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One night in San Francisco
My experiences the night of 3/21/03
Last night, after work, I decided to wander into downtown San Francisco to see the protest action. While I definitely don't support the war, I am also not supportive of the disruptive tactics that the protestors are using. I feel they are alienating many people who they should be trying to convince to join with them. Additionally, they are placing others at risk by significantly hampering traffic, including emergency vechicles, from passing freely through the city core.
I managed to find a group of protestors around Harrison and 2nd so I parked my bike and started walking along the sidewalks watching the parade. This is quite near some of the highway onramps. Very soon, I saw a tremendous police presense. A large batch of police in riot gear marching in a Phalanx behind the protestors. There were also walls of riot police blocking the on ramp to the bridge. At this point, there was no clashes although some of the protestor took to yelling at the police. The police were very calm and just guided the crowd away from the on ramps.
Eventually, the crowd meandered through down town a bit and ended up by the Freemont offramp. By the time I had gotten there, a bunch of folks had climded onto the highway and were disrupting traffic with their apparent goal being to get onto the bridge. The cops seemed uncertain how to handle this as the crowd grew and the cops simply prevent more people from going up the ramp as well as keeping an area of the street clear.
Unfortunately, the cops lost their temper at some point, or were ordered to clear the area and started aggressively pushing people out of their way. If people were unable to move or got offended by being pushed by the cops, the cops started wielding their night sticks and striking people. I found this to be very disappointing. The cops did not ask people to move along or even tell people where they wanted them to go. I was standing on the sidewalk watching the onramp when two lines of cops converged on me from opposite directions. Both groups were aggressively pushing people into each other from opposite directsions and into cars without any clear plan other than exerting forcing. Some of the cops and protestors were clearly losing their tempers. I saw a few people get beaten a bit by the cops without an reasonable justification other than they didn't run away fast enough when pushed by cops (not even being told where to go). I was a bit worried that things could get very messy.
The organizers started leading the crowd away (note: they are pretty well organized with cell phones and talk abouts to try and keep the crowd together and well routed). According to sfgate, the cops brought out the tear gas sometime after I left. I think the cops were justified in clearing the highway and ushering the crowd along but suddenly using force without provocation or communication -- even on spectators -- seems entirely unjustified.
The march the headed up Market. At one point, someone shattered a window in an ATM chamber. I was very happy to hear a widespread boo rize from the crowd showing most people did not condone this type of destructive behavior. Over the course of the evening, we marched all the way up to Castro. At many points, I saw people randomly knocking things over or freshly spray painted graffiti. It seemed to be mainly the younger kids who were being destructive. Many of them seem to be taking the protest as an oppurtunity for uncontrolled destruction. Others seems to be generally venting their unhappiness with society as a whole rather than focusing on the core issue. However, this is the minority. A very visible minority but the minority none the less.
Over the course of the evening, I saw many large groups of cops following the protestors and walking immediately next to them and peacefully co-existing. Generally, they seemed to behave well and not being antagonistic. They would stand and look evil in front of various buildings they were concerend about, like city hall, but basically seemed to be around in case anything bad happened. At city hall, some protestors started getting in the faces of the cops and the cops just ignored them. Other protestors encouraged the loud mouths to continue marching rather than annoy the cops.
At the head of the protest, there were motorcycle cops who would block traffic so that nobody got run over. Behind the protest, there were usually emergency vehicles plus a muni bus or three filled with cops in riot gear.
It was an interesting evening. I think both sides are trying their best and occasionally being stupid. If this is prolonged, I'm worried that tempers could blow up far more frequently and people will get hurt.
a bit of destruction
alternative uses of muni