PITTSBURGH (Reuters) - Police and anti-capitalist protesters clashed at the University of Pittsburgh campus on Friday evening, hours after the Group of 20 summit of rich and developing nations ended.
Police shot “bean bags” filled with rubber pellets to disperse about 40 demonstrators that gathered at a plaza for a “rally against police brutality” organized by Twitter messages.
A large throng of hundreds of students came out of their nearby dorms to watch the police in riot gear surround the protesters in the plaza and were also told to disperse.
Police used pepper gas and an acoustic device that emitted an ear-splitting noise to send students fleeing for cover.
“We were standing on the corner and they didn’t even give us a message to disperse and they just starting shooting at us,” Curtis Stine, a 21-year old computer science student told Reuters.
Many of the students said they came out just to watch the protest for Friday night entertainment and were not even familiar with its purpose.
It was the second evening of clashes on campus. On Thursday evening police discharged pepper gas and shot “bean bags” to disperse protesters who had broken windows at more than a dozen stores and banks.
Earlier about 10,000 protesters staged a peaceful march. Protesters — from environmentalists, socialists, Palestinians and Tibetans to union workers — marched toward the convention center where G20 leaders were meeting to discuss global economic issues.
They were flanked by large numbers of police decked out in body armor, and kept about 0.5 mile from the convention center by a ring of security.
Protesters held up signs such as “We Say No To Corporate Greed,” and “G20 = Death by Capitalism” and chanted “Hey hey ho ho, corporate welfare has to go.”
There was only one arrest on Friday afternoon and the mood was buoyant, in stark contrast to Thursday’s protest when there were clashes with police and dozens of arrests.
As protesters marched across a bridge near the Convention Center where G20 leaders met, many held their middle finger aloft as they passed the venue. And they joked with police, chanting, “You’re sexy, you’re cute, take off that riot suit.”
Denise Edwards, 58, a local steelworker, said, “The G20 makes the decisions that affect our lives. The decisions they’re making are not working for the people.”
Protests — usually against some aspect of capitalism — have often marked summits since trade talks in Seattle in 1999, when demonstrators ransacked the city center, targeting businesses seen as symbols of U.S. corporate power.
Organizers said Friday’s march was the largest protest in this western Pennsylvania city since the Vietnam war.
The protests started on Thursday as leaders of 19 leading developed and developing economies and the European Union began a two-day meeting to discuss how to avoid another global economic crisis. Before Friday evening’s clashes, police said they had arrested a total of 81 people this week.
Rachel Kutz-Flamenbaum, 33, was at Friday’s march with her 18-month-old daughter Rosemary strapped to her back.
“We need to be able to show that we’re not afraid to participate in democracy, she said. “Democracy will die if we don’t protect it. We need to conduct our global decision making in a democratic way.”
Thursday’s protests began at lunchtime and continued well past midnight. Starting with a march of about 2,000 people, the protests degenerated into running skirmishes with police.
Protesters smashed shop windows and threw rocks and bottles at police. Police responded with pepper gas, batons and by shooting pellet-filled “bean bags..”
Writing by Mark Egan; Editing by Frances Kerry and Paul Simao