PITTSBURGH (CN) – The federal courts closed Thursday and will not reopen until Monday as the Group of 20 Economic Summit meets in downtown Pittsburgh. Eight blocks away, outside the police barrier, Allegheny County Court operated as usual, but much of the city looked like a ghost town, filled only with armed patrolman. Police Chief Nate Harper announced “19 G-20 related arrests,” but Mayor Luke Ravenstahl praised his city’s “successful operation,” saying there were “12 peaceful protests,” and that only one unsanctioned demonstration “got out of control.” One woman said police stopped her on the way to a yoga class and asked if she planned to “use her rolled-up yoga mat as a weapon.”
The federal courts are housed inside the “secured zone,” and had no choice but to close for the two-day event, which is being held at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.
County court officials said they could not give an official account on the day’s happenings, but it was clear that most workers took a personal day to avoid the challenges of getting inside city limits, due to numerous street closures and parking restrictions. Clerks who did report were busy processing a reduced flow of online filings sent from lawyers working from home.
Passersby were thrilled when President Barack Obama’s motorcade drove by the courthouse. One onlooker, Gearldean Young of Swissvale, said she was skeptical about Pittsburgh’s decision to host the G-20, but after the president waved back at her she said she felt that this was her “opportunity to witness history.”
A block away from the convention center, about 50 members of the group Free Tibet stood toe-to-toe with police. Group members sang a Tibetan freedom song in a peaceful protest that lasted for about 45 minutes.
Sangay Taythi said Free Tibet was there in hopes of getting the attention of Chinese President Hu Jintao, who is in Pittsburgh, and reminding him that “freedom, not the economy, is the most important issue” facing the world’s people.
On the other side of the police barricade, in Lawrenceville, an unpermitted march of about 2,000 people turned violent when protestors overturned Dumpsters and were sprayed with tear gas.
Several arrests, broken windows and vandalized ATM machines were reported in the Shadyside and Oakland areas of the city.
Kayla Conroy of Oakland said she was “not against it [the G-20 Summit], like every other person in the city” but turned out today to ensure “representation for everyone.”
G-20 summits, which by their very nature are exclusive, as they include leaders from only 20 of the world’s most-developed nations, are often criticized for lack of transparency and the audacity of presuming that the few have the right to make financial decisions for the world.
The leaders of the 20 nations will discuss the world economy today (Friday), the concluding day of the summit.