Williams: Pittsburgh police should have thought before gassing

Stampede in Livingston County! Upon hearing this news, most students at Geneseo would probably assume that there was an incident involving farm animals somewhere nearby.

Students currently in attendance at the University of Pittsburgh, however, would probably have a different reaction.

The G-20 Summit, a gathering of leaders from the top 20 most influential economies in the world, occurred in Pittsburgh, Pa. on Sept. 24 and 25. President Barack Obama chaired the event while some of the world's most prominent world figures, bankers and economists convened to discuss the globe's current economic quagmire.

Obviously, security around the city was "spandex-pants-after-Thanksgiving-dinner" tight. The Pittsburgh Police Department was understandably tense with such an event occurring within its jurisdiction. What happened the night of Sept. 24, however, extends beyond heightened security and vigilant law enforcement into the realm of police brutality and unnecessary force.

When Pittsburgh students ventured out of their dorms Thursday night to survey the damage of the day's protests, squadrons of police in riot gear greeted them, ready for battle.

First, the officers herded the crowd around. Go here, walk there, back up into that road. It was not long before groups of students confusedly began running into each other, an inevitable event that the police somehow interpreted to be an act of conscious rebellion from the students.

At this time, Nathan Earnest Harper, chief of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, declared martial law in the city of Pittsburgh. This declaration, combined with the large number of students on the streets and the aggressive, "us vs. them" mentality of the police, prompted a massive flood of tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd.

Several students were arrested and several more were hospitalized in what was most likely a traumatizing event for all who were present. The most shocking display of force was experienced by the students who were gassed standing on the balcony of their dorm on Forbes Avenue. They were never even on the street; how can a group of unarmed students in their dormitory be seen as a threat worthy of tear gas?

Of course, there are several factors to consider before throwing out the words "police brutality" (though I, of course, already have). First of all, those students should have never gone out there in the first place. Sure, the events of the day were dramatic and interesting, but the smart and safe decision would have been to stay inside.

Second, the city of Pittsburgh and the police force cannot be blamed for being a little antsy. When that many world leaders are concentrated in one area, everything that can be done to prevent acts of terrorism needs to be done. Frankly, when Obama is in town, no one messes around.

Attacking unarmed students, whose only crimes were curiosity and a tendency to behave unintelligently in large groups, however, is too harsh. With the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University and Duquesne University all calling the city their own, the police should have been prepared for student interaction.

So why in the world should we care about any of this? The incident did not even come close to bursting our precious little upstate New York bubble. Unless you pay attention to CNN on those snazzy flat screens in Mary Jemison dining hall or in the library, you probably didn't even know it happened.

We should care because we are students, too. If their rights to walking down the street, to having a safe dorm room or even to peacefully protest can be taken away that easily, so can ours.