SFPD allows OccupySF to grow into a tent city


Photos by Steven T. Jones, who also contributed to this report.

It seems the San Francisco Police Department is laying off the OccupySF encampment, at least for now. After top city officials sent mixed messages to the occupiers during a pair of high-profile hearings in City Hall this week, a full-blown tent city with working kitchen and medical tent has now been erected in Justin Herman Plaza.

During the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, Mayor Ed Lee voiced support for the movement’s message, but said that tents, tarps, and cooking in the plaza or in OccupySF’s presence on the sidewalk in front of the Federal Reserve wouldn’t be tolerated.

A string of protesters testified against the policy and the two recent police crackdowns, which was also criticized by John Avalos and other progressive supervisors who are working on a legislative solution to the standoff. But at the Police Commission hearing the next night, Police Chief Greg Suhr seemed to announce that police would stand  down and allow the encampment to continue.

Protesters packed the meeting and disrupted the proceedings with chants of “SFPD where is your humanity” and accusations of police brutality at several recent raids of their camp. Many representatives made public comments condemning police brutality and repression of the protests, and many speakers also connected it with a broader problem of police harassment, notably in Bayview-Hunters Point.

Said OccupySF protester Christopher Ray: “Obama himself does not have the right to come tell us to stop, to tell us to take down our tarps, to tell us we can’t eat, to cook food, to sleep there. Period. You would have change the Constitution of the United States in order to do that. We’re not leaving.”

By the end of the long meeting, Suhr expressed support in what seemed like a promise to OccupySF: “We have no future plans to go into the demonstration. We know that it’s for the long haul. We did work, or, I’m told that we were trying to work all day Sunday to take down the tarps and the structures. We did meet last week and I did provide a written notice that’s been provided wholesale since down there. We realize that this movement could go on indefinitely, and as such, I’m actually working with the Mayor’s Office personally to put the port-o-potties and the handwashing stations down there to provide sanitation. I don’t know that anybody’s doing that. And in other towns where this movement has grown and is very large, they’re already experiencing things like dogs that have bitten people, rats, sanitation issues, the lack of running water so I can assure you that our efforts are to keep it safe and to facilitate the First Amendment demonstration.”

His statement was meant with a cry of “Now that’s what I’m talking about!” and thunderous applause from the chamber, and the OccupySF movement has interpreted the remarks as permission for the encampment to continue without further police harassment. Guardian calls to the SFPD Public Affairs Office to clarify the policy have not yet been returned.

By last night, the encampment’s numbers and infrastructure had grown -- with a kitchen producing group dinners and new tents being added throughout the evening -- and there seemed to be only a cursory police presence. Many protesters were essentially declaring victory, telling the Guardian that the numbers only grew after each police raid, expressing hope that the city has now had a change of heart. 

This comes after a rocky history of SFPD relations with the protest. On October 5, police issued a notice requiring all tents at the encampment to be removed. Protesters complied, but police still moved in, confiscated all the protest’s materials, and ended up making one arrest in the ensuing altercation. Since, OccupySF has mostly refrained from erecting any structures; instead, the growing numbers, now an average of 200 per night, sleep on the sidewalk. When they put up two tarps when weather turned rainy on Sunday the 16th, the result was another nighttime police raid, this time with five arrests and several injuries to demonstrators.

Yet the next morning, protesters had strung up more tarps.  And in the past few days, many have pitched tents. Now, tents number over 40, and the police are yet to raid.

On Thursday, California Nurses Association and the National Nurses Association worked with OccupySF’s medic team to set up a medical tent. The tent has been sorely needed for a while, but it is only recently that supporters of the protest felt safe creating it.

When the tent was put up, police came and circulated a notice that had been issued on Oct. 1 stating, “Tents, overhead tarps, and/or wooden pallets are not to be within the demonstration area unless appropriate permits are obtained because of the potential hazard they present.” But police exited without attempting to enforce this notice, and as of now the medical tent, complete with a cot and a growing stock of supplies, is still in place.

Said Pilar Schiavo, an organizer with CNA who has been working with OccupySF: “We were able to provide treatment to a bunch of occupiers today.” She says there are many at OccupySF with no other access to health care besides the new tent. “It’s just basic first aid so far, but a little goes a long way here. One had a broken finger from Sunday’s raid.”

Schiavo says when they set up the tent early Thursday morning, protesters Tweeted, Facebooked, and otherwise put out calls for needed medical supplies. Shiavo was proud to report that “supplies started showing up an hour later.”

Just a short BART ride away, city officials in Oakland have accommodated Occupy Oakland and it has grown into a large tent city with ever-improving infrastructure and organization. Perhaps OccupySF is now headed down the same path.


I was present during the SFPD raid on the the OccupySF camp Sunday night. I witnessed police violence and aggression far in excess of what was necessary to remove the tents and tarps. I saw a protester get violently body-slammed to the concrete ground by a cop, then left there, injured. I saw a squad of a dozen cops in riot gear running at full speed, chasing a group of protesters as a woman cried in the night, "Why are you doing this to us?"

