When the rich can sit on the sidewalks

If you think the Bay to Breakers was just a benign day of public drunkenness, think again

By Tiny

OPINION Steel gates, steeds with silver spurs, lush red carpet lining the streets, uniformed officers guarding velvet-roped grand entrances to fancy costume balls while commoners are arrested if they so much as stop to rest on a nearby sidewalk. Sounds like the days of feudal England, or Marie Antoinette's Paris. Guess again — its San Francisco, circa 2010.

In the wake of the proposed sit-lie law, which would make it illegal for poor people to sit or lie on any public sidewalk or street, the San Francisco is increasingly giving public streets and sidewalks away to large corporate festivals where rich, mostly white people stumble around with open containers, drunk and disorderly.

Since last month's expanding Bay to Breakers "race," at which drunk, oddly dressed white people sat on curbs, stumbled into doorways, toppled onto the streets, and partied with entitled impunity as only people with race and class privilege can in this country, I have felt uneasy. This so-called run, supported by large corporations, has increased its land grab of several blocks of city streets, causing increased traffic, pollution, and blocked arteries for pedestrians, cyclists, and cars — all so that white people can party in undisturbed inebriation all across the city.

And if you think it was just a benign day of public drunkenness, think again. Several of my friends of color who made the mistake of being outside on race day were subjected to an onslaught of hate speech from some very threatening gang members (from the INGCHARLESSCHWABSTANFORD Gang. "You think this is Arizona?" "Are you here to be a valet?" "Go Back to Mexico."

I was riding my bicycle a week later only to be stopped on my route up Van Ness Street because of the two-day preparation, and then almost 24-hour exclusive usage of McAllister and Van Ness streets for the Black and White Ball. Again: a state-sanctioned, corporate-and-private-philanthro-pimped event for rich white people to get drunk and party on city streets.

Why is it that white people in a corporate-sanctioned party are seen as more safe or civilized than the rest of us — and how do houseless people, poor people, and people of color get criminalized in our own communities for the sole act of convening, standing, talking, or being?

It's important to note that the rhetoric and propaganda in support of sit-lie has gone so far as to cite the struggle of disabled people to get by sidewalks "cluttered" with houseless people or businesses having their customers scared away by houseless folks convening. Yet the plethora of drunk people lying on sidewalks after Bay to Breakers are not seen as an obstacle to safety.

Tiny, a.k.a Lisa Gray-Garcia, is editor of POOR Magazine.


The revealed knowledge handed out in classes where there is no wrong answer other than not agreeing with the teacher, or books where the entire mono cultural premise is agreeing with Howard Zinn and Angela Davis may work at the coffee shop with fellow pro Guardian type readers.

Out in the real world most people laugh at the use of such things as the use of "Amerikkka," and the left wing racialist business in your article and this comment.

With your studied use of language, racialist cliches and extreme class obsession, you have just made most people chuckle, no one but people who already agree with you are going to care. The conflation of your points are just too ridiculous for all but the already indoctrinated to care, if you want to get people to your side leave the soft science jabbering in class.

Posted by mr matlock on Jun. 15, 2010 @ 8:34 am

Hey Matlock,
the tone of your response...in all of it's glorious coffee shop arrogance...is a big part of the problem.

ps: you're no Andy Griffith

Posted by Max on Jun. 15, 2010 @ 9:48 am

Be specific.

Posted by mr matlock on Jun. 15, 2010 @ 11:20 am

At least 50% of the homeless or shelter-housed people I regularly see in my neighborhood are white.

How does that fit into your Weltanschauung, Tiny? (I know, it's a big word. Google it.)

Posted by Guest on Jun. 15, 2010 @ 10:37 am

LOL - the writer has got to be a right-wing plant. The last time I read or heard that description was when I was doing a research project on the Symbionese Liberation Army for a graduate-level class on terrorism. I really can't believe anyone would use the description "Amerikkka" in the post-70's era, other than a troglodyte conservative who's attempting to mimic the language of the radical left two or three decades ago.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Jun. 14, 2010 @ 9:31 pm

Your missing out on a whole sub genre of ongoing American self loathing.

Like swearing when you're a little kid, the use of Amerikkka is still a dangerous statement.

Posted by mr matlock on Jun. 15, 2010 @ 8:42 am

I read a lot of the comments here and it seems that many are missing the point here, because they see the red flag of the race issue raised and act accordingly--this (however un-artful the blog post was phrased) isn't the point--what is, is that there is a glaring double standard in SF that no one ever talks about. Namely, the exact same behavior exhibited by a crust punk and a wealthy tourist are not regarded the same, despite their identical nature.

