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Peaceful protest for George Floyd ‘hijacked by small group’ that turns event violent

By May 30, 2020 4 Comments
George Floyd Pittsburgh Protest

A woman raises her middle finger towards mounted Pittsburgh Police as water bottles are thrown at the officers. (Current photo by Jake Mysliwczyk)

By Brittany Hailer
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer

At 2:30 p.m. Pittsburghers gathered for a “Justice for George Floyd” rally at the intersection of Liberty Avenue and Sixth Street. From there, a choreographed march of thousands–men, women, and children of all races–echoed through Downtown Pittsburgh. The crowd chanted “I can’t breathe” and “Whose streets? Our Streets.” 

Signs read “White Silence = Violence;”  “White People: You should be here,” and a painted guitar read “Do not suffocate these songs of sorrow.” 

Around 3 p.m., organizers gave an elegy, urging the crowd to repeat the refrain, “I breathe for them” after reading the names of other black men and women murdered by police: George Floyd, Antwon Rose, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castille, among others.

Most demonstrators wore masks and many had children. People passed out fruit, granola bars, water and free masks. Police kept their distance for much of the protest until the crowd gathered at the Lower Hill outside the Epiphany Catholic Church on Washington Place. 

Previously bottlenecked for most of the march, the crowd spilled out into the Lower Hill around 4:30 p.m. Five police officers on horseback stood by a police car parked outside the church. As the crowd continued to spill out, protestors flooded the streets and as a consequence, surrounded the mounted police. 

George Floyd Pittsburgh Protest

Hundreds of protesters march down the streets of Pittsburgh demanding justice for George Floyd (Current photo by Jake Mysliwczyk)

This is where tensions rose. A small group of protestors began chucking water bottles at the mounted officers and their horses. Others urged the demonstrators to stop. The police stood their ground as long as they could, before driving into the crowd–almost plowing over dozens–as they fled to safety. 

George Floyd Pittsburgh Protest

A demonstrator swings a baseball bat towards the front window of a Pittsburgh Police car (Current photo by Jake Mysliwczyk)

Their post abandoned, white protestors (despite the pleading of black protestors to stop) smashed the windows of the cruiser and spray painted it.  Two other men jumped on top and raised their fists. Later, the vehicle was set on fire. There seemed to be a split in sentiment in the crowd: many cheered, fists in the air. The organizers of the protest insisted, “It is time to go home.”

George Floyd Pittsburgh Protest

A Pittsburgh Police car is set on fire outside of PPG Paints Arena Saturday afternoon (Current photo by Jake Mysliwczyk)

As more people grew nervous, they ushered women and children away from the vehicle, “Get back!” they warned. One man shouted, “There’s ammunition in that car! It is going to explode!”

Dozens ran to the nearby parking lot where the protest shifted into a somber vigil. The silent crowd watched as the vehicle continued to burn. Black smoke billowed as the carcass of the car popped and ruptured with explosions.

George Floyd Pittsburgh Protest

Black Smoke fills the sky as a Pittsburgh Police car is burning on the side of the road (Current photo by Jake Mysliwczyk)

As of this printing, Downtown Pittsburgh was locked down and a curfew installed at 8:30 a.m.

 “Get back!” people urged. 

And others, “Where do we go?”

Several individuals tried to block Washington Place with sandbags and signs and a few minutes later, the rest of the group standing by, removed the barricade. 

Rumors started to fly, “The police are coming in busses “ and “They’re going to gas us.” Across the parking lot there was silence, a sort of shock as to how things had escalated and where to go from here. 

A black man in his thirties sat on the ground and said, “If they gas me, I won’t make it. I won’t be able to breathe.” 

At a press conference a short time ago, Pittsburgh Police Chief Scott Schubert said: “It’s a damn shame they took advantage of the death of George Floyd. This was a peaceful protest hijacked by a small group who brought youths into the group. White males dressed in anarchist attire.”

The Current will have more on this story in the coming days.

George Floyd Pittsburgh Protest

Protesters fill the intersection of Fifth Ave and Washington Place (Current photo by Jake Mysliwczyk)


  • John Clark says:

    The logical way to deal with this, once such acts are curtailed, is that Pittsburgh Police should no longer patrol or respond to calls in black neighborhoods. Same for Fire and EMS. The residents there are either the ones rioting (this is not protesting) or have raised their children to do so. Let them deal with the consequences.

  • SLZ says:

    Wow, you took the cops’ narrative and ate it right up. There are people who were blinded and disfigured by rubber bullets, chemical weapons used on everyone, at least one cop putting his knee on the neck of an already restrained Black protestor just like Chauvin did Floyd, and abused horses forced to injure people (they don’t want to do this and only extreme abuse can force them to and of course, pgh cops never protect their horses from gas and spray which affects them like us,) among other things. The mayor has had it out for “anarchists” (which he calls anyone that doesn’t protest in a nice little box he designates,) long before he was mayor when he was blanketing entire city’s worth of leftist activists with the same “crime.” Peduto and these cops are not the protestors’ friends, but they want you to think that and stay as controlled as possible, spinning the narrative away from police violence towards protestors and the murder of George Floyd and onto a 20 year old among others. They did this at the G20 as well when they and their deputized security guards gleefully used massive amount of deadly weapons on countless people- protestors or not- then refused accountability.

    Plenty of Black and white people are angry about the constant onslaught of violence, trauma, and murder commited by police. Placing them into groups of white rioters and Black law abiders is a clever liberal tactic so the cops and Mayor can feel woke while demeaning and silencing the resistance. Black people are not a monolith and different people agree with and use different tactics just like every other race of people.

    How about asking why the riots happened and what could cause people to risk their own freedom like this- Think on that. There is a long history of extreme suffering and mass murder at the hands of police and the state that constantly goes unaddressed. This is the result of that.

  • Jean M MARTIN says:

    I lived in East Liberty for 21 years. I’d still be living there, but it became too expensive. The area has become gentrified. A lot of people have been displaced and others are being displaced. I’m not surprised there’s some trouble there.

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