Eyewitness account from Molotov’s conflicts with Google Glass Explorer’s story


A Google Glass "Explorer" and social media consultant from San Mateo made international headlines after visiting San Francisco for being “verbally and physically assaulted ... because of some Google Glass haters,” she wrote on Facebook.

But her official account of the incident as reported to police conflicts with an eyewitness account from someone who saw the fight unfold.

On Feb. 22, Sarah Slocum went with some friends to Molotov’s, a punk bar in San Francisco’s Lower Haight neighborhood. It was sometime around last call. The patrons did not take kindly to the idea that she was donning Google Glass, and thus possibly recording them, inside the bar.

Google Glass is a hands-free device that connects users to the Internet via a tiny screen that floats in front of the wearer’s eye. It’s capable of streaming live video. Those testing it out are called "Explorers," and Google specifically directs its Explorers to "ask permission before taking photos or videos of others."

According to Albie Esparza, San Francisco Police Department spokesperson, Slocum reported that she was “engaged in a verbal altercation with three suspects,” because they “believed she was videotaping without their consent.”

During that confrontation, “one of the suspects grabbed the Google Glass off her face,” Esparza said, “and she ran out of the bar in pursuit. She retrieved the Google Glass,” Esparza said, but when she returned to the interior of the bar, she discovered that her purse and cell phone had gone missing.

Esparza said there is an open investigation, but no charges have been filed.

In a video Slocum released to KRON 4, a woman can be heard telling Slocum that she, as a techie, is “ruining the city.”

According to a source who did not want to be named, that woman was a bartender at Molotov’s who was not working that night, but has been fired in the days since this incident blew up in the news. When reached by phone, a staff member at Molotov’s said he was not authorized to comment on that.

According to a bar patron who was there that night, the situation didn’t really get out of hand until Slocum’s male companion threw a punch at one of the individuals who had been asking Slocum to stop recording.

Bryan Lester, who was outside the bar with a friend who was unlocking his bike when Slocum emerged from Molotov’s onto the sidewalk, said Slocum was still wearing her Google Glass when she exited the bar.

“I had seen her in the back when I had gotten a drink,” said Lester, who said he was hanging out near the pinball machines in the front of the bar that night.

“She was with a group of friends and ... they seemed to be attracting a little bit of attention, but nothing serious, before last call.”

On the sidewalk outside Molotov’s, Lester said, “I believe that some words were exchanged ... and then I saw the man protecting her throw a punch at the other gentleman and push him into a car and took a couple swings at him on the hood of the car.”

According to a different source who also saw things unfold from the street, “He did grab it from off her face but he told her to stop recording him and then he handed it back to her.” After that, “her boyfriend came, socked him in the face, then the fight broke out and the bouncer stopped it.”

Lester said the scuffle on the hood of the car lasted “about 30 seconds.” After that, “they were separated and the fight was over.”

Based on all accounts, it seems Slocum did have her purse and cell phone robbed. Which totally sucks.

We sought an interview with Slocum for this story, but were unable to make contact.

Mainstream media outlets have sensationalized this bar fight, because it plays so perfectly into the narrative that techies are somehow unsafe in San Francisco due to widespread anger over tech’s presence in gentrifying neighborhoods.

A tension certainly exists, because long-term residents are getting evicted and displaced at higher rates than ever before in the face of soaring rents. At the same time, it should be obvious to anyone that entering a punk bar at last call wearing Google Glass is going to ruffle some feathers. Combine this with alcohol, and the fact that a fight broke out isn’t terribly surprising.

There’s another issue here that few seem to be questioning. Isn’t there a privacy concern that arises when patrons go into bars wearing devices that can record live video and instantly stream it? I wondered about this the time I tried on Glass. (By the way, Glass can run facial recognition software.)

Instead of having an in-depth discussion about privacy, unfortunately, the controversy around this bar fight remains mired in some nonsense about whether the incident should be considered a “hate crime.”

“What makes this story special,” Slocum wrote on her Facebook page, “is that no one has experienced a hate crime or been targeted for a hate crime, which is what it was, for wearing Google Glass.”

But it's not. The phrase “hate crime” has a very specific definition, as determined by Congress. Unless a victim has been targeted out of a bias against his or her race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation, it’s factually inaccurate to characterize any incident as a “hate crime.”

This could get even uglier. Already on Twitter, one of Slocum's supporters has called for Glass wearers to congregate at Molotov's in support of Slocum. And just wait and see what happens when people start wearing Lambda hats.

Logan Hesse contributed to this report.