Over 1,400 demonstrators were arrested on the streets of San Francisco yesterday, and protests condemning the U.S. military action in Iraq continue to rage across the city Friday. Thursday’s protest was a turning point for San Francisco’s anti-war demonstrators, who expressed far greater anger and encountered heavier police resistance than any past anti-war protests in recent memory.
Amid wailing sirens and hovering helicopters, activists marched through the financial district, massed in front of City Hall, chained themselves together at intersections, shut down the San Francisco Federal Building and stormed the Bay Bridge. More than 100 people were arrested after surrounding the entrance to the Bechtel Corporation, a prominent defense contractor. ”No business as usual, walkouts and refusal chanted one crowd.”
Some of the most violent confrontations between police and protesters took place at the entrances to the I80 on ramps leading to the Bay Bridge, and outside the Federal Building which was ringed by U.S. Marshals, and officers of the Federal Protective Service under the Department of Homeland Security. City officials put much of the blame for the clashes on protesters. Assistant Police Chief Alex Fagan Sr. described the protests as, ”absolute anarchy,” and Mayor Willie Brown issued a statement lashing out at protesters ”who have chosen to specifically try to disrupt this city rather than gather peacefully.”
The violent incidents witnessed by this reporter were carried out by officials who were outflanked by both fast-moving groups of demonstrators, and clusters of activists who held their ground at strategic locations. The most serious incident took place at 2:50 in the afternoon yesterday when protesters blocking the entrance to an underground parking garage at the west side of Federal Building were rammed by an exiting federal park ranger truck. The protesters, who had formed a human chain, were briefly stopping vehicles before letting them pass. When the driver of the truck encountered the group, he did not stop, but instead gunned the engine striking Nadya Williams who was sitting on the ground cross legged. Williams was pulled out from under the truck’s front left wheel by fellow protester John Mason.
”The bumper and the tire pushed me over, the bumper was against my head,” said Williams who was bruised and shaken by the incident.
”She might have been run over if I hadn’t pulled her out,” said Mason. ”He didn’t see her and he didn’t stop for anybody.”
After striking Williams, the truck stopped on Polk Street. As I ran behind the truck to get the license number (07824), the driver saw me, threw the truck into reverse, and hit the gas, backing up for the entire length of Polk Street. I jumped out of the way.
Williams flagged down a San Francisco police officer and reported the incident. ”It’s not my jurisdiction,” said Lt. Choy of the SFPD who nevertheless agreed to gather more information for a complaint. When informed of the incident, an officer at the U.S. Park Police refused to comment. ”We don’t have time for this,” said the officer. ”We are busy.”
More Attacks At The Federal Building
At 3:30, as the protesters in front of the garage entrance were still recoiling from the truck assault, a thin, determined man in a pinstrip suit attempted to push aside 14-year-old Anastasha Nunes who was guarding the low wall surrounding the garage entrance. Nunes and the man wrestled with each other, and the man retreated angrily up Polk Street leaving Nunes in tears. ”She’s been shoved by many cops all over town today,” said her mother Aline Nunes who comforted her sobbing daughter.
At the east end of the Federal Building, where another group blocked one of the main side entrances, protesters were assaulted several times by officers. Jean Stewart of El Sobrante sat in her wheelchair next to her friend 75-year-old Robert Miller who sat in his chair beside her. As the wheelchairs were being chained together at 10 am by protester Iryna Kwasng, she said one of the U.S. Marshals guarding the entrance grabbed the chain and punched her in the face. Miller then took hold of the chain and engage in a tug of war with officers while seated in his chair. He too was stuck in the head and suffered a minor wound. ”I asked him for his name and his ID number but he refused to give it to me,” said Kwasng. ”We do have his face on video.”
At 3:30, another scuffle occurred at the east entrance when Federal prosecutor George Bevan, who recently tried medical marijuana grower Ed Rosenthal in a high profile case, arrived at the north entrance and found it had been shut down by demonstrators. Bevan proceeded to the east entrance. Together with a small group of attorneys, he climbed over Stewart, Miller, and the other protesters. U.S. Marshals shoved at the demonstrators. Bevan was knocked to the ground during the struggle and had to be dragged to his feet through the human barricade.
By 4:30 over 1,500 protesters had marched from City Hall to the north entrance of the Federal Building. Pinned between federal police guarding the entrance, and a phalanx of motorcycle police lining the other side of the Turk Street, the demonstrators sat down in on Turk Street. The action included seven anti-war demonstrators who emerged from the building after being arrested in mid-morning as they tried to block employees and visitors from entering. ”This is what democracy looks like,” chanted the crowd. ”Show me what democracy looks like.”
Attorney Bob Waggener, stood in the crowd of demonstrators, conspicuous in his suit. Waggener said he supported the protesters, but had a client inside that he was concerned about. ”I don’t support this war and the demonstrators send a message,” he said. ”But I’m here to help my client, he is in jail and that is not a good thing.”
Field medics Damien McAnany and Alex Haddad watched the crowd carefully. The two men said they had been all over the city that day, but were particularly concerned about police actions at the federal building where they had treated three protesters for minor injuries. ”The worse brutality we’ve seen is here,” said McAnany.
The federal building has been the site of protests since 7 am Thursday morning when a group of protesters offered a prize of five bus passes for the person who could drink the most red, white and blue tinted milk in 30 seconds, and then puke the fluid back up on command. The plaza in front of the federal building was marked by drying pools of vomit. Amid the stench, a group of lithe people serenely pulled out mats early in the afternoon, and practiced yoga in front of the assembled officers at the building entrance.
