by Heather Mack, Mission Local
Anti-police activists caught up with the Mission gentrification debate Wednesday — with approximately a hundred protesters, according to police, marching down Mission Street, delaying Muni instead of a tech bus, and chanting “Unite the block against the cops!” and “Shoot the cops, tear up coffee shops!” At one point, they yelled directly at apartment residents watching the protest from their balconies: “We know where you live and we will burn this place to the ground!”
Some others flung f-bombs at passersby (and some people returned the verbal assault) in the rollicking ramble escorted by dozens of cops on foot, motorcycle and in patrol cars and paddy wagons. San Francisco police told Mission Local Wednesday night that there were no reports of vandalism or physical violence.
The protest — organized by street posters and on the web — targeted the amplified presence of San Francisco beat cops around the 16th Street BART plaza in recent months, part of an ongoing effort to clean up the area beleaguered with crime and transients.
Police have been targeting the plaza for several years, and nearby merchants and community members have continually called for greater surveillance. For more than a year, a group of merchants and nearby residents has been working with police and elected officials to diminish the number of incidents at the plaza.
Mission District Police Captain Bob Moser recently told the San Francisco Business Times that the foot patrols have helped curb crime in the plaza. Moser also commented on the plan for a 10-story apartment building across the street: “If a development were to bring more people out who use the plaza for positive uses, as opposed to negative uses, that could have a great impact.”
Protesters on Wednesday argued the cops are only there to protect the gentrifiers coming into the neighborhood — and that the police presence only displaces crime to surrounding streets. At a fall meeting of concerned neighbors, businesses and elected officials, police and others were well aware of the problem of simply moving crime to neighboring streets and were trying to come up with longer term solutions.
The crowd Wednesday was mixed in race and age and many told Mission Local they lived in the Mission.
“Cops have turned a blind eye for years to all of the activity from people milling around transit stations,” said Diamond Dave, 76, who hosts a show on Mutiny Radio, while walking with the crowd of about 70 protesters down Mission. “Now, they are cracking down on people, and I think that has been propelled by this wave of new wealth to the neighborhood.”
“This enhanced police presence is a symbol of gentrification,” said Eddie Falcon, a veteran and local activist, through a megaphone to the protesters at a rally in the 24th Street BART Station plaza before they walked into the street. “These plazas used to be a community space, a place for people with nowhere else to go, and now they are vacant except for cops and yuppies.” Falcon went on to claim that new residents of the Mission are ignorant of its cultural significance and history, trashing local eateries like Tacolicious and “Gracias Mama-f—kin-whatever.”
Many carried signs urging for an end to evictions, high rents or new condo development, with individual protesters adding in more provocative digs along the way like “Shoot the cops!” and “We hate you!!”
“Some of these chants are silly, I know, but the things that are going on in this neighborhood are not by accident or aberration,” said a woman protester in her 60s who declined to give her name because she says she’s facing eviction. “The cops are not incidental; they are part of an infrastructure to protect the ‘new’ Mission.”
While the cops remained stoic in the face of the taunts, the protesters didn’t go without challengers. One man walked out of the Goodwill at 19th Street with his wife and young son, and yelled “Yay, gentrification!” and got some f-bombs lobbed at him in return, which set off a series of profane exchanges.
The man said he is a 54-year-old Missionite of 25 years and a landlord.
“I believe in free speech and demonstration and all of that,” he said. “But when people are yelling for us to ‘kill the cops,’ that just isn’t OK. If the cops weren’t here, they wouldn’t be able to do this.
“People hate who I am because I am supposedly this evil, rich guy who is ruining people’s lives and evicting them. But I am just someone who planned and worked. I’m not like these people, who are all probably into drugs and alcohol. But you know what?” — he said, holding up a bag of clothes — “We all live here, and we all shop at Goodwill.”
The confrontations grew even more antagonistic when the crowd stopped in front of the new, gleaming Vara apartment complex at 15th and Mission. A few of the new residents came out on their balconies to see what was going on, and a half dozen recorded the spectacle with smartphones.
They immediately became the target of the crowd’s class warfare.
“We hate you and the Mission hates you!” the crowd chanted in unison. “We know where you live and we will burn this place to the ground!”
“What did I do?” a young woman yelled back from above the building’s garage. “I just moved here; I don’t know what’s going on!”
“Go home!” a protester shouted.
“But I am home.”
Undeterred, the crowd then headed to 16th Street BART plaza for coffee to the accompaniment of a protester beating drum sticks on a bench.