Won't get fooled again

A day after antiwar "anarchy" shut down city streets, San Francisco cops keep a tight rein on smaller but still angry crowds.

Published March 23, 2003 3:01AM (EST)

The San Francisco Police Department made mass arrests of two groups of peaceful antiwar protesters on Friday night, when the demonstrators tried to take their message off the sidewalks and into the city streets.

By 7:30 on Friday night, a group of roughly 300 protesters had been corralled on the sidewalk for an hour at Franklin Street between Grove and McAllister, near City Hall. They were encircled by cops in riot gear, awaiting processing, while on-lookers shouted "Let them go!" On Hayes Street between Polk and Larkin, another group of about 100 were also surrounded by cops, awaiting the plastic cords, used as handcuffs.

"We're outnumbered. There are more cops than protesters. It's been like that all day," said Chris Bartle, 36, a small business broker, via cell phone as he waited to be arrested. Like many of the protesters rounded up in these arrests, Bartle said that he hadn't been planning on spending the evening in jail. In fact, he said he'd promised his wife that he wouldn't. He'd just meant to participate in a peace march.

The SFPD's policy about who got arrested and who got a second chance tightened up Friday, after the day of huge, chaotic protests on Thursday, which the acting chief of the San Francisco Police Department called "anarchy."

Police arrested some 1,400 protesters on Thursday, but most of them knew they had it coming, since they were practicing active civil disobedience by sitting-in right in the middle of busy intersections to block traffic. On Thursday, merely marching in a street was not enough to get you arrested. In fact, on Thursday night, a crowd of thousands had freely paraded in Market Street all the way from Powell to the Castro District with a police escort.

But by Friday night, the SFPD was arresting anyone who'd been marching with a group that even stepped into the street.

There were antiwar events throughout most of the day, but nothing that compared with Thursday's chaos. SFPD spokesman Dewayne Tully said that by 3:30 p.m. on Friday 110 arrests had been made. "There is a lot less protest activity on the street right now, compared to yesterday. But we have the same number of officers on the street," he said, noting that the protests were costing the city $450,000 a day, mostly in police overtime pay. "Stay tuned," Tully added. "Things could change at any moment."

And they did. Friday's biggest march started at 5:30 p.m. from a rally at Powell and Market Street downtown, where about 2,000 protesters had gathered with signs reading "Give impeachment a chance" and "No blood for oil." But the cops were ready. San Francisco's historic cable-car turnabout had been transformed into a staging area for some 30 of the hundreds of cops in riot gear monitoring the crowd, which included a peace cheerleader, decked out in red-and-white Pippi-Longstocking knee-highs, a white mini-skirt and black combat boots.

As the brigade began to march up Market Street on the sidewalk, motorcycle cops prevented the leaders of the pack, who were carrying a "Not in Our Name" banner, from entering the streets several times. A police officer on a megaphone blared: "To all the individuals marching on Market Street, you are advised to remain on the sidewalk or you will be subject to arrest."

Failing to take Market, a group of about 100 protesters veered off on to a side street, with the goal of marching across one of the city's main arteries  Van Ness Avenue -- during rush hour. But cops stormed in, surrounding the marchers, and ordering them back on the sidewalk. "Let us march!" they shouted from the sidewalk, and then "false arrest!" as the police wagons arrived. Even protesters in the group who had stayed on the sidewalk were to be arrested.

Another group that had come from a different direction tried another route, only to be confronted by a line of police. An officer addressing detainees on Franklin St. behind the War Memorial Opera House said through a megaphone: "You only get one bite out of the apple. If you've already been arrested, today or yesterday, you're in for the weekend." He said the rest of those cited would be released by the early hours of the morning.

Susan King, 38, a development director for the San Francisco Women's Building had been marching with the group on Franklin, but escaped arrest when the cops blocked the street at Fulton and McAllister, arbitrarily cutting off her part of the protest from the rest of the march. "It's just divide and conquer. They got their ass kicked yesterday, and they're going to take it out on anyone they can get," she said, as she watched those detained from a park behind the opera building.

Becky Bond, a creative director for Working Assets Radio, was among those awaiting arrest on Franklin. Interviewed via cell phone, she said that among the cruel-and-unusual punishment the protesters had to put up with was being trapped with each other's company: "A white girl with a dandelion behind her ear is singing Bob Marley into a megaphone," Bond, 33, reported. "I think this might be worse than being arrested."

Still reeling from a police abuse scandal that led to the indictment of 10 officers earlier this month, the SFPD didn't need the black eye from Thursday's so-called anarchy. So the cops seemed ready for a rematch Friday. It's unclear whether the cops' aggressive response on Friday will improve their image with city residents -- who are mostly antiwar, but ambivalent about the inconvenience of Thursday's traffic-snarling protests -- or tarnish it.

At one point, in the chilly, waiting crowd, someone shouted into a protester's megaphone: "Did someone lose a cell phone?" A protester responded by yelling: "Did someone lose the Bill of Rights?" The detainees cheered.

By Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

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