Protest creates gridlock on SF streets
Nanette Asimov, Kevin Fagan, Jim Herron Zamora, Matthew B. Stannard, Chronicle Staff Writers
Thursday, March 20, 2003
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11:00 PST -- Waves of anti-war protesters made good on their promise to disrupt downtown San Francisco this morning, as they occupied intersections throughout the Financial District, South of Market and Civic Center, preventing buses and cars from navigating the streets.
Demonstrations began with sunrise and heated up rapidly after 7 a.m., as groups of protesters fanned out to locations they had selected over the previous several weeks.
By late morning, demonstrators were still moving from intersection to intersection, and large portions of Market Street, Van Ness Avenue and other thoroughfares were blocked off.
"We don't want to alienate people. I hope people realize that political murder merits action that inconveniences them," said Quinn Miller, 32, who took the day off from his job for a banking company and said he expected to be arrested for the first time in his life.
Outside the Transamerica Pyramid, more than 100 demonstrators shouted anti-war slogans, shutting down the intersection of Clay and Montgomery and angering motorists.
"You suck. Why don't you all go to North Korea and do this," yelled Larry Chu, who had driven into the city from San Rafael and had been stuck for several minutes in his car.
The roving protesters also stalled firefighters trying to respond to emergencies, fire officials said. Firefighters also assisted police in some cases by using bolt cutters on protesters who had locked their arms together in metal sleeves.
About 400 demontrators made an attempt late Thursday morning to close the Bay Bridge. But when 40 California Highway Patrol officers blocked their way at Fremont and Howard streets, they changed directions and headed up Mission toward Fourth.
As they made their way, they looked up at the office workers watching from the windows of surrounding business. "Join us," they chanted. "Out of your office and into your street."
Police had no immediate estimate of how many arrests had been made, but the total seemed likely to climb into the hundreds.
The process was going slowly. At Montgomery and Clay streets, about 15 demonstrators linked arms through lengths of 3-foot-long plastic tubing ... requiring four dozen police in riot gear to carefully and gingerly saw them apart.
Sparks flew, and firefighters guarded protesters with their jackets during the procedure, which took police more than a hour at that intersection alone. About 40 demonstrators were photographed by police, cuffed and then moved into an articulated Muni bus.
Commuters who are accustomed to taking the bus to work downtown were out of luck. Muni spokeswoman Maggie Lynch said buses were being diverted away from the area, although the underground Muni Metro was still running.
Police beefed up staff to process the expected spike in arrests and updated phone lists so that all the department's 2,300 officers could be roused to hit the street, spokesman Bob Mammone said.
"We're going to keep the city streets open," said Assistant Chief Alex Fagan Sr.
That was proving to be wishful thinking, however.
The tie-ups started early: At 7:15 a.m., a band of six young men wearing orange vests and hard hats stolen from a construction crew furtively dashed onto the Eighth Street off-ramp from Highway 101, put down orange cones, flares and men-at-work signs, then ran off.
The whole operation took 90 seconds, then they ran off on Eighth Street dialing their cell phones as they went.
"It's done. We've screwed them good," one of them said into his phone. Traffic immediately snarled at the corner, with only one lane heading south on Eighth open and the main lane heading downtown blocked by the cones.
"What a pain," said Richard Shaw, a property manager, as he idled his sedan in line. "We have the right of protest in this country, but not the right to disrupt people like this."
About 10 minutes later, a California Highway Patrol officer on a motorcycle rolled up, stared at the cones and shook his head.
"It's going to be a long day," he said as his radio crackled and he dashed off, leaving the cones still blocking traffic.
While anti-war protesters shut down streets around Civic Center, Mayor Willie Brown said the Police Department will keep the streets open and the city will run "business as usual." He also said the protests were counterproductive.
"I've got to assume that these people are so misguided that they are actually aiding the enemy by doing what they are doing," Brown said. "Most of these people who are being arrested and have been arrested, probably more than 75 or 80 percent, are not San Franciscans. I just wish they'd stay in their own communities and protest rather than put the expense on us.
Some of the protests were being coordinated at Justin Herman Plaza, where organizers for Direct Action to Stop the War welcomed activists and directed them to a 10-minute tutorial on how to do nonviolent civil disobedience. They gave them the legal hot line number but told them not to write it on their hands ... one organizer warned, "It might come off."
"This is not a fight with the San Francisco Police Department," an organizer told a group of 20 activists seated around her in a semicircle. She cautioned them not to be aggressive with police. "Do not touch the police or any of their equipment. Repeat after me. Do not touch the police or any of their equipment."
On Van Ness Avenue, a group of 40 to 50 protesters walked south, blocking intersections around City Hall before heading to the Federal Building, where they planned to disrupt business.
Carol Maddox, an occupational therapist supervisor, said the intent was "to disrupt the city."
"We can't just go on with our lives when people are dying," Maddox said.
A trio of motorcycle officers watched the marchers, but made no arrests. "We're making arrests all over the city as we're able," said Officer Mike Yalon, who then zoomed away.
At Turk and Van Ness, about 150 to 200 protesters, carrying banners with the image of Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara, shouted "Bush, you liar. We're going to set your ass on fire."
"This party's just getting started," they added. Mike Boston, passing by on his way to work inside the Transamerica Pyramid, said he didn't plan to join the protest, but was happy the demonstrators had turned out.
"I don't support the war," said Boston, who works for a financial services firm. "A pre-emptive strike is un-American. This is nothing we've ever done in our history. I think this is a wrongly thought-out war."
Wen Dolphin, a 13-year-old seventh grader at Longfellow School in Berkeley, was among the younger demonstrators. He said both of his parents strongly oppose the war, but "my mom isn't too thrilled that I'm here today. "I had to promise her I wouldn't get arrested," he said.. "I'm not sure I'll be able to keep that promise."