Unlike Portland Anti-war Protestors San Francisco Protestors Demand Trials
If the majority of Portland protestors arrested in March would have refused to accept Community Court the impact of the arrests would have been much greater. Thankfully at least the SF protestors have maintained solidary and are casuing a great deal of havoc simply by staying the course because the system cannot process all of the cases.
The NYT forces online readers to sign up for some articles so to save you the trouble here's the story instead of the link.
San Francisco Protest Brings Debate on Wages
By DEAN E. MURPHY
New York Times
June 23, 2003
SAN FRANCISCO, June 20 — The massive gray Hall of Justice , which stretches the length of a city block on Bryant Street, is the one-stop-shopping center for law enforcement in this city.
It houses the police department, the district attorney's office, a jail, a superior court and, on the second floor, the traffic court of Commissioner Paul Slavit.
Normally, Commissioner Slavit's courtroom would barely warrant mention. But now it is at the center of a political maelstrom involving issues no less grandiose than war and peace and crime and punishment.
In its simplest form, the fuss amounts to this: How hard should the authorities come down on the 3,000 or so people arrested in San Francisco during the antiwar demonstrations in March?
The answer is not as straightforward as the city's famously tolerant image might suggest.
Many of the arrests came on March 20, the day after the bombing in Iraq began. On that day, thousands of protesters flooded San Francisco's financial district in what would be the most disruptive antiwar action anywhere in the nation. The police at the time described the city as in a state of "absolute anarchy."
Three months later, some residents remain angry about the disruption and are demanding that the district attorney's office punish those people who were arrested in the protest. But others insist the staunchly Democratic city should stand up to the Bush administration and show solidarity with the antiwar movement by dropping all the charges.
"I know I can't make everybody happy," said District Attorney Terence Hallinan, who is being lobbied by both sides. "I long ago figured I can only do what I think is right."
Though most of those arrested were charged with misdemeanors, Mr. Hallinan has already reduced most of the charges to infractions, something he said was not uncommon in such situations. Over the past week or so, the first several hundred defendants have appeared before Commissioner Slavit.
A veteran of the 1960's protest movement, Mr. Hallinan said he wanted to give the demonstrators the benefit of the doubt while also avoiding the expense and hassle of pursuing so many prosecutions. Officials estimate that 2,300 cases remain in the legal system.
"My policy generally is that the arrest itself in these cases is sufficient punishment," he said. "Pay whatever the technical violation was, and call it even."
But it seems Mr. Hallinan miscalculated the mind-set of the current band of protesters. He also inadvertently touched a sensitive nerve in the city, where many people viewed the acts of civil disobedience as more rabble-rousing than free speech.
Far from professing gratitude for the reduced charges, most of the arrested demonstrators are choosing to fight the infractions, which carry a fine of about $100. The National Lawyers Guild, which is representing most of the protesters, has used every legal mechanism available to challenge the cases.
"It would be unethical to pay," said one of the protesters, Fran Peavey, 62, who was in court today. A writer from San Francisco, Ms. Peavey was arrested in her wheelchair for blocking Bush Street, her 18th protest-related arrest since 1965, she said.
"Yes, technically we broke the law, but if some of us started paying the fines, what would that say to the people who can't afford to? It would keep the poor people away."
The money question is carrying particular resonance for the city government, too, because of its budget crisis. As he contemplates what action to take, Mr. Hallinan said he was painfully aware that a decision to prosecute all 2,300 remaining cases, even in traffic court, would break the bank because most of those arrested would demand a trial.
If he is forced to try the cases, he said, he will have to ask the Board of Supervisors for more money.
Mr. Hallinan said he hoped to make a decision in the coming week. His staff is moving forward, pulling together hundreds of pages of charges to meet Commissioner Slavit's demand for new paperwork.
So far, Commissioner Slavit has dismissed 144 cases because of insufficient information in the police reports. He has threatened to throw out hundreds more because of a technical problem with the prosecutors' filings unless Mr. Hallinan files the charges anew by Monday.
The technical problem was brought to the court's attention in a motion by one of the lawyers, Bobbie Stein, who said that the handling of the cases had become so bogged down in finger pointing and city politics that there was no telling what might happen next.
"The police department is blaming the district attorney's office, and the district attorney's office was initially blaming the police department, and now Hallinan is taking it upon himself to personally blame me because he is embarrassed by this," Ms. Stein said. "All I did was stand up for these people's right to demonstrate."
At the same time, Mr. Hallinan is coming under increasing ridicule from the other side in the debate. His office has been inundated with angry letters and e-mail messages from residents, business owners and some elected officials who say he is going too easy on the demonstrators.
"Our association totally supports people's right to free speech, but I think what we saw with the antiwar protest far exceeded free speech," said Linda Mjellem, executive director of the Union Square Association, which represents about 250 businesses and property owners.
In a city where the district attorney's office has often been a political lightning rod, some of Mr. Hallinan's adversaries, including Mayor Willie L. Brown Jr., have also jumped to question his hold on the job.
Mr. Hallinan, who is seeking re-election this fall, has often been accused by his critics of being soft on crime and at loggerheads with the police department. He is still dealing with the fallout from his decision a few months ago to indict seven of the department's top leaders, including the chief, in a conspiracy case. The charges have since been dropped.
"I represent people who live in San Francisco, and they are fed up," Supervisor Tony Hall said. Mr. Hall is one of the most persistent critics of the protests and introduced a resolution urging Mr. Hallinan to prosecute those who were arrested. In a separate resolution, Mr. Hall also called on the city to seek reimbursement from the protests' organizers for additional expenses incurred by the city, estimated at $3.5 million for the month of March.
"We have to figure out a way to make those who were arrested pay or be held accountable for their actions," he said, "or this type of thing is going to go on and on and on."
add a comment on this article
add a comment on this article