By the end of November, Christopher West will have been sitting in the Allegheny County Jail for three months after he attended the May 31 Downtown Protest to remember George Floyd.
He’ll be the first to admit that mistakes were made that day, but he didn’t expect this. The Allegheny County District Attorney’s office has charged West, AKA Brother Hush, with recklessly endangering another person, robbery, criminal mischief and riot. The charges relate to two incidents that day — the burning of a Pittsburgh Police Car and the assault of a KDKA cameraman.
The image of the burning squad car is one that nearly everyone has seen now. That day, West said he jumped up on top of the car to get a picture. Police say he kicked in a window, but West says it was already broken. The charge of felony robbery is related to an incident in which the photojournalist was assaulted.
During the events, West says he did see the photographer filming and told the man to stop shooting. “I tried to lower his camera as I told him to stop shooting and it fell to the ground. I wasn’t trying to knock it to the ground but that happened. I immediately backed up said I was sorry because I didn’t mean for that to happen. Honestly, I feel really bad for the dude.” Others started to assault the photographer, but West says witnesses testified that he was among them. “The robbery charge stems from the camera. I wasn’t trying to steal it and I never assaulted him.
Once he was booked on the state charges, friends attempted to bail him out but they couldn’t because federal marshals put a detainer on him. “When I heard that I knew they were going to throw federal charges at me,” West says.
West among eight people indicted federally that day because the police car had been purchased with federal grant money.
In announcing the multiple indictments on July 30, U.S. Attorney Scott Brady said: “Throwing IEDs and bricks at police officers, throwing projectiles at and striking police horses, and setting police cruisers on fire are not the protected First Amendment activities of a peaceful protest; they are criminal acts that violate federal law.”
West was charged with “conspiring” with another man to set the car ablaze and causing damage to the car by kicking it and burning it. If convicted on all charges, West faces five to 30 years in a federal penitentiary.
“If the Gestapo was still around, they’d be proud of this prosecution,” West says. “I sit on a car for a picture and the next thing I know, I’m sitting in jail facing a federal arson charge. They’re charging anyone who even touched that car that day. People are still getting charged from those protests.
“I was out there that day because what happened and what has been happening isn’t right. Police are out there killing people and nothing happens. I sat on a police car and now I’m staring at federal time. I’ve wanted to talk about what happened since they locked me up. Because what’s going on isn’t right. It just isn’t right.”