Mass arrests on Liberty Street
Ferguson protest clashes with police; march takes winding, 5-mile route through San Francisco
(With a minute-by-minute recap of the angry and sometimes-violent Black Friday protest by a reporter on the scene.)
Protesters led police on a three-hour slow-speed chase across San Francisco Friday night. The marchers shut down Market, Mission and Valencia streets at different times throughout the evening.
Tensions were high between protesters and police, with violence flaring up at times.
The march sought justice and vented anger for Michael Brown, shot by police in Missouri, and Alex Nieto, killed by police in San Francisco in March.
After winding its way through the city, the march finally ended as police arrested many protesters that were “kettled” on Liberty Street at Valencia — hemmed in by two lines of police.
(Because the police blocked off the scene of the arrests for a block in every direction, it was difficult to answer important questions about the arrests:
1. Were protesters given adequate warning to leave?
2. How did police behave as they arrested the protesters?
3. How did protesters behave as they were arrested by police?
4. How many people were arrested? What were they charged with?)
What follows is a minute-by-minute recap of the march, from one reporter’s perspective. Quotes given are crowd chants.
~6:30 — A protest march that began at the Ferry Building arrives at Union Square, in the midst of Black Friday shopping and large crowds gathered for the Macy’s tree-lighting ceremony.
Police stop the protesters on Powell Street. The group chants and hurls abuse at the police as shoppers hurry by.
6:43 — A man in a black face covering smashes a big piece of wood, like a two by four, against the window of Simayof jewelry store. The wood splinters into pieces and he’s left holding a piece of it. He throws the piece at the police line.
Two chants battle for a voice. “Peace-ful pro-test,” is overtaken by “Fuck the police.”
Police wearing white helmets and carrying billy clubs push their way down the sidewalk and form a line in front of the jewelry store.
Again, peaceful and angry chants compete.
6:46 — An orange traffic cone is thrown at the police line from the crowd. Some protesters begin to taunt and yell at the police.
6:47 — Black-masked protesters have climbed on the back of a meter maid car and begun to rock it.
The situation is extremely tense. Ten cops with white helmets and wooden batons face an angry crowd chanting “Hands up, don’t shoot!”
A man dressed in black with a black face covering is playing music into a megaphone. It’s Bob Marley. “I shot the sheriff, but I did not shoot the deputy…”
“Justice for Michael Brown / Shut the whole system down!”
6:49 — A glass object is thrown at the police line and shatters on the wall. The cops glance at each other.
6:51 — The marchers/mob move down Powell and turn left on O’Farrell
“Shut it down for Michael Brown!”
6:53 — Black-clad marchers slam a steel barrier into the glass doors of Macy’s. Store employees rush to lock the doors.
6:55 — There seems to be a core of black-clad marchers with their faces covered that are intent on causing and stoking mayhem.
6:56 — “Whose streets? Our streets!” Onto Market and Ellis.
6:57 — The march heads up Market, toward 5th.
“Slow down! Stay together!”
7:00 — Police form lines at Market and 5th, blocking off the intersection on all four sides. The lead group turns left on 5th to avoid the block, but the rest of the march is forced to stop at 5th Street as police fill in the sides.
This was the first time I saw the marchers get split up. Throughout the night, I saw the people in the front of the march setting a pace that was too fast, stretching out the group and making splits more likely.
7:04 — There is a tense stand-off at Market at 5th as protesters press up to the police lines, yelling in their faces. Still, many of the black-clad marchers were in the first group. Without them, the crowd seems to be losing energy slowly.
A cavalcade of police vehicles screams down Market, sirens blasting. Ten vehicles stop — 3 cars, 2 SUVs and 3 vans — and police pour out, wearing helmets with clear visors and carrying large wooden batons. The police form into lines of 6 about 50 yards behind the protesters
The protesters appear to be penned in between lines of police.
7:08 — The standoff continues at Market and 5th. Protesters continue to taunt police.
“The whole world is watching.”
