home North America, Politics, Society Police brutality in San Francisco takes over anti-war rally: March 21, 2009

Police brutality in San Francisco takes over anti-war rally: March 21, 2009

Holding an unarmed protester. Photo ⓒ Umayyah Cable.
Holding an unarmed protester. Photo ⓒ Umayyah Cable.

There are no words to describe the feeling of adrenaline spiking through my system right now. There are no words to describe the feeling of being pushed by a police officer, someone who is paid with your tax dollars to serve and protect you.

Yesterday, in San Francisco, on the 6th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq, what started out as a peaceful demonstration against war and oppression rapidly escalated into a violent clash between aggressive riot police and the substantially outnumbered and unarmed civilian demonstrators. The demonstration, sponsored by ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), was peaceful and calm. It was not unlike many other anti-war demonstrations that have taken place there on many occasions. Sadly, yesterday was different.

child being detained
Child being detained. Photo ⓒ Umayyah Cable

The chaos broke out after a boy who was probably between 8 and 10 years old was detained under suspicion of carrying rocks in his backpack. I never saw a rock in anyone’s hand, for that matter. We are in San Francisco after all, not Palestine.

I didn’t actually see what happened that caused the police to single the boy out, but I watched as he stood crying between two police officers and several ANSWER organizers who were arguing about whether or not he was going to be arrested. Then, suddenly and without cause, the police began charging the crowd with their batons.

The police were yelling “Get back! Get on the sidewalk! NOW!”- All while pushing people with their batons. Because there was an old subway entrance on the edge of the sidewalk, there was no place for people to go, even if they could have stepped back. The police proceeded to knock people over and violently shove them with their batons up against the metal fence of the old subway entrance.

There were several demonstrators and ANSWER organizers on the ground, the police were pushing against the demonstrators, and the demonstrators were desperately trying to retreat but had nowhere to retreat to. People were screaming, cops were swinging their batons, and all the while a line of baton toting officers was forming around this small area, thus sealing us off from the rest of the rally. It was then that I noticed that the majority of people quarantined in this police pit were Arab American youth.

The police in action. Photo ⓒ Umayyah Cable
The police in action. Photo ⓒ Umayyah Cable

Anyone watching the chaos unfold at yesterday’s march could see that the group of Arab American youth who were being corralled were no match for the throngs of well trained, baton-wielding cops. Furthermore, I believe the tactic of trapping us with a flanking line was a method of provocation and thus the cause of further altercations.

Anyone with any common sense would know that physically barricading a group of frightened and angered young people will only serve to escalate a situation. I myself was inside this police barricade and when I politely attempted to exit, I was yelled at and told to find a different exit. This was impossible given the fact that this small area was completely surrounded.

Coincidentally, this place was directly across the street from the Zionist counter-protest. Given the outrageously large number of police officers stationed in front of the counter-protest, I cannot help but wonder if this violent attack by the police was instigated by a local Zionist lobby.

What’s more is that earlier during the event, when several Arab American youths made their way over to the counter protest, the police pushed and shoved them back to the other side of the street. But when a counter-protester made his way into the ANSWER rally and began taunting people, the police stood by and did nothing. The blatantly hypocritical stance of the police was despicable. This, coupled with the outright police brutality against Arab American youths, is evidence of systematic bigotry within the San Francisco Police Department.

I have been attending protests for my entire life. Until yesterday, I had never been pushed, shoved, charged, or otherwise aggressively touched by a police officer. It saddens me that on the 6th anniversary of the Iraq war, instead of successfully raising awareness about ending the war and freeing the Middle East, we must struggle to survive something as simple as our right to freedom of assembly.

How are we supposed to feel safe when the people who are responsible for our safety are intimidating and hurting us? How are we supposed to exercise our constitutional rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly when there is a government police force standing by to punish us for it? Who are these people who make up the San Francisco Police Department, and every police department for that matter, who see demonstrators as a menace that need to be physically squashed for the good of society? Where is the justice?

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33 thoughts on “Police brutality in San Francisco takes over anti-war rally: March 21, 2009

  1. I live in the bay area and I was with you up until this:

    I cannot help but wonder if this violent attack by the police was instigated by a local Zionist lobby.

