Over five hundred were detained before eleven o'clock this morning; a television reporter declared 'truckloads more' had come in by mid-afternoon. Surrendering Iraqi soldiers? No, anti-American demonstrators, set loose on the streets of San Francisco.
Today, on the first day of America's campaign to liberate the Iraqi people, at a time when the threat of terrorist attack is elevated and the troops need our support, thousands of Bay Area radicals poured into the streets in a last-ditch effort to impose their lost argument undemocratically on the rest of San Francisco. The majority of the city's police force were tied up unblocking the streets. With at least one suspected Al Qaeda pilot being sought by the FBI on American soil, the citizens of San Francisco lost the use of manpower best used to spot terrorists.
The disruption began early, before the morning commute.
Coalitions of radical activists had long planned to block over two dozen different intersections and workplaces - by the time they got organized, before eight o'clock, they'd successfully shut down at least ten, including several on the main arteries of Mission, Van Ness, and Market. A freeway ramp was also blocked, with over two hundred people occupying it. Other protestors used subterfuge to achieve their aims. After stealing equipment from construction workers, a pack of young men sealed other freeway off-ramps with traffic cones and men-at-work signs. All were being well organized - the coalition behind the chaos, Direct Action to Stop the War, had arranged in advance for a legal team to defend the arrested. Out of their command post in the Justin Herman Plaza, they directed new arrivals to where they could cause the most confusion.
Although the San Francisco police acted promptly, and began arresting those who refused to disperse, progress was slow as demonstrators locked their arms together within steel pipes. By half past eight, one intersection was shut down by people locked to large cement blocks; another group uprooted newspaper racks and strew them across the streets. There would be no business as usual for those San Franciscans who wanted to work and support their families.Will the protestors reimburse them for their lost pay? Their measure, designed to stop the war, hurts hardest the working poor they usually defend. While these protestors, many of them unemployed students, claim the safety of the Iraqi people is worth taking from the pockets of working Californians, President Bush and the majority of Americans know that only the liberation of Iraq from the dictator will truly make Iraqis safe, and are not about to listen to a small crowd of street rabble. At times like this, we must wonder - what exactly is their point?
As the day progressed, their point became more clear - to cause as much havoc as possible. Despite the best efforts of the San Francisco police force, they were unable to clear the streets, no doubt because of their refusal to lower themselves to the protestors' violent level. By mid-morning, at Post and Grant, people pushed cars out to blockade the street. By noon, crowds were roving up and down Market, blocking traffic - and just when the police had restrained a large number by the Federal Building, and were preparing for a mass arrest, a 'Black Bloc' of anarchist protestors assembled elsewhere and began their own march. Leading a march reportedly two thousand strong, this black-clad mob headed for the Financial District, opening a fire hydrant and breaking windows - windows of police cars, windows of the Federal Building.
When many of these Black Bloc protestors were arrested at the Federal Building, police made surprising discoveries - these practitioners of 'non-violent civil disobedience' were armed. Knives. Wrenches. Clubs. Hammers. In one case, a taser. Mercifully, no firearms - yet. At the time of writing, news is still sparse, and details uncertain; but two short words on their own radical website are enough to bring an uneasy sickness to the stomach: "Cop down."
The arrested are being taken to at least two processing stations - one set up on the length of one of the city's piers. There the protestors are documented, cited, and released. As one local television reporter announced mid-afternoon, the turnaround time was two to three hours.
However, the protests are set to continue all night. Already, protestors have announced 're-convergences' every two hours until midnight - at these re-convergences, they assemble enough bodies until they can set off through the city with relative impunity, able to be subdued only by a large force of riot cops. They plan to stay out all night; many have expressed enthusiasm for continuing their unlawful activity indefinitely. Again - just what is the point? Mayor Willie Brown, despite being personally against a war on Iraq, provided the answer for the San Francisco Chronicle: "I've got to assume that these people are so misguided that they are actually aiding the enemy by doing what they are doing."
Exactly, Mayor Brown. The protestors are indeed aiding the enemy, by making it easier for him to strike us at home.
There is room in civil society for a wide range of opinions on the war in Iraq, although now that the government has decided, we all have an obligation to support our troops and respect the sacrifices they make. Those against a war still have plenty of opportunity to dissent - by writing to the newspapers, by calling their politicians, and by participating in legal protest, planned for by the police.
Yet no one has a right to break the law. No one has the right to jeopardize others by keeping our police from their job. At times like this, we all must speak out against the 'revolving door' system of arrests taking place in San Francisco and other cities across America. Our police do their job well, putting themselves in danger to ensure our cities run, but when they can only take a radical out of action for two to three hours at a time, the laws they enforce are failing them. But there are steps we can take to correct this situation.
We can start by encouraging our politicians and prosecutors to press for harsher penalties and higher bails, keeping a protestor from being arrested multiple times in a single action, allowing the police to clear the streets of lawbreakers rather than simply shifting them around. A much better solution – give teeth to the existing laws with mandatory, harsher penalties in time of increased terrorist threat, penalties that would keep these lawbreakers from weakening our defenses against terrorism for the duration of the conflict.
America is at war in Iraq. God bless our troops. Regrettably, a few have chosen to wage war at home. May God also bless our police.