If a crust punk or street kid drinks too much and pukes in the street, or bumps the ugly in public with a fellow traveler, the level of horror over "those filthy kids", "bums", whatever, is loud and always met with the same hand wringing--our beautiful and expensive city is being over-run with the flotsam and jetsam of America.

But if it's some well-heeled out of towner dropping multiples of hundreds to get hammered in a bar and then decide to hump same somewhere in plain view, well, San Fran is party city, it's libertine, it's free, whoopee!!!

I haven't lived there in years and while it is true that the behavior and disrespect for the streets and parks exhibited by the indigents is indeed a major problem, it's odd how when overgrown frat boys and sorority girls, gay, straight and otherwise do the same piggish shit, it's a sign of how much fun the City is. Sorry, that's a blatant double standard, just because someone is drinking high priced bevvies from some yuppatorium, it doesn't confer upon them special privileges that the down and outers can't have acting the same way.

That's how I read the piece, anyway.


Posted by Guest Johnny Wendell on Jun. 14, 2010 @ 10:12 pm

didn't even bother to pay. Poor people (and minorities) could have easily just jogged up to the park on Hayes and started performing some sort of anti-social behavior.

What bugs you latter day George Wallace types is that the people who self-selected themselves into the B2B were idiotic whites, this time, plenty of stupid behavior by all races to go around, if you base your whole life in those terms.

The double standard here is ridiculous, the only thing I can get out of this is that someone wrote something in the proper studied and effected verbiage and you have to defend it.

This has nothing to do with class and race, just hysterics over sit lie and attempting to turn thuggery it into a class and race issue.

and... no one missed the point, its just stupid. Creating your own world doesn't mean we all have to live in it, you Guardian liberals can create a world all your own, the rest of us suffer no requirement to live in it.

Posted by mr matlock on Jun. 15, 2010 @ 12:53 pm

Its funny reading some of these comments . Poor/Homeless and people of color especially Blacks and Native Americans have watched, read, force to leave by settlers, some time the church, politicians, police, big non-profits, shopping malls, big sports games, big campuses and the list goes on but some how we go on and make nothing out of something. However when we Poor/Homeless and People of Color make it our own way than again we are force to go deeper underground or the system pimps our art/work and tries to sell it back to us i.e. Breakdancing, Blues and Hip-Hop ect that started on the sidewalks of this country. I was in Nole Valley yesterday and saw "clean" White people on sidewalk selling clothes but I was a block away with a Black Blind musician talking about street music and we were told to leave. Come on if we are going to pass laws than should we all following them from some police who shoot Black, disabled and mental ill people for no reason to a nice picnic on the sidewalk in a "wealthy neighborhood "? Like everything in this world there are so many buts, standards and double talking that most of the comments for the sit/lie law if they take the time to see we all are and will break this law but the question is who will look "clean or be the right color" to escape this law while just next door others are caught?

Posted by Guest Leroy M on Jun. 15, 2010 @ 12:36 am

Johnny's right. This is about double standards. I was thinking about the famous Anatole France line -- "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal bread." I think what Tiny's saying is that even ol' Anatole's sarcastic line isn't true in San Francisco any more; the law DOESN'T forbid the rich to take over city streets and act boorish. Only the poor suffer that fate.

That, I think it's fair to say, is an entirely legitimate point. And if she got all of youz all stirred up thinking about race and class, then that's a good thing too.

Posted by tim on Jun. 15, 2010 @ 9:10 am

Thanks so much for putting this truth out. The Bay to Breakers is supposed to be an athletic competition but it has become a frat party for obnoxious--mostly white, mostly young people--who think that just because they have arrived in San Francisco, that they can behave badly with impunity. It is an classist event. I dread this event because the participants linger in the neighborhood, leave their bottles of beer, Jaeger or Vic's 44 and other trash, along with their attitudes of entitlement. These folks are so predictable--newcomers to the city--meaning that they just arrived within the last couple of years--and they act as if nothing ever existed here until their asses arrived. In fact, if 3/4 of these folks just left the city...nothing...and i mean NOTHING would be lost at all. I prefer the so-called Illegal immigrants that Arizona has criminalized over this Bay to Breakers crowd. The undocumented have more humility, more heart and, by and large, do not believe the world revolves around them like this mostly white, mostly young, and HIGHLY OVERRATED CROWD that makes up the Bay to Breakers does. If they discontinued Bay to Breakers altogether, it would be a cause for celebration. I would not miss one moment of overhearing a bunch of young guys with bad beards and a highly inflated view of themselves saying...."Dewd....hey dewd...oh dewd"....etc etc etc....(dewd)

Posted by Rey on Jun. 15, 2010 @ 9:21 am

I agree with your observations. They are so true. San Francisco is classist and race is something that is always shoved to the side. These folks that have responded to you in their typical white, "educated' and arrogant way--are the same folks that would go to a trendy soul food restaurant, see no black faces in that restaurant--except for the perhaps very well known, long since passed blues singer on the wall, ask for southern fried Tapas and see absolutely nothing wrong with it. The problem with this young white bay to breakers crowd is their lives are costume partys. They seem to live life as a masquerade. Then they drink and leave their bottles and trash or, in the big picture, gentrifiy communities of color, and then expect everybody else to clean up the messes that they make. I say to these fools, pick up a broom and clean it up yourself.

