Protests and the SFPD: More Madness

So what exactly happened at the July 8, 2005 San Francisco G8 protests?

This Chronicle article reports that a bandana-masked attacker assaulted SFPD Officer Peter Shields. Shields and his partner, Michael Wolf, answered a call about anarchists, who were protesting G8, breaking windows. Someone tossed a mattress underneath their car and lit in on fire. Wolf tried to arrest someone who he thought lit the mattress. There was a chase and Shields was hit by someone from behind, suffering a fractured skull. Shields had no riot gear and backup was not called in time. These gruesome photos show Shields and suggest that the cops began swinging their batons at random protestors in retaliation. Because of all this, a no-confidence petition against Police Chief Heather Fong and Deputy Chief Greg Suhr. The latter was in charge of handling the protest.

The Mayor’s Office has issued a $10,000 reward for any information leading to the arrest of the assailant.

But that’s just one side of the story. This video suggests that the SFPD was reacting with the same uncool heads as the protestors. For one thing, the Chronicle article notes that police were randomly arresting people, associating them with the assault. If that was the mentality in place, then if the protestor depicted in this video was being as seriously choked as he looks to be, the onus also falls upon the SFPD for failing to coordinate and to react to the situation calmly. (Near the end of a video, we see the SFPD drawing guns on bystanders concerned about the choked protestor, ordering all to “Get back!” and to “Leave or you’re going to be fucking blasted!” — apparently, these are considered dependable ways to calm down a crowd.)

The protest was an uncontrolled one, as the Anarchist Action people themselves point out. Meanwhile, Suhr has been reassigned and the two protestors arrested have pleaded not guilty and there’s conflicting reports about whether or not there was a communications mishap.

Here are the questions that need to be asked:

  • Was there or was there not a communication breakdown? What measures are in place to protect officers from unexpected assaults?
  • Why did the officer depicted in the video place a chokehold on his assailant?
  • What evidence do the SFPD have to implicate the three arrested suspects?
  • Why did the SFPD draw guns and sling batons upon unwitting protestors? If the charges here were misdemanors, what motivates such a stunning response within police procedure? Further, is there hard evidence to back up some of the protestors’ claims?
  • Has any disciplinary action been taken against the officers who attacked the protestors or Suhr?
  • What was Suhr’s specific approach to handling protests? Does he have a history of using violence and intimidation to resolve conflicts (and encouraging officers to do the same)?

Interestingly enough, KRON’s Brian Shields (unrelated to Peter), a man who’s been trying to court Bay Area bloggers and who operates a blog, The Bay Area is Talking, wrote in the SF Indy Media thread (you have to click on one of the comments to access the dialogue), promising “to recognize that there is another source for information about events around the world, the source of citizens who have cameras and who report based on their own experiences.” At the time of this posting, the top post at The Bay Area is Talking is “What a night for baseball!” It’s good to see Brian Shields following up on the hard news stories. (Some of Brian Shields’ other Pultizer-worthy posts include “I Love the Fog,” “A More Practical Way to Connect with Women,” and “Gee I thought had a Crazy Weekend” [sic]. But at least he has one post up about the incident.)

Of course, if it were me, instead of just mining for links, I’d be using KRON’s resources to talk with the police officers, obtain police reports and the like, hunting down as many sides of the story as I could.

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  1. Setting aside any deficincies in short-term reaction to the protest/riots, a reasonable person would think that SFPD would at least have had general-preparedness meetings, workshops, etc… for the G8. Even if SF is having a hard time courting the big-money conventions because of hotel labor relations, you can always count on the anarchists to keep SF in their sights.

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