Updated 7:56 p.m.
Protesters gathered in Squirrel Hill this afternoon to oppose a visit from President Donald Trump, whose arrival days after the mass shooting at Tree of Life synagogue prompted disagreements with officials, questions about his timing, and large-scale demonstrations.
A protest began at 3 p.m. at Darlington Road and Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill, roughly one-half mile from the temple, which remains an active crime scene. The assembly was organized by the Pittsburgh chapter of IfNotNow, an American Jewish progressive activist group and one of two local Jewish groups to issue open letters this week asking the president to avoid coming here.
The president, First Lady Melania Trump, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner arrived around 3:45 p.m. at the 171st Air Refueling Wing in Coraopolis.
A second protest began at 4 p.m. at the corner of Beechwood Boulevard and Forbes Avenue, a few blocks away from the first.
Both protests and Trump’s visit came just hours after the first burials for some of the 11 people killed in Saturday’s attack on the synagogue. It has been called the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in American history and also left six people wounded, four of them police officers.
The suspected gunman, 46-year-old Robert Bowers of Baldwin, has been charged with dozens of state and federal counts related to the shooting, and federal prosecutors have announced plans to seek the death penalty. Bowers is due back in court on Thursday after making his initial appearance on Monday.
‘We know Trump is responsible’
At the first gathering at the corner of Darlington Road and Murray Avenue, attendees held signs critical of Trump, white supremacists and white nationalists — and signs denouncing all three at once.
Arielle Cohen with IfNotNow’s Pittsburgh chapter said before the event, “We know Trump is responsible for the violence in our city.”
IfNotNow member Diana Clarke, addressing the crowd with a megaphone, added, “We are here to mourn the 11 Jewish people killed on Saturday. We are here to mourn the two black people shot in Louisville, Kentucky, last Wednesday. We’re here to talk about how white nationalism makes everyone vulnerable.”
Clarke continued, “This is about keeping each other safe. […] None of us are safe unless all of us are safe.”
Hebrew prayers followed along with food for attendees. Organizers called it a nod to the Jewish mourning ritual of Shiva.
Attendees were also urged to attend the 4 p.m. demonstration organized by Bend the Arc’s Pittsburgh chapter, that one located a few blocks to the east.
‘Pittsburgh Loves All Our Neighbors’
At the Bend the Arc gathering at Beechwood Boulevard and Forbes Avenue, an organizer said, “This is the first of four excruciating days of funerals. Today, we are here to model the kind of community we can be when at our best; the kind of community that loves our neighbors no matter their background or religion or where they were born; the kind of community that reaches out when there is tragedy and when there is not.”
“We embrace those who feel they must retreat from politics to mourn and heal. […] Today we are joining together in a collective ritual to heal and mourn.”
The group then marched from its starting point to Shady Avenue. It was joined by attendees of the first protest minutes after setting off.
The marchers continued to the corner of Shady Avenue and Northumberland, two blocks from the Tree of Life synagogue where the president was visiting. For a few minutes the crowd, which organizers estimated to be 5,000 people or more in size, stayed there. At one point, police attempted to clear a section of roadway, but the crowd’s size meant it was slow to react. There was at least one arrest.
The event moved on from there and remained peaceful throughout, with participants chanting and singing, often in Hebrew.
It wound up Murray Avenue and ended outside Sixth Presbyterian Church at Murray and Forbes. Three nights earlier, thousands of people filled the same intersection just hours after the massacre.
Today, speakers addressed the crowd from the front steps of the church.
Speaker Monica Ruiz of Casa San Jose also addressed Trump.
“We are here to send the message today that we don’t want you here,” she said. “You and your followers don’t represent us in Pittsburgh. […] Trump, you are not a good neighbor.”
Tracy Baton with the Women’s March of Pittsburgh added, “Gathered and restless, we rely on our Pittsburgh values that we welcome the stranger […] Pittsburgh values matter everywhere now. Those who embrace those values are always welcome here. Those who reject and tear down the things we build are not welcome.”
The event ended with calls for attendees to vote on Nov 6.
To ‘grieve with the families’
Trump has called the Tree of Life shooting “pure evil” and the suspect a “wacko” and “no fan of mine.”
But some, including many in Pittsburgh, have blamed Trump’s rhetoric and his us-versus-them political style for creating a climate in which violence like this is more inevitable than before. Others have gone even further, linking a conspiracy theory involving the migrant caravan currently making its way north from Central America — a theory Bowers cited minutes before opening fire at Tree of Life — to the president and the conservative media outlets he favors.
After Trump’s plan to visit Pittsburgh was confirmed, Mayor Bill Peduto asked that the president wait until after the Tree of Life dead were buried. Trump instead said he would be coming to town to “grieve with the families” and to meet with the wounded first responders still in the hospital.
Peduto declined to appear with the president as did a number of local, state and federal politicians, CNN reported.
Not everyone in Pittsburgh or the city’s Jewish community was opposed to the president coming to town. Rabbi Jeffrey Myers who survived the Tree of Life shooting was asked if he would welcome Trump here. “I am a citizen and he is my president,” Myers told CNN, responding in the affirmative.
Some in the Jewish community favor the Trump administration’s pro-Israel footing and hard stance on Iran. The president also has Jewish grandchildren, and daughter Ivanka converted.
A gallup poll placed Trump’s support among Jewish Americans at 26 percent in 2017.
In Pittsburgh, his critics included members of the Jewish community, some of whom issued the open letters asking him to stay away.
“President Trump, you are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you commit yourself to compassionate, democratic policies that recognize the dignity of all of us,” reads an open letter from the Pittsburgh chapter of Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice. The group’s website calls on readers to “be part of the Jewish resistance.”
The literature issued by today’s protest organizers was very similar, with one calling Trump “the enabler-in-chief” of white nationalism and the other blaming the president’s “lies about the [migrant] caravan” for fueling the Tree of Life gunman.