No police announcement before mass arrests, witnesses say

50 to 60 protesters trapped, arrested after 3-hour march through city

Marchers on Market Street Friday evening.

Late Friday, the protest march that began at the Embarcadero hours earlier finally ended on a small hill off Valencia Avenue.

50–60 protesters were trapped on Liberty Street by riot police after 9 p.m. Friday night, witnesses reported.

Police began mass arrests, preventing anyone, including press, from coming within a block of the site. The corner at 20th and Valencia provided the closest vantage point, and it was difficult to see or hear much.

Many questions about the arrests could not be answered at the time. SFPD did not answer their public information lines over the weekend. Questions included:

- How many people were arrested at Liberty and Valencia?
- Were any announcements made by police to the protesters?
- Were protesters given the opportunity to leave before arrests were made?
- Did the Liberty Street group contain anyone who committed acts of violence?

Thanks to interviews with people arrested on Liberty Street, it’s possible to answer some of these questions. Ryan Heuser, 28, of Oakland, and Ousmane S., 17, both offered similar accounts of the end of the night.

From Ousname S. via text
“It was like a group of 50 of us that got blocked in. The cops on Valencia said ‘get in the street’ and the ones at the top of the block said ‘get on the sidewalk.’ They pushed us into a group. They did not say it was illegal what we were doing. They also told us to leave, yet there was nowhere to go. Officers let certain people in the group go quietly. The people that were looting and breaking windows were long gone.”

His account matches closely with Heuser’s, given independently. They both mention the street/sidewalk commands, the lack of an announcement, and the absence of law-breakers in the group that was arrested.

To provisionally answer the questions:
- How many people were arrested at Liberty and Valencia?
50 to 60.
- Were any announcements made by police to the protesters?
According to the protesters quoted here, no.
-
Were protesters given the opportunity to leave before arrests were made?
Some were, it seems.
-
Did the Liberty Street group contain anyone who committed acts of violence?
Hard to say. Both witnesses say ‘no.’

In an interview, Ryan Heuser, 28, of Oakland, discussed being trapped, arrested and taken away Friday night

Heuser was eventually cited for 2800 CVC (failure to obey traffic officer, misdemeanor) and 21956a CVC (pedestrian in road), he said.

Heuser started marching at 6 p.m., from the Embarcadero. He was with the group as it was blocked by police on Powell Street, as it marched down Market and Valencia, and when the march was split in half at Potrero at about 8:45 p.m. The narrative begins as Heuser continues on the with lead group.

Q: How did you get from Potrero to Liberty Street?
RH:
I remember passing a McDonalds. We were going to go to Valencia, but some people were like, ‘no, no no. we’re gonna get arrested if we go to Valencia. Let’s stay in the Mission.’ So we go up a couple more blocks on Mission.

the police trap the group on Liberty Street

Q: How many people would you say were marching at that point?
RH:
At this point we’re like 50, 60 people. There’s no cops at all. People are like ‘Let’s go to Valencia, we’ve already been to the Mission.’ We make it like two blocks on Valencia, going right down the street, but the cops blocked off 20th.

We turned around. We decided the only thing we really could do was turn on Liberty.

Some of us were like, ‘this isn’t gonna work, it’s a very small street, and it’s hilly.’

So we start walking up, and we don’t get halfway before 3 cop cars show up right there, at the top of the hill. So we turn around, the cops are there. We’re trapped.

Q: What did everyone do?
RH:
Here’s the key moment: the cops at the bottom of the hill, at the bottom of Liberty, tell us to get on the sidewalk. We all immediately comply. ‘Ok, we’ll get on the sidewalk.’

That’s the only order that we heard. We start walking on the sidewalk. We’re thinking ‘OK, we’re following the law. Maybe they’ll let us pass.’ We’re going up the sidewalk to the other cops at the top.

They tell us, ‘get off the fucking sidewalk!’ So, those of us in the front of the group, who heard that, got off the sidewalk. We got on to the street again. They were clearly gonna block us and not let us go.