Another group of protesters is hemmed in by police across the intersection. They have already crossed 5th, but aren’t being allowed to rejoin the main group.
7:10 — Energy seems to be draining. People are drifting off. The protest’s momentum has stalled.
7:17 — The standoff continues. There has been no communication from the police to the protesters.
7:19 — The crowd slowly starts to move, led by a man with a megaphone and green, red and black flag. Blocked front and back, he takes the marchers back and to the right.
7:21 — Shouting into a megaphone, he leads the group back around the BART station plaza and onto Market, where the two groups of marchers are now reunited.
7:25 — The police lines at Market and 5th suddenly seem silly, as the march makes its way up Market once again.
“Whose streets? OUR streets!”
At 6th or 7th, a posse of motorcycle police is turning left onto Market, trying to get ahead of the protesters. They’re a bit late, and end up driving among the crowd. They squeeze up the side, taking abuse and at least one shove from marchers.
A man dressed in black with his face covered yells to onlookers on Market Street, “Let’s go!”
7:31 — The march pauses at Market and McAllister, thinks about bearing right, then continues down Market.
“Black lives matter!
Latino lives matter!
All lives matter!”
7:37 — A man dressed in black sets off fireworks.
“2, 4, 6, 8 — fuck the police state!”
7:42 — We’ve reached Market and Van Ness. Lines of police flank the march on both sides, walking along with us, but keeping their distance.
7:44 — The march reaches Market and 12th. We are approaching the 101 Freeway onramp.
A man with a ponytail yells to the crowd: “Mass die-in on the highway!” Flashing lights ahead indicate the police have considered the possibility as well.
7:47 — Short of the freeway, the march makes a left on Valencia, avoiding a confrontation.
7:48 — “Hands up, don’t shoot!”
7:50 — Someone in the crowd sets off loud, screeching fireworks.
7:57 — Valencia and 16th.
8:03 — The rear of the march passes the police station, heavily guarded by police. Marchers scream at the police. “Cop! Pig! Murderer!”
8:05 — Valencia and 19th.
8:07 — “Fuck the police!”
8:09 — We make a left on 21st Street.
8:11 — “Whose streets? OUR streets!”
8:12 — We make a right onto Mission.
“Arms up, shoot back!”
8:13 — “Pigs go home!”
8:14 — Mission and 22nd. More fireworks.
8:16 — Mission and 23rd.
8:20 — Left on 24th.
“All cops are bastards, A-C-A-B!”
8:22 — The protesters erupt into spontaneous noise: yelling, clapping, hooting and hollering.
8:23 — “Oink oink, bang bang, every day the same thing!”
8:24 — 24th and Folsom. A brisk walking pace and steady chanting has kept the crowd’s energy up. Some have been walking for more than 2 hours.
“Indict, convict. Send them killer cops to jail. The whole damn system is guilty as hell!”
8:28 — “Fuck the police!”
8:29 — 24th and Florida. Someone yells at the cops still marching on the sidewalks: “That’ll do pig, that’ll do.”
8:32 — A group of motorcycle cops is bringing up the rear of the march, urging along the slow walkers. Some of the officers are blasting their sirens, seemingly to annoy the marchers in front of them. I tell one of the police, “That’s not very polite.” As I run off, he or another cops blares the siren again. The protesters are unfazed and continue to berate the cops.
The man holding the green red and black flag is walking calmly next to a women pushing a stroller with a baby in it. She is at the end of the march and the police motorcycles are following close behind her, engines growling.
8:35 — Reaching Potrero, the march pauses. The street is wide, and deserted. It’s a little creepy.
8:37 — A bus is briefly blocked by a man with a bicycle, but he is quickly moved out of the way.
The motorcycles from the back of the march are now massed at the corner. The officers attempt to turn right onto Potrero. Protesters quickly move to stand in front of the bikes.
One woman lies down on the ground. She looks around, and a moment later, sits up. She’s joined by more marchers who sit in front of the motorcycles.
A scuffle ensues. The motorcycle cops blare their sirens full blast as they tussle with marchers, trying to drive through the crowd.