”Militarism makes me sick,” explained Dan Abbott, one of the vomit action organizers. ”Puking was the most disgusting display of emotion I could think of. What is the point of trying to appeal to people’s sensitivities when other people are dying? You have to smell the bile within me.”
Marching On The Freeway Ramps
By 6 pm, protesters at the Federal Building had converged back on Market Street. Several thousand demonstrators than circled Union Square, San Francisco’s main shopping district. Marching past the elegant boutiques and the photos of chic hollow cheeked models, the group again crossed Market Street and headed towards the freeway.
With darkness falling, protesters could see that the California Highway Patrol had blocked off the freeway on ramps to the Bay Bridge which protesters had been attempting to seize and shut down throughout most of the day. By 6:20 CHP had engaged demonstrators in a tense standoff at Harrison and Fremont Streets. Wearing full riot gear, the offers were backed by a line of tightly packed motorcycle police. ”This is not democracy!” chanted protesters who sat and lay down in front of the police line.
Two observers from the city Office of Citizens Complaints narrated the scene into their hand held voice recorders. ”CHP officers on motorcycles need to back off,” they said. ”They are now arresting a man in a sleeveless t-shirt with ‘Fuck Bush’ painted on the front.”
Minutes later another group of CHP officers encircled the protesters from the other side of Fremont Street closing off the group who were now surrounded and penned on the sides by chain link fence. Realizing that they were being caught in a pincer action by nervous highway patrol officers who were not accustomed to engaging protesters, the crowd knew that the confrontation was about to get very ugly. ”We will let the fascist cops beat us and we will take it smiling,” yelled one man. ”Peace! Now!”
As officers on foot and on motorcycle began advancing toward the crowd, protesters retreatred quickly down the hill towards the second group of police on Howard Street who waited by two buses intended for detainees. Fleeing protesters cheered runners above on the overhead freeway who were sprinting towards the bridge. But once under the freeway overpass, protesters found themselves herded together in a panicked crush.
Officers then began beating protesters with their nightsticks. One man who was hit dragged himself to the side of the fence where he lay in shock surrounded by a group of demonstrators calling for a medic. They were ignored by police, who protesters said unleashed pepper spray on those who did not flee fast enough. Dozens of people sat handcuffed on the ground. Distracted by the mayhem, the line of officers at Howard Street broke their wall of blue to make arrests, allowing hundreds of demonstrators to slip past the police cordon.
Cheryl Savan crawled out of the crowd after being beaten to the ground. ”They hit me once and they kept hitting me until I went down,” said Savan as she limped painfully up Market Street at 6:40 p.m.. ”I started chanting, ‘Peaceful Protest,’ and they came directly at me hitting me in the left knee and left arm and on the right side. I called the medic number for the protest, but they said they had no medics to dispatch.”
According to several demonstrators, police were also assaulted yesterday. Protester Michael Hernandez said he witnessed two police officers being attacked by a crowd of 200 protesters at 8th and Mission about 3 p.m. Thursday. Hernandez said the crowd beat the officers with the mobile barricades set up to contain the demonstrations. Police were not available to comment on incident. Hernandez said he did not join in because his group, the International Socialist Organization does not support such action. ”We’re for peace,” said Hernandez.
Demonstrators also took out their frustration on the press. Newspaper boxes on Market Street were smashed, and both boxes and TV satellite trucks were spray painted with the word, ”lies.” Demonstrator Steve Freed showed a photo he had just taken minutes earlier of a sleek blond Channel 2 news reporter before, and after, a cream pie was heaved at her face. ”There was a big dispute and she was accused of not reporting accurately of what was going on here,” said Freed.
By 7 pm, protesters were back on Market and Montgomery blocking a long black limo that was attempted to turn right on to Market Street. Businessman John Holmes was on the corner arguing with protesters that the occupants of the limo should be allowed to pass. ”This sucks. I’m totally into free speech but you shouldn’t block him,” he’s just trying to get to work,” said Holmes. ”It’s about oil dude,” yelled back one protester. ”So you can wear your three piece suits and drive your SUV.”
In front of the San Francisco Shopping Center at Powell and Market, two young men held signs, one of which said, ”God Bless Our Troops.” They were surrounded by a group of anti-war protesters. ”We support our government leaders, they are protecting us,” said Eric Young, of the two pro-war protesters. Young said that he and his friend were on a spring break road trip from Minneapolis, and planned to go to West Point next year.
”We are stopping Hussein from hurting his own people,” said his friend who added that he was a devout Christian.
”Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, don’t kill,” shot back an anti-war protester named River. ”What part of the bible to your edit, and what part to you leave in?”
”I think he’s very brave to come out here,” said Meil Bacon of the pro-war protesters. She who held a sign that said ”Respect our troops, don’t make them murderers.”
As the night wore on, groups of protesters continued to assemble on Market Street were they blocked intersections and were dispersed by police. ”The whole point of today was to shut the city down,” said a demonstrator named Davor, standing on the street with his megaphone. ”I might not have the opportunity to do this next week, we don’t know how intense the oppression will get.”
At about 7 pm, a group of thirty police officers approached a dozen protesters standing on Market Street near Market and Montgomery. The protesters included a a man with a young child on his shoulders. A police commander approached and asked the man to leave before he gave the order to arrest. Other protesters begged the man not to get his child involved. ”Somebody could accidentally hit your child,” they pleaded. The man did not move. ”It’s not an accident when bombs are dropping on Iraqi children,” he replied.
Both sides held their ground until it was clear that the police were not going to advance. The man with the child then turned away. ”I’d like to report a revolution,” said one observer as he watched a journalist reach for their cell phone.
ANN HARRISON is a freelance journalist, in the Bay Area. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org