Locking Down a City

I think that we proved to the world today that Pittsburgh authorities know how to impose marshal law, at least when given four months notice.

Law enforcement officers from as far away as Chicago and Phoenix have certainly locked down downtown Pittsburgh these last two days.  Many streets are blockaded and groups of soldiers and police officers mill in groups in the street or by barriers. The only vehicles one can see are law enforcement trucks and vans.  We saw police parading down one street on stately horses, and even a K-9 car, K-9 meaning it contains a police dog.

Razor wire twists around the tops of certain fences on the outskirts of the downtown. Very few businesses are opened, and many storefronts are boarded up in fear of an imaginary horde of protestors.  Other than law enforcement, the streets are practically deserted, although there are small clusters of people who have come downtown to try to get a glimpse of G-20 activity, plus the employees of the few business such as Jampole Communications that decided not to be intimidated by the G-20 or the possibility of marchers.

I looked for but was unable to find any marches or rallies. There were demonstrations in Lawrenceville and elsewhere that I only saw on TV: a couple of police confrontations, around 70 arrests, a dozen or so windows broken, primarily at facilities of large corporations or banks.  The size of those demonstrations—400 to 500 marchers at most at any one time —and the very minor damage inflicted convinces me of three things:

  1. It was a good idea to deploy as many law enforcement officers as the city did.
  2. The City and police should have approved more permits for marches and demonstrations, and maybe all of them.
  3. It was not necessary to lock down downtown Pittsburgh.

Perhaps the most puzzling aspect of Pittsburgh’s G-20 experience is the financing.  The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that the G-20 will bring $35 million in additional revenues into the city at a cost of $19 million for security and to stage the G-20 show.  Other sources are paying $14 million, leaving Pittsburgh with a bill for $5 million.  Now the area may be ahead, but not by $30 million, because we have to subtract the as-yet uncounted business losses from closing down the main business district, plus the other losses from the many fearful organizations and school districts that closed down outside the downtown area.

The other problem with the $30 million number is that it goes into the coffers of hotels, caterers, airlines, and other businesses, but the $5 million comes from the already overburdened Pittsburgh coffers.  What a perverse inversion of the economic development objective that these convocations of leaders have had since the medieval French fair.  Once the king selected a location for the fair, the royal coffers underwrote a complete sprucing up of the town where the fair was to be held, because after all, a king could not visit a seedy city.  The mayors would vie for the right to hold the fair because it represented a substantial injection of capital into the city.  I thought that that was supposed to be a salutary side effect when the G-20 comes to town.

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2 comments on “Locking Down a City
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