I happen to be a 60-something photographer, clearly there to document and not participate. I always comply with police directives, make eye contact with the police, make sure they know I'm neutral and not a participant in any protest I cover. Even I was shoved twice by the cops, for no reason and with no verbal warning -- the first time my life, in all the protests I've covered, where the police have ever laid a hand on me.

SFPD was not a professional police organization on Sunday night. They were an armed gang of thugs, terrorizing and brutalizing simply because they could. That provoked a lot of outrage from the community. I'm sure the Board of Supes got an earful on Tuesday and told Lee to knock it off.

So now there are over 50 tents at Justin Herman and everyone's in great spirits. OccupySF beat Ed Lee. Now the rest is up to the voters.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 21, 2011 @ 12:54 pm

It's something different every day but today it's Christopher Ray's singular voice and the nurses who showed up to provide us with care that make me proud to be a part of Occupy SF.

Posted by nzmrmn on Oct. 21, 2011 @ 1:07 pm

and then come in hard right after, when the occupiers are starting to get tired, cold and wet.

The authorities can afford to wait, while the weather gets worse. And as we've seen in Oakland this week, petty criminals, druggies and the homeless start to infiltrate the movement, giving the cops the pretext they need.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 21, 2011 @ 1:39 pm

...after the election with their bankrupting pensions hopefully continued- they'll crack heads...

Posted by Guest on Oct. 21, 2011 @ 1:51 pm

Get a real camera. The photos are worthless.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 21, 2011 @ 2:44 pm

I freely admit that this is nothing more than an egotistical illusion, but I will rest easier tonight thinking that my comment, 'Open Letter to the City Familia' posted here under "OccupySF appeals to City Hall"; elsewhere; and emailed to multiple 'local officials' and MSM contacts, might have actually been read and considered by a few of our 'decision makers'. In the grand macrocosmic hill of beans it really doesn't mean a damn; but for me it is a reaffirmation that if even after decades of pissing in the winds that are resistant to change, you keep letting your freak flag fly; re-fertilizing the earth with your 'waste'; shouting "Hell No"; and DEMANDING Freedom and Equality;etc; eventually your small voice may be part of a change to come. Stand Strong, Proud and Defiant young'uns. I'll be with you in the flesh whenever my tired old bones permit, but my heart, soul and spirit are with you 24x7.
FYI. Probably wa....y before your time, but this is a one ancient musical commentary that energised many of us old greybeards

Posted by Patrick Monk RN on Oct. 21, 2011 @ 3:22 pm

What is the point? What will this tent city/occupation/demonstration accomplish?
Change the corruption in the way things are? No it will not.

The only thing to come of this is press.
The place will be a gathering place for people who are looking for a purpose and a place in our society. It will then gather more press when those not directly involved get a little tired of the filth it will decorate the street with. The evil police will somehow become the object of hate and wrath through the medium of the press.

Pointlessness and Press........Maybe a new publication will evolve.

Posted by Streetwalker on Oct. 21, 2011 @ 6:53 pm

Here is a good article on what the Occupy movement is about, and can accomplish:


"David Graeber: The Strange Success Of OccupyWallStreet"

Posted by Eric Brooks on Oct. 21, 2011 @ 7:25 pm

You forgot to say why.

Why are you so sure that "The only thing to come of this is press." ?
What do you suppose gives your opinion any value?

Posted by meatsack on Oct. 21, 2011 @ 8:46 pm

The Guardian of London is videotaping protesters' answers to the query, Why Occupy? I was very moved by their responses, particularly this one~

"Out of the movement, I'd like to see a completely different world. What I think is happening here is...a paradigm shift in human consciousness~ a move away from the values of consumption and materialism and a move toward the values of human dignity, integrity and respect...and compassion for one another. A world where money is a tool again and not the end, where what matters is each other. And working together and fostering conversation is what we're trying to do in this camp. And we'd like to see that happen in the entire world. For me personally, the reason why we don't have demands is that you can't demand anything of a system that's completely broken. You have to build a new one. And that's what we're doing here with all these occupations. We are building communities that work outside of the system in place...to show people that there is an alternative, that there is a way to escape, that there is a way to change this world for the better. And we don't have to sit in our rooms watching TV in complacency." ~George Machado, #WhyIOccupy



Posted by Lisa on Oct. 23, 2011 @ 5:58 pm

All well and good but protests typically need focused objectives, not fuzzy ideology.

This movement is doomed because of it's lack of focus. Generic whining typically doesn't achieve much.

Posted by Anonymous on Oct. 23, 2011 @ 6:23 pm

Fuck off you fucking brainless asshole.

Posted by 'anonymous' on Oct. 23, 2011 @ 6:37 pm


Posted by Guest on Oct. 23, 2011 @ 6:54 pm

on my bike on Friday.

Saw the Che flag blowing in the wind.

I hate the banks and the play system as much as any other rational person, not going to spend much time or give much credibility to people who have a murderers flag waving in their camp.

Posted by meatsack on Oct. 23, 2011 @ 6:47 pm

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