My Hometown… Under Lockdown

US police fired pepper spray and non-lethal rounds Thursday and deployed loudspeakers blasting piercing sound waves to repel anarchist youths marching on the G20 summit.
US police fired pepper spray and non-lethal rounds Thursday and deployed loudspeakers blasting piercing sound waves to repel anarchist youths marching on the G20 summit. photo credit: Associated Press

I have had a strange feeling in my stomach the last two days.

After spending my formative years growing up in Pittsburgh, I proudly call myself a Pittsburgher. Never mind the fact that after graduating high school I have only truly lived there for roughly 18 months in 11 years. No matter if I was in college in North Carolina or living in California, I have always identified with what was going on in Western PA.

This close connection over the last decade has been facilitated, in large part, by the Internet; namely www.postgazette.com. The newspaper I delivered as a kid and read as a teenager was where I went on a daily basis for news about my hometown. Hell, I was more interested to read about road construction on Interstate 79 or recently signed draft picks by the Penguins than I was about LA County adding lanes to the 405 or the Lakers going to the playoffs.

Most people would find this idiotic, being 3000 miles away and all. But for some reason I wanted to know what was going on at home. I think if you talk to most transplants, you’ll find a similar mentality.

Usually, this connection to a town is manifested through watching sports. Go into any sports bar on a weekend and you’ll see groups of people–from somewhere else–all watching their team play on TV (Sharkeez in Newport Beach was my Steelers bar).

But for me it went further. I had to know what was going on back in the Burgh. For example, I’d talk to my parents on the phone and they’d tell me about some county supervisor getting arrested and I’d say “I know. I read about it this morning online.”

All of this brings me back to why I’ve been feeling uneasy these last few days. As usual, I’ve been keeping my usual tabs on the city through Google alerts and a number of local news sites, but this week there’s been an added sense of interest because of the G-20 summit.

I’ve had a feeling of dread leading up to the summit, mainly thinking about what might go wrong. What silly antics would protesters pull? Admittedly, I probably shouldn’t have watched “Battle in Seattle,” a film about the WTO riots in 1999.

Then on Wednesday, the headline at the top of postgazette.com caught my eye. Protestors from Greenpeace rappelled over the edge of a bridge and unfurled a large banner warning of the danger to the planet’s climate from carbon dioxide emissions. Actually, it was kind of a cool stunt, with no one getting hurt.

Then yesterday, I read the headline: “G-20 opponents, police clash on Pittsburgh streets.” My heart sank. The rough video accompanying the article portrayed a scene full of tear gas, police in riot gear and mobs of people running. It’s one thing to see this video coming from Georgia (the country) or Iraq, but to see it on the streets of my hometown got me a bit emotional. It was hard to watch. The interactive media student-side of me was fascinated by how citizen journalists were capturing the drama as it unfolded, but the Pittsburgher in me couldn’t get past the haunting images.

So far, things have not escalated to the levels of Seattle in 1999, or London this past March. In all, several businesses were damaged and nearly 70 people were arrested. But seeing the grainy video gave me an uneasy and helpless feeling. Not that I would be able to do much if I was there, but the thought of my fair city under Marshall Law put a lump in my throat.

It’s ironic as I think about it. A city full of vibrancy, ready to show itself off to the world… is boarded up, hiding behind jersey barriers and riot squads.

KPB

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