By Jake Mysliwczyk
PITTSBURGH — Following a peaceful protest Saturday afternoon that was ‘hijacked’ and instigated into violence by what many believed were white, male anarchists, Pittsburgh officials placed Downtown in lockdown and instituted an 8:30 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew. Sunday morning brought the first opportunity to view and document the aftermath of the night’s events.
I started in Market Square, a place where Pittsburghers normally go on their lunch breaks or spend summer evenings attending the artists markets or watching free concerts. But walking through PPG Plaza into the square I quickly noticed how different the mood was from normal Sunday mornings.
Police and security officers stood on every sidewalk; contractors cut plywood to cover over busted windowpanes, smashed out by rioters.
I think it’s important to make clear that when I saw this damage, rioters was the word that came to mind, not protesters. Because while protesters started Saturday’s action in the memory of George Floyd, an unarmed black man killed by Minneapolis Police officers after being crushed into the pavement by police officers who ignored his pleas for help, it was rioters who finished it.
Almost every business on the east end of Market Square was targeted from 5 Guys Burgers all the way over to the Mexican restaurant, Las Velas. The damage to Starbucks stood out the most as every piece of glass on the building’s facade was heavily damaged.
Walking past boarded-up windows and pieces of broken glass along Forbes Avenue, I saw several small groups of people on the sidewalks picking up trash and debris. Random Pittsburghers were coming together to clwan up from the chaos the night before. Members of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership were removing graffiti from utility poles and bus stops as others swept up glass and poured it into trash bags.
I then drove to PPG Paints Arena where about 12 hours earlier, a Pittsburgh Police car was smashed and set ablaze. My original plan was to photograph crews cleaning the graffiti off of the Mario Lemieux statue outside the entrance to the arena but, just off to the left, I saw someone sitting on the sidewalk looking into the distance at the city skyline and holding a sign that read, “18 months ago, we as Pittsburghers, stood together. We were STRONGER THAN HATE. I promise that it can happen again. Pittsburgh loves ALL of its humans. I love our city. Please don’t destroy her.” In that moment I realized I wasn’t there to photograph the aftermath of a riot, but a community coming back together to clean up their city; many of whom actually participated in the protest the day before.
In the aftermath of every negative event, positivity always shines through. I spent the next few hours trying to document that. The man on the sidewalk was Adam Napotnik from Gibsonia. Adam said when he finished his shift at work last night, what he saw happening “brought me to tears.” When I asked why he came out today he said, “black or white, we are a lot closer than the world makes us out to be. We all want to fix the problem of racism going on within the police.”
At the corner of Washington Place and Fifth Avenue, I ran into another small group cleaning up trash. Andrea Hollia, her husband Anthony and Aysel Ahmadova were walking up the sidewalk and had already collected a full bag of trash. “It’s nice to see everyone come together,” Andrea Hollia told me. She said she wants to “change the narrative.” Aysel met up with Andrea and Anthony after seeing Andrea’s Facebook post talking about her intention of spending the morning cleaning up the neighborhood.
As I was driving back into Downtown, I saw the four members of the Fruscello family from Whitehall with gloves and a garbage bag, walking the sidewalks around Duquesne University picking up whatever trash they could find. Ria Fruscello attended the peaceful protest yesterday afternoon but left as things escalated. Ria told her family, “we are going down and helping” after they woke up this morning.
Finally I ran into North Side resident Jeremy Roberts as he was picking up pieces of shattered glass along Fifth Avenue business Smoker Friendly. Jeremy said after watching the events transpire yesterday he “wanted to come clean up and help out.”
These were just a few of the dozens of more individuals and small groups out helping with cleanup efforts around the city. It showed me that regardless of the situation, Pittsburghers come together when the city needs them most.
Jake Mysliwczyk is the visuals editor of the Pittsburgh Current, where this story first appeared.