SFPD raids OccupySF again, using more force this time (PHOTOS AND VIDEO)

Pub date October 17, 2011
WriterYael Chanoff
SectionPolitics Blog

2:10 pm UPDATE: OccupySF plans to march on City Hall today (Mon/17) starting at 5 pm at Justin Herman Plaza.

Police raided the OccupySF encampment for the second time last night. The events were similar to the Oct. 5 incident, where police stood in riot gear while the protesters’ materials were loaded into Department of Public Works trucks, then protesters sat, lay, and stood on the street around the trucks in an attempt to prevent them from leaving. In both cases, a kitchen and medical tent that had been set up by protesters were dismantled.

Police were by many accounts more aggressive than in the previous raid, which was the first direct police attack on an Occupy encampment in a major U.S. city. Last night, protesters were dragged, kicked, and struck by police officers, prompting the dispatch of an ambulance to take an injured protester to the hospital. There were at least five arrests.

Journalist Josh Wolf shot some excellent footage of the raid:

San Francisco Police Department spokespersons didn’t answer calls from the Guardian. Police Chief Greg Suhr told us after the last raid (which was also approved by Mayor Ed Lee) that they were only removing public safety hazards and “we will surgically and as best as possible and with as much restraint as possible try to deal with the hazards while protecting people’s First Amendment rights.” Yet last night’s raid shows the city is actually dealing more harshly with the Occupy movement than most cities. 

Around 10:15 pm, the group received a warning that police planned to enforce 10 pm curfew in Justin Herman Plaza. The camp had moved there on Saturday to accommodate growing numbers. Police informed protesters that they could not sleep in the park and that they would need to take down a few tarps that had been propped up, providing a roof for the kitchen and communications area in camp. They claimed that there would be no trouble if the camp moved back to their previous location at nearby 101 Market Street, on the sidewalk in front of the Federal Reserve Building.

Protester Katt Hobin served as a liaison with police throughout the night. She was skeptical of police claims that 101 Market Street was an “agreed upon spot.” Hobin told us, “We were encouraged to relocate. We were never told we could be at 101, or that we could be here.”

There were about 100 protesters gathered. In response to warnings of arrest for those who stayed at Justin Herman Plaza, about 30 moved to 101 Market Street. Protesters began texting, calling and tweeting supporters to come join, and by 11:30 pm there were about 200 protesters at camp.

At first, when asked, police could not provide any written statement detailing reasons for disturbing the camp or arresting participants. An officer whose nametag read G. Tom said they were there based on grievances from the Recreation and Parks Department, but that he could not name a specific individual who had complained. After some deliberation, police produced a copy of San Francisco Park Code Section 3.13, which prohibits sleeping in public parks during certain hours.

Sup. John Avalos, the mayoral candidate who has been most actively engaged with the OccupySF movement, negotiated with officers and protester representatives on speakerphone. Avalos suggested that the police come back during the day; Officer Tom replied, “It works better for us to do this in the middle of the night.”

After some negotiations, officers warned that if the tarps that had been erected were not taken down, they would have to proceed with the raid.

Around 11:30 pm, protesters met briefly and agreed not to comply with that order. Said one protester, “We took down the tents last time, and they still took our stuff and arrested people. We can’t trust them. We need to stand our ground.”

At 11:47, about 70 police in riot gear marched on to the scene. They surrounded the camp and began dismantling structures. At 11:53, Department of Public Works trucks pulled in and police began loading them with items from the camp. This included food, tarps, signs, and personal and communal items.

One protester had duct taped himself to a poll within the camp structure. Police ripped him off the poll, threw him to the ground and struck him in the head and ribs. When he left by ambulance a few hours later, he appeared to be convulsing or seizing.

As they had on Oct. 5, protesters poured into the street in an attempt to block trucks from leaving with their possessions. But the street next to Justin Herman Plaza, the southbound side of Embarcadero, separated from the northbound side by a large concrete platform, is quite narrow compared to Market Street where a similar confrontation happened last Wednesday.

Protesters were much more successful last night in blocking the trucks from leaving, and it took about an hour before the four DPW trucks were able to exit. Protesters sat, lay, and stood in the way of trucks, chanting “the people united shall never be divided” and “we shall not be moved.”

Between about midnight and 1:30 am, police tactics escalated. At first, they attempted to back the trucks out, but protesters ran to block all paths. Then one truck lurched forward onto the sidewalk dividing area, where protesters ran to block it as well as talk with the driver about why he was participating in confiscating their belongings.

Soon, police began dragging and pulling protesters who were in their way and the way of the trucks, throwing them from the street to the sidewalk. They also arrested four of those sitting in on the street.

Protester Ryan Hadar, 19, told us: “They bent back my thumbs, trying to pry me away from the people I was locking arms with. When I asked if they were trying to break my thumbs [one officer] replied, ‘only if I have to.’ Then they dragged me to the sidewalk by my index finger. I asked if they were trying to break my finger, and this time they replied, ‘Yes.’”

This level of activity continued about an hour. Protesters sprinted and zoomed back and forth on skateboards, blocking trucks from leaving in all directions. Police pushed protesters out of their path as they marched back and forth, trying to maintain hold of the situation.

At 1 am, the last truck successfully left. Police who had been behind the truck, pushing protesters away from it, were suddenly alone in a sea of OccupySF particpants. They quickly formed into a block, batons poised, as protesters encircled them. A tense moment passed before protesters broke out in cries of “the whole world is watching!”

There were reportedly 2,100 people viewing the live video stream of the events.

The altercation ended in a bizarre fashion, as police marched across Justin Herman Plaza, stopped in the tracks, then seemingly changed their minds and marched back towards the Embarcadero. A smaller contingent then reappeared at the corner of Mission and Steuart streets. Protesters formed a line confronting them and demanding that they release those arrested; a man who had been arrested at the previous week’s altercation had been held 10 days before he was released on bail funds raised by OccupySF.

One officer said that police would continue standing there until protesters left; many protesters were determined to stand until the police left. Eventually, around 1:40 am, police did decide to exit first. A chorus burst out, singing “Na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye” as they left.

Ten minutes after the incident ended, about four tarps had been restrung and the camp had begun to rebuild its food and water supply. Protesters surveyed the aftermath, including loads of fresh vegetables and other food strewn on the ground near the former kitchen. Many picked up brooms and began cleaning, while others got to work compiling media information.

Those arrested were released around 3 am and arrived back at camp at 3:30. Xander, a protester who had been sleeping at the camp since its first night on Sept. 17, was one of those arrested. He recounted, “They hit me a couple of times on my shoulders and put me in the truck. We weren’t able to leave because our brothers and sisters had surrounded the truck. We were singing and banging on the walls.”

Those arrested were charged with resisting arrest and impeding traffic.