PITTSBURGH — As the sky threatened rain here, nearly 2,000 protesters gathered in Arsenal Park on Thursday with a variety of grievances, setting off some clashes with police, and moved toward the distant convention center where world leaders are set to meet today.
Major economic conferences have become regular targets for protest groups, and it was no different on the eve of the so-called G-20 summit, the meeting of leaders from the world's 20 largest economies.
About the time that President Obama and his wife, Michelle, were stepping off Air Force One, protesters started throwing rocks at police and police cars and dragging trash containers into the middle of the street to block traffic. A few local businesses, including a branch of PNC Bank, had windows shattered by rocks or bricks.
Police in riot gear fired rubber bullets and canisters of pepper spray and smoke into the crowds.
By Thursday evening, 16 people had been arrested, bringing the week's tally of G-20-related arrests to 32, said Pittsburgh police spokeswoman Diane Richard.
The protesters' messages were as diverse as the places they called home. A social worker from South Korea wore a T-shirt advocating better wages and working conditions for factory workers. Two teachers from Mexico City talked earnestly about their concerns over unemployment rates and growing violence at the U.S. border.
"The world's leaders need to hear us: We need jobs. We need a stable global economy," Carmella Silveria, 39, said. "We need smart growth, not just growth."
For Jihan Gearon, an Arizona organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network, Thursday's unauthorized gathering -- as well as the march scheduled for today -- was not primarily about getting her concerns over so-called clean coal to the leaders gathered inside the convention center.
"I think this is more about people who are already convinced there's a problem having a chance to connect with others who share those same concerns," Gearon said. "Everything's happening so far from there, how could anyone inside the convention center even hear?"
Thursday's gathering was organized by a local anarchist group, whose members said that as a sign of defiance, they intentionally did not obtain a permit to hold their protest.