Posted by Joseph on Jun. 15, 2010 @ 9:33 am


You obviously have never stepped foot on Haight Street and tried to enjoy this historic and wonderful neighborhood. Once you are begged for money, from the Berkeley punk kids who do have homes but would rather not abide by their parents' rules and therefore sit on our city streets, you are then taunted and ridiculed for not handing it over. What a joke. Make sure you don't tell them "Sorry", because they HATE that! The Haight is a tourist attraction that is becoming not only a sight for sore eyes but dangerous as well. Without the tourism that this wonderful city of ours attracts (with events like Bay to Breakers I might add), we wouldn't exist. Drawing a comparison between a one day celebration and the daily woes of dealing with such behavior from people who don't want to abide by the same rules that the rest of have to, is, simply put, idiotic. Adding racism to the pot is simply ridiculous. You are drawing comparisons between completely unrelated things/ideas/events. Did you think no one would notice?

I challenged you to take a walk down Haight Street this afternoon and come back with the same opinion of the sit/lie ordinance. I bet it will change and you'll stop pointing fingers in absurd directions.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 15, 2010 @ 9:37 am

My God,
you bring up race and the white priviledge that is associated with it and the MOB does come out...half baked intellectuals hitting keyboards with so MUCH frustration over their difficult lives when the only thing they really worry about is how much the price of a latte has gone up in the last year. They don't want to hear about race because it brings up real issues and then they have to really look at themselves in the mirror and take some responsiblity for benefitting at the expense of poor communities of color and gentrification etc. The Only time the word RACE is relevant to these folks is when it is used in the context of Bay to breakers...or some other event that caters to these folks.

Posted by Steve on Jun. 15, 2010 @ 9:55 am

The Bay to Breakers is a self selected event, the people who self select themselves to go their and get drunk and vomit happen to be white, if a person of some other race wanted to act like an ass during the race, I'm sure they would be welcome as well. The B2B strikes me as an equal opportunity idiot festival.

Trying to steep this all in racism is just comical, the attempt to make people self examine themselves through such a hilarious Guardian opinion piece? Again the true believers lack any awareness.

Posted by mr matlock on Jun. 15, 2010 @ 11:33 am


Posted by Randy on Jun. 15, 2010 @ 10:10 am

Tiny spoke the truth and some people never - ever appreciate the truth --- Thanks Tiny for telling it like it is.

Posted by Guest Nate on Jun. 15, 2010 @ 11:11 am

While it is a universal reality that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, you can't overwhelmed that with fact. We live in a world where so many ppl want to claim want they want to be their "own." Sadly, race and class is the tool and barrier. To view a poor person in their presence is a painful reminder of where they could be. Tiny only calls out how a predominate number of white ppl (which is fact, not opinion!) overwhelm sidewalk for the sake of partying. I've seen this with my own eyes as a party goer myself.

And as for the insanely-ignorant comments from "Racist Bi@^&...how dare you", it shows how heritage and ethnically- challenged you are in terms of skin color. A person's ethnicity and/or ethnicities is not limited to the color of their skin. You don't her to judge and prejudge. No one is pure anything, so your Aryan-Anglo sacked assessments don't impress anyone.

Marlon Crump, POOR Magazine/PNN.

Posted by Guest Marlon Crump on Jun. 15, 2010 @ 1:17 pm

Where do I pick up a copy of this "POOR" magazine? I've been looking for it everywhere and no one seems to carry a copy of this phantom tome. Please advise.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Jun. 15, 2010 @ 3:09 pm

Wow, I am a mixed person of color and I have to say that this article comes off as pretty shockingly racist. Just because you're talking about white people doesn't excuse your own ignorance and flailing hostility. I seriously doubt that the Guardian would print an article like this written by a "white" editorialist who utilized this kind of tone about any minority group.

