February 12, 2003

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Shame on the SFPD
Police bring out the billy clubs at a Gay Shame protest

By David Moisl

About 50 people gathered outside San Francisco's Hall of Justice Feb. 10 and denounced the San Francisco Police Department's behavior at the Feb. 6 Gay Shame protest.

The radical queer group, which organized the press conference, demanded that all criminal charges against four activists who were arrested at the protest be dropped. Gay Shame called the charges "excessive, erroneous, and ridiculous" and said they were an attempt to cover up police misconduct. The group accuses the police of gay-bashing and instigating violence at what began as a peaceful protest.

The protest, which took place outside the San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center, had been scheduled to coincide with "Hot Pink," a fundraiser for the center hosted by Sup. Gavin Newsom and Stanlee Gatti. Somewhere between 30 (the group's estimate) and 60 Gay Shame members (the police's number) stood on the sidewalk passing out flyers that described Newsom's policies as racist and classist. They also criticized the center for letting Newsom – whom they accuse of trying to buy the gay vote in the upcoming mayoral election – host an event on the premises.

Eric Jaye, a mayoral campaign consultant for Newsom, said he thought the protesters were "behaving in an incredibly violent manner" and the police reacted with "remarkable constraint."

"We are a place of civic discourse and expect some controversy," said LGBT Community Center executive director Brian Cheu, who told us that the center, which alerted the police beforehand to the possibility of a protest, was not generally opposed to having people demonstrate on its doorstep. "People have a right to voice their concerns as long as they do so in a peaceful manner." According to Cheu, most of the protesters abided by those rules for most of the night: "The event only turned unfortunate when a small number of people attempted to enter the building in order to disrupt the event."

The LGBT Community Center has sided with Gay Shame in its demand that the two felony charges be dropped and has issued a statement that it is not pressing charges.

According to Kirk Read, who was at the Feb. 6 protest but is not affiliated with Gay Shame, the standoff between activists and police became violent when several protesters tried to enter the building after Newsom arrived at 7 p.m. "People were bounced off by cops, nightsticks were brandished, and people were pushed out to the street and into the traffic," Read said.

Several protesters were injured, and one woman, who gave her name as Thia, ended up in the emergency room. "The police freaked out and started shoving people," she told us, adding that an officer hit her in the face with his billy club. She received treatment for a split lip and a shattered tooth.

One of the protesters who was arrested (who asked not to be named) described forming a human chain around a police van containing previously arrested protesters. The protester said he was choked out of the chain by a police officer and almost lost consciousness. Another protester said the police pushed people into traffic and then yelled at them to get out of the street.

Two of the Gay Shame members who were arrested, who gave their names to the police as Matthew Goldstein and Matthew Luton, were charged with misdemeanors. The other two, who gave their names as Zebadyha Lee and Jaime Coan, were charged with felonies. The latter were initially held on $25,000 bail, then released on their own recognizance on the following Saturday evening.

When we called the SFPD for comment, spokesperson Dewayne Tully began to make a statement but was then instructed by someone else in the office not to provide comment, as the investigation was ongoing. He supplied the names of three of the protesters who were arrested and referred us to Inspector Lea Militello, who did not respond to calls for comment by press time. At press time another spokesperson, Sgt. Neville Gittens, called to supply the fourth name and told us that the charges against Lee and Coan had been reduced from felony to misdemeanor.

The protesters initially charged with felonies were accused of "lynching," the unlawful removal of someone from police custody. Public defender Jeff Adachi, who spoke at the press conference, said he was concerned that charges of lynching could be used as a political weapon. "Anyone who participates in a public demonstration could conceivably be arrested for lynching," Adachi said.

Protest organizers at the press conference said they were outraged that queer activists were beaten in front of what is supposed to be a center built for their community. "If this is how Gavin Newsom reaches out to the gay community, we can only expect further brutality if he becomes mayor," Gay Shame spokesperson Mary Treadwell said. Informed that the felony charges had been reduced, Treadwell said, "We are delighted that the miscarriage of justice isn't going to continue any further.... This is an indication that the police have realized that misconduct occurred."