Pittsburgh protesters on Friday honored what would have been the 27th birthday of Breonna Taylor, who was fatally shot in March by police officers in Kentucky. On the same day, the seventh of anti-racist demonstrations locally, the Pittsburgh police bureau announced a multi-agency task force to target the “small group of people intent on causing destruction” amid the largely peaceful protests.
The task force, formed earlier this week, has already launched investigations into: “...people who have attacked journalists, looted business, caused property damage and committed other crimes such as arson,” the press release stated.
Protesters gathered in Friendship Park in Bloomfield at noon Friday calling for an end to system racism and police brutality against Black citizens and protesters. The hundreds in attendance marched from Friendship Park about 2 miles to Lyndhurst Green in Point Breeze, where they stopped to hold a vigil in honor of Taylor and her birthday.
Louisville, Kentucky police officers killed Taylor at the age of 26 in her home on March 13. Police were executing a search warrant in a drug case when they broke into her apartment and shot her eight times. Media reports indicate that the home of Taylor, an emergency medical technician, was included in the search warrant out of suspicion that a man was receiving packages containing drugs at her home. No arrests have been made in her fatal shooting.
Also on Friday in Pittsburgh, about 200 healthcare workers at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and another group at UPMC Presbyterian left the buildings midday to make a statement against racial injustice.
Some 500 people — of whom at least half were white — formed up at the McDonald’s on West Liberty Avenue, in Beechview, around 4 p.m. Friday. The crowd progressed down West Liberty Avenue, escorted by police and joined by a handful of officers, as Pittsburgh Police Chief Scott Schubert observed from the sidelines.
A line of state troopers guarded the entrance to the Liberty Tunnels, and the marchers stopped some 100 yards short of the tubes. The crowd then took a knee, and sat for two short speeches, plus 8:46 of silence to mark the length of time George Floyd's neck was compressed by a Minneapolis police officer.
The crowd then made a U-Turn and marched peacefully back up West Liberty Avenue, as cars waited along the many side streets. Small groups of marchers then dispersed through the adjoining side streets. Many passing drivers honked in what appeared to be expressions of support.
The task force
The statement by the Damage Assessment and Accountability Taskforce called out the arrest of Matthew Michanowicz, 52, of Duquesne Heights, as a result of the task force’s work. Police allege that Michanowicz left a backpack containing homemade explosives at an undisclosed location on Sunday, which police recovered on Monday. Police say Michanowicz is seen on security camera footage placing the backpack.
“The DAAT will continue to review intelligence indicating planned violence against property, journalists, private citizens and law enforcement,” City of Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich said. “That intelligence includes online threats to damage and loot businesses, and detailed instructions on how to make a Molotov cocktail.
“These threats are real,” said Hissrich, citing an active investigation into a Saturday incident in which police allege that “a protester threw an improvised incendiary device at a Pittsburgh police officer near Mellon Square, which exploded on the ground and caused a nearby officer to suffer concussion-like symptoms.”
The press release specified that the task force is investigating looting and vandalism at dozens of businesses and assaults on at least five journalists.
The bureau also restated its commitment to protecting people who are participating in protests and when officers intervene.
“Law enforcement intervenes only when violence occurs and a gathering has been deemed unlawful. At that time, orders to disperse are issued,” according to the release.
Besides city police, the task force includes: the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office, Allegheny County Police, the Allegheny County Sheriff’s Department, the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office, Pennsylvania State Police, FBI Pittsburgh, the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The task force indicated that its investigations will use footage from police body cameras, city cameras and private security camera footage.
See more photos of anti-racist demonstrations in Pittsburgh on June 5, 2020:
Continuing coverage of civil unrest, anti-racism and policing in Pittsburgh (latest at top):
- Gov. Wolf, Mayor Peduto call for police reform on the sixth day of Black Lives Matter protests in Pittsburgh
- When we do nothing in the face of racism and brutality, we represent Amy Cooper and Derek Chauvin. We are complicit.
- Police deployed tear gas, rubber bullets in East Liberty against protesters of Black Lives Matter march; 20 arrested
- Pittsburgh is under curfew order after peaceful protests over George Floyd’s killing ‘get hijacked’ and turn violent