As a person who wears my minority status on my sleeve (by nature of my physical appearance if nothing else), I spent the whole day at bay to breakers without any of the anecdotal evidence of widespread mob racism that tiny's article portrays. Of course a lot of people have legitimate concerns about the drunken public behavior at B2B and of city policy in general, this article, even beyond it's obvious shock-value, fails to address any of those issues seriously. Even if you look at the nature of the responses to the article on this site, the discussion isn't about policy or city culture or civic priorities; the responses are all directed at the author's racist language.

Unfortunately I think that the editors at the Guardian and the author him/herself are under the mistaken impression that this kind of article is meant to provoke thoughtful discussion, in truth it does nothing but damage the tone of actual thoughtful discourse and offend thoughtful and potentially sympathetic members of our broader community. This article displays a really transparent lack of critical self-examination on the part of the author and this publication.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 15, 2010 @ 1:29 pm

fyi...85% of the homeless in San Francisco are white and I never saw anyone at bay to breakers smoking crack or shooting heroin...

Posted by Greg on Jun. 15, 2010 @ 2:26 pm

And I suspect the proportion of Haight gutter thugs who are white is even higher. So clearly the Sit-Lie law is racist... against whites!

Posted by Guest on Jun. 15, 2010 @ 3:10 pm

Our Haight street thug demographic would be more multi-ethnic. The slumming middle class should include all groups, not just the Squeeky Frome and Tex Watson members of society.

Posted by mr matlock on Jun. 15, 2010 @ 6:06 pm

Hate to say it Tiny, but I think your piece is counterproductive.

I've never participated in B2B, and it's a big imposition on my neighborhood. But I'm cool with it. It's one day out of the year, it's a hundred-year old tradition, and stuff like this (along with other events like Pride, Folsom, Haight Street Fair, Carnaval, Power to the Peaceful, Halloween in the Castro which was sadly killed, etc.) -it's all part of what makes San Francisco such a fun and exciting place to be.

I actually think it would be better without corporate sponsorship. And yes, a few individuals will act like jerks. But on the whole, the benefits far outweigh the negatives.

And... I'm also strongly opposed to sit-lie.

Honestly, I don't think there are too many people who fit into the mold you suggest -entitled hooligans who support B2B, and also support a sit-lie law against poor people.

I think a lot of the same people who support sit-lie also want to get rid of B2B. Most of these folks never yell racial epithets in public. Sadly, their version of incivility is a lot more pernicious. They don't have to yell obscenities. They don't have to raise their voices at all, becuase they control the halls of power. And they'll gladly use the ammunition you provide them to promote their own agenda. "See," they'll say in calm reasoned voices, "even poor and minority people are getting tired of the boorish behavior. That's why we need to crack down on events like B2B and pass a sit-lie measure. It's for the neighborhood."

You can't legislate civility, Tiny. You can (and should) arrest people if they're doing harm to others, but on some level you have to accept the fact that some people are going to be rude on the street as the price of freedom. Either that, or we can become like any gentrified American city, where streets are for cars and sidewalks are only for paying customers of businesses.

There are a lot of folks who actually do want the latter. Please don't give them more ammunition.

Posted by Greg Kamin on Jun. 16, 2010 @ 4:25 pm

I like to run in the park during B2B. This year I ran much later in the day than I usually do and similar thoughts occurred to me. Around 4 PM I encountered an incredible amount of waste such as broken beer bottles or half-finished sandwiches scattered on street, sidewalk, and grass. Thousands of staggering inebriated white kids and a kind of gluttonous misery. Hipsters sitting on the curb trying to fend off their impending blackout. MLK drive was covered in dixie cups stomped flat. (They practically fanned out from a dumpster, sadly.) A couple black guys walking back from the beach and ample space was given for them, even as clusters of themed Nob Hillians bumped against each other. The charm I'd seen in past years (and I've only lived here a few) and soured into pathos.

Rich people behaving badly. It can be punch in the face to those who think that SF is anything but the usual closet aristocracy. Did our most idealistic, progressive, and potentially most politically puissant group, the young urban professionals, just use their city as a vomitorium?

Well, hopefully the city made money on it. The cleaning crew that swept up MLK was like a giant eraser wiping out the mess. And I noticed people stomping + collecting bottles -- the economic food chain goes on.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 17, 2010 @ 3:51 pm

I double dog dare you and the SFBG to reprint this article and everywhere the word "white" appears replace it with "black."

Posted by Guest ebw343 on Jun. 22, 2010 @ 12:38 pm

Interesting article and good observation. Where ever you have liberals, you're gonna have racism. Liberals like to "help" minorities, but only socialize with very few. And very few minorities are invited to upscale events in San Francisco....very few. They either hold high political office or they are dating or married to a very important and rich white liberal. San Francisco REEKS of liberal racism. And everyone knows that.

Posted by Guest AnnMarie on Jun. 27, 2010 @ 9:33 am