Protesters and police reach free speech agreement

Huddled together with their handmade signs (“Honk for peace”), a group of peaceful protesters have been staging an around-the-clock protest by the army recruiting station on Forbes Avenue in Oakland since Sept. 4. Protesters and members of the Pittsburgh Organizing Group (POG) intended to continue their “End War Fast” event — a hunger strike and protest demanding that American troops be immediately withdrawn from Iraq — in front of the recruiting station for the entirety of September.

Unfortunately, the month-long, 24-hour-a-day protest was interrupted several times by city of Pittsburgh Police. Protester Michael Butler was cited by police three times for a non-traffic violation of “obstructing highways and passages.” City police also cited another protester, and one woman was arrested, processed, and detained for hours by police for lying on the sidewalk.

Last Tuesday, the ACLU of Pennsylvania filed suit against the city of Pittsburgh on behalf of POG and five protesters, claiming that city police officers were infringing upon their First Amendment rights to freedom of expression and political speech. At a time when the Patriot Act has significantly restricted rights guaranteed to us by the Bill of Rights, it was a wholly courageous and necessary act on the part of the ACLU, POG, and the protesters to defend their right to peaceful protest without threat of citation or arrest.

On Wednesday, before both parties entered the federal court room for a hearing regarding a request for a temporary restraining order, the two groups gathered together and reached an out-of-court agreement. Under the agreement, the city will provide two areas on Forbes Avenue for an unlimited number of protesters to gather 24 hours a day until Sept. 30. The protesters will leave enough space for pedestrian traffic.

Patrick Young, one of the protesters cited by police, said of Wednesday’s agreement with the city, “We see today as an absolute victory on all counts.” The Tartan also considers a day when a protest group and the city are able to have a peaceful discussion outside the courtroom a victory — especially when that discussion leads to an agreement that promotes and protects our rights to free speech and political dissent.