Breeze, chanting “hey, hey, ho, ho, Bill Peduto has got to go.” 

“We’re going to take all that agner that you see online, that justified anger...and we’re going to use it,” said Jalina McClarin. “We’re going to use that anger as momentum. That’s why we’re out here today.”
McClarin said demonstrators need to show police that they’re not afraid of authority and aren’t intimidated.

 

Christopher Ayers contributed to this report.