We were freaking out. We were like, ‘guys, let’s stay together, let’s stay together! Let’s just stay together at the bottom of the hill, on the sidewalk, and talk to the cops.’

So we go to the bottom of the hill and we’re on the sidewalk. We’re asking them, ‘Are we detained? What’s going on?’

I would say 30 minutes passed before any arrest happens. The cops refused to say anything to us.

Q: Did they make any announcements to you guys?
RH:
No, absolutely not. I think we have video of that whole thing.

police begin arresting protesters

Police stand guard in front of the police station Friday night in the Mission.

Q: How did the arrests start? What did they do specifically?
RH:
So we’re on the sidewalk. We all get together, we all start holding each other. The cops kettle us in a ridiculously small area. They get out a big black box, which we don’t know what it is.

Q: I saw the black box, actually. I saw them wheeling it down the hill.
RH:
I actually never saw the black box, but people were like ‘what’s in the black box? What’s in the black box?’ I don’t know if we ever found out, but it may have just been a shit-ton of plastic handcuffs, because they just get out a shit-ton of plastic handcuffs and walk up to someone and are like, ‘don’t resist.’ And they pull them, and handcuff them.

Q: From a block away, I could see them filling up vans. Were they any incidents as they made the arrests?
RH: I don’t think so. I think at that point all of us were too smart to actually resist arrest or anything. I was, say, the 10th person taken, so I didn’t see the rest — the other 40 or 50.

Q: Did they put you in a van? What was the situation like in the van?
RH:
There were five dudes in my van, including me. All of our stuff was taken. They took my sweater and my jacket. I ask if I can keep my jacket, they say no. They take my glasses, and I start screaming like ‘no, you can’t take my fucking glasses. I’m blind. Why can’t I have my fucking glasses?’ and they don’t respond to me. [Ryan eventually gets his glasses back.]

Q: Did they hang on to your wallet and phone and everything?
RH:
Yeah. Everything else. Everything else.

into the van and off to jail

Q: So you’re put in the van, they fill up the van, then what happens?
RH:
Then we’re driven away. We don’t know where. But, we were arrested with this old-timer who clearly has been arrested before, who told us that they’re probably going to take us to 7th and Bryant, which is this processing center, all-purpose jail.

We go there, we get out. We’re put into this … there’s a roof but it’s made of fence. It’s raining, so we’re in the rain. They had these police-barricade fence things. One for the dudes and one for the ladies.

Once we get in, we’re un-cuffed, so we’re just walking around in this barricade thing.

Q: How were people feeling in there?
RH:
We were talking to each other.

A lot of people were very visibly upset, very visibly nervous. We were trying to comfort the ones who were very visibly upset.

Q: How did they process people?
RH:
They would write you out a citation. they asked your birthdate, name, address, all sorts of things. they looked at your ID, cited you.

I asked, ‘what is this for?’ the cop then was like, “listen, you can talk about it in court.’ Once you got the citation you were just ushered out.

the aftermath

Q: Windows were smashed. We know this. Later, police arrested people. Do you think they actually arrested the window-smashers?
RH:
No, no. I think they did not arrest the window smashers.

Q: The people you were marching with, the people that got arrested — did you see them commit any acts of violence?
RH:
No, I didn’t. I saw acts of violence committed. I don’t know by whom. The people that were doing the smashing found various ways to get away.

Q: Did they ever read you your rights?
RH:
No.

Heuser’s and Ousmane’s accounts bring up questions for SFPD on Monday:

Why was no one allowed to witness the arrests?

Why was no announcement made to the protesters, telling them it was an illegal assembly, and giving them a chance to leave?

What was the overall police plan to deal with the march? What were the goals? Who was in charge?

How do the police feel about their performance Friday night? Is there anything they wish they’d done differently?

Is it possible to stop violent protesters while allowing peaceful ones to continue?

Reporting by Sam-Omar Hall, a freelance journalist based in San Francisco.

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