8:38 — The motorcycle police get off their bikes. Police and protester lines meet in a scrum of screaming, twisted faces.
BANG! Someone throws a firecracker into the melee. It startles everyone.
Standing next to the motorcycle police, I’m hit by a thrown plastic cup filled with ice.
8:39 — The crowd kneels down in front of the police, hands in the air.
“Hands up, don’t shoot!”
8:40 — The march is suddenly on the move, flowing left onto wide, dark, deserted Potrero.
I’m just to the right of the motorcycle cops and the march is moving left, so I start to walk that direction, in the midst of the motorcycles. A tall cop with a mustache comes at me, and repeatedly shoves me back with his baton. I never did get his name.
8:43 — The march is moving north on Potrero. Police are marching alongside us on the right. A couple hard objects smack the wall near them.
8:47 — As we approach 21st Street, 3 or 4 police cars pull up and riot police get out. They form a line like usual, but then they run forward briefly and re-form it closer to us. It certainly sends a message.
8:48 — Blocked, the march makes a U-turn.
We’re in front of San Francisco General Hospital, someone points out. ‘How convenient.’
At Potrero and 22nd, protesters surround a police SUV, yelling. Sirens blare as more police come to the rescue and the marchers run off.
8:51 — There is a melee at Potrero and 22nd. Police are lined up and protesters are getting in their faces. There is grabbing, pushing, shoving.
At one point, three or four teenage girls surround an isolated police officer, screaming at him. He quickly retreats back to his lines.
8:53 — We are now the rear of the march. The lead group missed the scuffle. We head east on 22nd, trying to catch up with the main group. At Hampshire, the first cross-street, many police appear.
For the first time of the night, they scream gutturally as they charge forward, forming lines. It is genuinely a terrfying moment.
A light rain starts to fall. It will continue on and off for the rest of the night.
8:54 — Another line of police moves in behind us. We are “kenneled,” as they say — trapped in a very tense and volatile situation between two lines of armed men (and women).
“Which way do we go?”
“Let us through!”
A National Lawyers Guild observer in a neon green hat gives me the number for jail support, just in case. For the record, it’s 415–285–1011.
8:57 — It’s another standoff with police hemming in protesters on both sides.
9:00 — Still trapped. Everyone is eager to get loose and re-join with the main group.
Eventually, the police shout at us and tell us we have to get off 22nd immediately, or we’ll be arrested. I think we were all happy to do that. They allow us to make a right on Hampshire Street.
We head south trying to rendezvous with the main group at 24th.
9:15 — We’re straggling towards 24th, blindly chasing the main protest group.
A lot of police cars zoom by, in the same direction we’re going, with their sirens blaring. A photojournalist and I start jogging.
The glass doors of the Bank of America at Mission and 23rd are smashed, but the protesters and police are nowhere in sight.
9:24 — On Valencia, between 20th and 21st, flashing lights lead the way to the front group of marchers. They near the base of Liberty Street, a short, steep hill. There are police in a line in front of them, and, we presume, behind them, at the top of the hill.
We gather on the sidewalk across Valencia. (Police have control of the street). Some chanting goes back and forth between the two separated groups. Then, police push us north and south on the Valencia sidewalk, out of view and earshot of the group trapped on Liberty.
Some of us go around the block, to Guerrero and Liberty. Police have blocked the street there too. We continue around the block to the closest vantage point at Valencia and 20th. Liberty is a block away, police vans with their doors open block much of the view. It’s hard to make out much.
~ 9:45 — Police begin to arrest people trapped on Liberty Street. This reporter saw police walking and carrying people to vans. Many departing vans were seen, presumably filled with arrested protesters.
10:28 — Arrests continue.
11:15 — Arrests still continuing.
11:36 — The street is reopened and the police get in their cars and drive off. The few remaining stragglers are now just standing in the rain. They make their way to BART to catch the last train home.
Reporting and photos by Sam-Omar Hall, a freelance journalist based in San Francisco.
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