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News from Rebel San Francisco

A very interesting synopsis of events in SF, so far. Includes statements from SF Police as to why the protesters are getting the better of them.

Saturday's News From Rebel San Francisco

From: Biotic Baking Brigade
Date: Sat, 22 Mar 2003 07:55 PM

A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E

Thursday, March 20, drew to a close with an estimated 4000-6000 people still marching through the streets of downtown SF as of 10 pm. Below are notes on current events for A-infos readers. SF Indymedia, and SF Liberation Radio are covering these events.

* People in the streets did an excellent job of shutting down SF by utilizing cat-and mouse techniques. So, while there were affinity groups and large gatherings of people that would occupy an intersection until being arrested (and should be commended for this action), a more effective tactic was for smaller groups to occupy the intersection until the riot cops came and got in formation (which, because they operate in a hierarchical command structure, and because downtown traffic was completely tied-up, would often take a very long time), and then walk a block to the next unoccupied intersection and take it over! This worked extremely well, and allowed people to stay out of jail and keep active all through the day.

* There were many forms of direct action taken besides road and building occupations. According to eyewitnesses and Indymedia reports, windows of corporate targets were smashed, graffiti was left all over downtown, fire hydrants were opened and gushers of water loosed, newspaper boxes and garbage cans were moved out into the streets as barracades, corporate media vans had their tires slashed and were spraypainted, cop cars were spraypainted and had windows smashed and tires slashed, and a military recruiting center had their doors smashed in and interior dramatically redecorated, as well as files looted and tossed out into the streets.

* It should be noted that there was a more aggressive stance taken against the police and corporate media than at any time since the Rodney King riots and the first Gulf War in the early 1990s. Aside from property destruction against the corporate media, reporters on the street were constantly confronted and hassled. The police were overheard saying that they had never seen such aggressive behavior at protests, and they seemed surprised, overwhelmed, and generally freaked out. Large dumpsters were on several occasions pushed through lines of riot police, and according to an Indymedia report, a violent cop was attacked by angry demonstrators who were sick of being hit by his billyclub!

* Apparently, police have claimed to the media that after they arrested the Black Blockers, they found caches of Molotov cocktails, rocks, and other weapons, but they exact claim has not been confirmed at this time. Also, they claimed that a protester tried to take a gun from a cop which led to injuries and a violent confrontation between police and protesters. However, eyewitnesses claim that this allegation may refer to an incident where a lone officer rushed into the BB trying to arrest someone, and people in response stopped him and were telling him to calm down and back off. He was seen to be very afraid and calling into his radio for backup, but in reality he was not in any danger, though he may have felt that way because he was in the middle of several hundred masked-up marchers.

Here are a few snippets from corporate media reports that are of strategic and general interest:

It took three hours for anti-war activists to cripple downtown San Francisco using hit-and-run civil disobedience tactics to an extent never before seen in the Bay Area.

The city that nursed the sit-ins and be-ins of the counterculture protesters of the 1960s was gummed up by a form of demonstration that relies on the whims of small knots of activists, who flitted from block to block instead of lumbering with the predictability of a mass march...

A police spokesman said the mood on the force is one of exhaustion due to the overtime hours and the stress of dealing with the tens of thousands of protestors that have clogged city streets for the past three days.

On Thursday morning demonstrators occupied 50 separate sites, predominately intersections, where officers were called on to make arrests and clear city streets, the police said. Between 1,300 and 1,400 people were arrested, according to the department.

"We don't really know how many people are out there or where they're going next," Ladan Sobhani, an organizer with Direct Action Against the War, said shortly before noon. "People make that decision on their own."

At the 11 a.m. peak of the protests, activists had shut down 30 intersections, blockaded a dozen buildings and forced police to ask motorists not to come into downtown.

Often, police would encircle the demonstrators only to find themselves encircled. Sometimes as few as 25 demonstrators shut down an intersection and stifled traffic for blocks.

"It's a cat-and-mouse game," said Deputy Chief Rick Bruce, who heads the Police Department's special operations bureau. "We're in a totally reactive mode," he said. "We just respond to illegal activity. It's tough. They are moving faster than us. They shut down all of Market Street this morning. As soon as we would reopen a section, they would shut down another one."

A protester from Oakland said police inadvertently helped demonstrators seal off streets."When we block a street for 20 minutes, the cops come and block it for another half an hour when they surround a few people and block off the corners, " said Williams, who said he had helped clog 10 intersections before noon . . . but always moved before officers could arrest him.

"They're slower than us, so they compensate with total overkill," Williams said. "There will be 50 cops arresting five people. But hundreds of us move on."

Capt. Kevin Dillon said demonstrators move faster than police "because they can violate the law. It our job to enforce the law. If we disperse them illegally or make an illegal arrest, it will haunt us. They just move as fast as they want."

Even protest coordinators were in poor position to predict its effects. There were no leaders . . . merely "pied pipers" who escorted activists from the dispatch point at Justin Herman Plaza to where reinforcements were needed.

Many of the protesters belonged to one of two categories . . . affinity groups, dozens of clusters of five to 25 friends or like-minded individuals who had been planning their initial demonstration target for months; and free-lancers who showed up with no set destination in mind. The affinity groups promptly fanned out to more than two dozen points, blocking intersections, encircling buildings or blockading entrances.

"The large demonstrations are great, too," said a 21-year-old Laney College student. "But we've been doing them, and obviously people haven't been listening. With this, people can't just view them from afar. (People inconvenienced by them) have to stop and think about what's happening in the world."

Officer Drew Cohen, who was documenting the police response on his camcorder for the department, said he came away with a respect for demonstrators' tactics. "They succeeded this morning . . . they shut the city down," Cohen said. "They're highly organized, but they are totally spontaneous. I think police are doing a great job, but the protesters are always a few steps ahead of us. "Our success will come when we arrest so many of them we have depleted their ranks," Cohen said. "Otherwise, we can only play catch-up."