Is this Pittsburgh or Portland?

by Juliette Rihl

viral video showing the arrest of a protester by plainclothes police in an unmarked van in Pittsburgh on Aug. 15 has incited outcry from activists, civil rights attorneys, elected officials and residents.

The incident has raised questions about the presence of plainclothes officers at protests and whether the arrest violates First Amendment rights. PublicSource reached out to legal experts, former law enforcement officers and civil rights advocates to help understand the tactic and the tension over plainclothes arrests.

Law enforcement officials claim the reason they pursued the arrest the way they did was to draw as little attention as possible and avoid escalating the situation. Yet some worry that the tactic may be a strategy to deter protest participation.

The protest marshal, Matthew Cartier, was arrested for allegedly blocking traffic, despite multiple verbal warnings from police, according to law enforcement. He has been charged with failure to disperse, disorderly conduct and obstruction to highways or other public passages.

During a press conference on Sunday, Aug. 16, Pittsburgh Bureau of Police Chief Scott Schubert said the bureau “did not do something to make people frightened” during the arrest. “That was a calculated movement that was done to remove somebody from the event and to make sure everything was safe when the protest moved on.”

Yet others saw the arrest as a form of intimidation. “The thing about these tactics to me, is that it seems clear that they’re putting in resources to [arrest protesters]… in a manner that might be designed to discourage the protests from happening in general,” said Jennvine Wong, a staff attorney for The Cop Accountability Project at the Legal Aid Society. “Because they’re so hypersensitive of really kind of controlling these protests, they’re ignoring the balance of respecting their First Amendment rights.”

Mayor Bill Peduto on Monday spoke out harshly against the tactic of what some people have called “snatch and grab” but police called “low-visibility arrest.”

“It is hard to find the words for how livid I was after seeing the online videos of the disturbing arrest at Saturday’s protest,” a Monday statement from Peduto said. “I have taken the time to review all the video and information that has been made available to me. As Mayor, I will never tolerate these tactics being used at peaceful protests again.”

But that rebuke also raises questions.

“Who will define what a peaceful protest is?” said attorney Lisa Middleman, who is representing Cartier. “[B]ecause, honestly, I think these peaceful protests turn into something else when the police use violence against people who are protesting.”

Several other local officials, including Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner and Pittsburgh City Councilmembers R. Daniel Lavelle, Deb Gross, Corey O’Connor and Bobby Wilson, also spoke out against the incident.


Is this Pittsburgh or Portland? Experts break down ‘pop-out’ arrest tactic used by city police



A screenshot from a viral video of an arrest of a protester by plainclothes police at a Saturday protest.

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