Last night, San Francisco Police officers showed up at Occupy San Francisco for the first hostile altercation that the SF movement has had with cops so far, and among the first police crackdowns on the larger Occupy Wall Street movement. The encampment was cleared of tents and supplies, but protesters remained at the site and the incident could serve to broaden the movement and strengthen its resolve.
Around 9:30 pm, a police officer pulled up in an unmarked car and, with little comment, distributed fliers amongst the approximately 200 protesters camped out in front of the Federal Reserve building at 101 Market Street, where I was camping with the protesters and reporting a story for next week's Guardian.
The fliers stated that we were in "violation of one or more of the following local ordinances or state laws," and then listed six laws, including open flames on a city street without a permit, lodging in a public place, preparing or serving food without a permit, and violating the city's sit/lie ordinance. The order did not look legitimate, as it did not include an author, a timeline for the police action, or any dates. The atmosphere turned tense as protesters tried to decide how to react.
The camp had substantial infrastructure at this point, with a kitchen area, medical tent, supplies tent, tech area, and about 20 other tents for meeting and for lodging. The kitchen was largely set up by Food Not Bombs and had a propane-powered stove. Kitchen committee members immediately turned off the stove and closed the kitchen upon receipt of the notice, eliminating any open flames and serving of food.
A general assembly was called and emotions ran high as protesters fleshed out the intricacies of nonviolent protest, resistance, and the consensus-based decision making system that had served them so well in past weeks, when faced with a more urgent and high-stakes situation. Despite anger and disagreements, the group vowed to remain nonviolent.
A call was put out via Twitter, Facebook, email, and phone for supporters to come to the scene. Within a half hour at least 100 more people had come, including members of Occupy Oakland, which just began this week.
Around 11 pm, about 60 cops showed up as well as four Department of Public Works trucks. The cops stood on the far side of Main Street, seemingly awaiting orders. Thirty minutes later one protester, Alexandra List, told the General Assembly that she had speaking to the commanding officer, Captain Charlie Orkes. He told her that if the camp and all the food, equipment, and other items that the camp had amassed were not completely removed in 30 minutes, they would arrest everyone.
Some protesters sprang to action taking down tents, while others discussed the possibility of risking arrest. It was unclear what would happen to confiscated items and for many travelers and homeless individuals currently living and organizing at the camp, they risked losing most or all of their personal belongings. All the tents were taken down, but the stuff was not removed. The camp had been receiving truckloads of donations per day, and finding a vehicle and destination to transport it all was difficult.
Fear and anticipation mingled with the excitement of having so much support and interest, locally and around the country. One protester, Zaigham Kabir of Oakland, said "There's been a lot of confusion. It looks like a couple hundred people just came here. I also heard that there's 10,000 people watching on livestream right now."
Sup. John Avalos – the only mayoral candidate to take part in last week's rally and march – came to the site around 12:40 am. He spoke several times with Capt. Orkes and also reportedly called Police Chief Greg Suhr in an attempt to mediate the situation and protect the protesters. He was the only supervisor or mayoral candidate to arrive on the scene.
Around 1 am, protesters saw cops put on riot gear and bring out batons. They then marched up Main to Market and formed a line around the remainder of the physical encampment, blocking protesters from their belongings. As protesters sat on the ground, imploring the cops to leave their things alone and chanting "Join Us! You're the 99 percent too!" DPW workers loaded everything into five trucks. Tubs of food were spilled on the ground as they dismantled the kitchen, taking donated food, water. and supplies (there was so much food in the kitchen that only hours before, protesters had begun turning away food donations).
It was 1:45 am when protesters began taking to the streets to block the trucks. About 20 ran in front of the line of trucks to link arms and stacked wooden pellets, which had been used to elevate the camp during the rain, to form a barricade. One man lay down in front of the truck, smiling with his banjo in hand. They yelled, "That's not trash! Don't throw it away!" Soon, about 250 protesters were linking arms, surrounding the line of trucks. A few brought over municipal trash cans and road blocks to form a barricade around the perimeter.
Throughout the night, many protesters reported conflicted expressions on officers' faces. One such officer stood now in front of a truck with an American flag that had flown in the camp still valiantly flying from its post in the DWP truck-bed garbage heap.
Eventually, the trucks backed out of the circle and began driving down Main Street, when protesters ran to try stand, sit, and lie in front of them. While trying to remove the protesters, one woman was hit and pushed and another man was beaten down and reportedly kneed in the stomach. There was one arrest. It has been reported that the officer responsible for most of this behavior was Officer Pascua, who apparently said to several protesters, including Dylan Brignon of Fremont, "I can't wait til I get the chance to beat your faces in."
The Guardian has called Chief Suhr, Mayor Ed Lee, and the SFPD and is awaiting a statement on the tactics and decision to raid the camp.
The trucks made it out of there by about 2:30 am. About 50 cops and 100 protesters remained in a standoff on Main and Market, and protesters chanted, sang, and held a large sign reading "We love you" and police stayed in a silent line, batons in hand.
By 3 am, protesters had regrouped. All of the structure was gone, but the occupation was still there. Protesters pledged to remain indefinitely despite the night's events, and to continue to grow. Around 4 am, some cops returned to the site, and throughout the night there were seven or eight police cars circling the block at all times.
Protesters awoke this morning to a dozen or so police officers guarding the Federal Reserve building. There had already been donations of money, blankets and sleeping bags at 3 am in response to the events, and at 7 am the first food donation since raid came in and the protesters ate a free breakfast.
Said Kabir, "The fact is, we're all here in solidarity. We're still here. And we're not leaving."