Police Riot in San Francisco

Against the Current, No. 39, July/August 1992

Cheryl Christensen

I ATTENDED THE demonstration held Friday, May 8, which began at Dolores Park in the Mission District. We were to march about a mile to Duboce Park.

At the Dolores Park rally we were surrounded by police, lined up all over the place and in the adjoining streets. They kept announcing the parade route in English and Spanish, saying that anybody deviating from it would be arrested.

There was no looting, no business was harmed. About a block from Duboce Park the police blocked the route. Some demonstrators may have tried to break through, but couldn’t.

The police by then were lined up on either side. Everybody turned and headed back the way we’d come. But a quarter block later, at Market and Church streets (a major intersection), I could see there were empty buses already waiting<197>as it turned out, all ready to transport the people to be arrested.

I stood on the sidewalk, while some other people who were with me went with the crowd. All of a sudden the people in the intersection were surrounded by a ring of cops, and in the blink of an eye another ring surrounded me and other people on the sidewalk. I was lucky enough to find an open space and run out–I believe 600 people were arrested.

The police told the public, through the media, that the crowd had been throwing rocks and bottles–which was absolutely not true. They also stated that the crowd was chanting “downtown, downtown” as if we were going to head downtown and loot. That’s a total lie, it never happened–but the police did quite a good job of manipulating public opinion through the media.

People arrested the previous week spent the entire weekend in holding pens, miles away in Santa Rita. Those arrested May 8 were a little luckier, they were held in a building on Pier 38 in San Francisco, and released by around 4 am.

One of the city supervisors asked how much these arrests cost the city, and they came up with a figure of $2.5 million. I think that’s outrageous, considering we are about to have budget cuts that will cut many social services to ribbons.

In the meantime Chief of Police Richard Hongisto–a big liberal progressive until he became police chief–was fired after three of his underling officers went around to newsstands at night to confiscate all the copies of a gay paper, the San Francisco Bay Times (which ran some unflattering coverage of the chief–ed.), and hid them in their basements! What he did during the demonstrations was just as horrible, but nobody seems much interested in that.

Although a total of nearly a thousand arrests were made, mostly white people, the seventy-eight who still have charges pending are mostly people of color. We in the No Justice No Peace Political Defense Committee are going to support all of them, including those charged with looting, even though it’s an unpopular stand, because we see it as clear race and class issue.

July-August 1992, ATC 39