Chanting filled the streets from Mount Washington to Downtown on Sunday evening, as people marched from Grandview Overlook to Market Square via the P.J. McArdle Roadway and Smithfield Street Bridge.
The march was organized by the grassroots organization Pittsburgh I Can’t Breathe [PICB], and drew a massive crowd of demonstrators on the ninth day of protests in Pittsburgh against racism and police violence.
“We don’t want to be out here marching every day. It’s 2020. Why are we still talking about racism?” PICB organizer Kyna James, 30, said to the crowd before marching began Sunday afternoon.
Organizers decorated the march’s starting point in Mount Washington with white balloons. “Each one of these balloons represents the souls lost by police brutality,” said PICB founder Dasia Clemons, 24, of South Side. “These are the souls of our people.”
Participants were encouraged to take a balloon, write a name or message on it and march with it before tying it to the Smithfield Street Bridge. “We’re going to mark the bridge so that everyone can see, and we can symbolize the lives we’ve lost,” Clemons said.
Clemons’s daughter, Harmony, 6, also spoke at the event. “I have the mark of a young warrior,” she told an enthusiastic crowd. “I have a dream, just like Martin Luther King.”
About halfway through the march, the organizers stopped the crowd at the intersection of the Liberty Bridge and Arlington Avenue, where they held an extended moment of silence in honor of Breonna Taylor, who would have turned 27 on June 5. She was shot and killed in her home by police in Louisville, Kentucky on March 13.
The organizers encouraged participants to address the crowd there and share their experiences about police brutality against Black people.
Danielle Akamba, 23, told PublicSource she was marching because “enough is enough” and to exercise her freedom of speech. “Democracy is not doing its job,” she said. “So we’re going to show them what democracy looks like.”
Bruce Fisher, 71, was among the marchers. Before retirement, he taught social studies at Woodland Hills High School, the school attended by Antwon Rose II before he was killed by a police officer June 19, 2018. “So I’m here to support all my students from Woodland Hills High School that I taught over the years,” he said.
Police officers who were stationed at several locations throughout the were met with the chant, “I don’t see no riot here. Why are you in riot gear?”
Once the crowd reached its destination of Market Square, PICB organizers again addressed the group. Clemons called on Pittsburgh police chief Scott Schubert to drop all charges against peaceful protesters. “Chief, if you are really with Pittsburgh I can’t breathe, if you are really with Minneapolis, drop all charges,” she said.
On Friday, Schubert knelt with protestors in a demonstration in Beechview and defended criticism in a post on the Bureau of Police Facebook page. In a May 29 statement, he called the actions of the police officers involved in George Floyd’s death in Minnesota “incomprehensible and senseless.”
Earlier in the day, several hundred people lay in the grass and on the walking path at Point State Park for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the length of time prosecutors said Derek Chauvin, a Minneapolis police officer, kneeled on the neck of George Floyd before he died.
The Sunday demonstration, which included several dozen speakers, marked the ninth day of largely peaceful protests in the Pittsburgh area against racism and police violence.
“I know that the protests are going to die down… what are we going to do after?” Tanisha Long, 30, of Crafton, asked the crowd. Long, who served as a moderator for the demonstration, runs a Black Lives Matter Facebook group for Western Pennsylvania. “At this point, we have to start making change.”
While praising the recent protests, she also called for increased Black representation in politics and educational spaces and encouraged attendees to vote.
The event ran for about three hours, and participants were encouraged to address the audience and share their personal experiences with racism and privilege. Several dozen attendees spoke. Calise Cowans, 12, of Braddock received a standing ovation after reading a poem she wrote called “White Privilege.”
“She brought me out. She wanted to voice her opinion on what’s going on,” Cowans’s grandfather Terrance Murtaza, 69, said.
The event ended with the crowd lying on the ground in silence in memory of Floyd, whose death has led to worldwide demonstrations against racism.
Continuing coverage of civil unrest, anti-racism and policing in Pittsburgh (latest at top):
- Pittsburgh marks another day of peaceful mass anti-racism rallies across the city
- As Black Lives Matter marches go on, Pittsburgh launches a task force to find “people intent on causing destruction”
- 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
- Governor addresses weekend protests across the state
- Pittsburgh is under curfew order after peaceful protests over George Floyd’s killing ‘get hijacked’ and turn violent
Juliette Rihl is a reporter for PublicSource. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Ryan Loew is PublicSource's visual storyteller/producer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @RyanLoew.