    Seriously? Your mind immediately jumps to the all-powerful-Jew-conspiracy stereotype?

    There can be anti-Arab sentiment without it being fueled by Jews you know.

  2. You must be confusing Zionism with Judaism. I did not once mention an “all-powerful-Jew-conspiracy.”In fact, I never mentioned Judaism once in that entire article. I mentioned the Zionist counter protesters and the massive difference between the way the Police protected them versus assaulting the ANSWER people.

    I did not say that the only reason the police attacked the protesters was because of the Zionist counter protesters. Yes, racism and bigotry exist regardless of who is calling the shots.

    And just to clarify, not all Zionists are Jews and not all Jews are Zionists.

  3. Note for the “whatsername”:

    There can also be Zionist sentiment that comes from people who are not Jewish.

    There are many Zionists who are not.

  4. Clarification:

    Dear readers,
    I apologize if you were offended by what I’ve written, but in all honesty I am entitled to critique Zionism, just as I am entitled to critique any political ideology. An anonymous poster to GlobalComment has accused me of antisemitism. I never mentioned Judaism in the entire article and I am hurt and offended by the accusation. There is a huge distinction between Judaism and Zionism. I am a critic of Zionism and the practices of the government of Israel. I am not a critic of Judaism, and I am actually quite fond of it as a religion. Although I’m not the religious type, if I were to choose a faith, it would be Judaism. However, that might be hard for me considering I don’t exactly believe in God, but that’s a whole other can of worms.

    I theorized about a Zionist conspiracy because I witnessed a disproportionate amount of protection by the police of the Zionist protesters compared to a disproportionate amount of aggression by the police towards to ANSWER protesters. I was simply recounting what I saw and experienced and made a suggestion based on that.

    Not all Zionists are Jews and not all Jews are Zionists. There is a massive distinction. It is unfair to suggest that a critique of Zionism is a critique of Judaism because they are not the same thing. It angers me that an ancient spirituality and religion has been co-opted by a political ideology. I feel the same way about Christianity and neoconservatives in the United States. And I feel the same way about Islam and Saudia Arabia (and other countries). Regardless of the nation or the religion, I feel it is wrong to use religion as a means for a political ends.

    This is all besides the point. The point is: POLICE BRUTALITY IS WRONG.

  5. i love how you automatically interpreted zionist as Jewish.
    look whos mind is jumping to conclusions.

  6. I was at the anti-war demonstration on saturday, and witnessed (and photographed) the same events. But like the previous poster, I sympathized with you until you made the conspiracy comment– I think it’s farfetched and inflammatory. You failed to note that the Zionist who attacked the ANSWER volunteer was also thrown to the ground, cuffed, and arrested.

    When we gather to show solidarity with Palestine and other Arab nations under attack, I think the best way to handle the Zionist counterprotestors is just to ignore them. Don’t shout back at them, don’t approach them, don’t give them the dignity of a response. We outnumber them by a longshot so of course the police are going to target us first.

    Peace to you, and I’m sure I’ll see you at the next demonstration!

  7. Just as a minor clarification, folks – whatsername is not anonymous, at least not to me. 🙂

    I think that the debate of what Zionism is, and how it is bundled up in our culture, is a worthwhile one – and I’d like for people to be able to have it here. I’ll refrain from posting my own views on the subject, since they’re pretty drawn out and complex and I don’t want to hijack the discussion. For what it’s worth, I did not see anti-Semitism in Umayyah’s remarks. Of course, I am not Jewish.

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  9. Thanks Natalia (you’re not anonymous to me either! ;)) I am in fact not anonymous at all, my blog is linked to this name, click on it and it will take you there.

    Zionism and Judaism are not necessarily linked, this is true, however, they are certainly related, many Jews are Zionists, of various degrees.

    Being anti-Zionist is also, not necessarily antisemitic, and I would never suggest otherwise.

    But when you jump to a “Zionist conspiracy”, with the rampant antisemitic stereotype of the “Jewish conspiracy” pulling the strings behind the scenes, you have got to think about how that reads. If not before, at least now that I’ve pointed it out, because that was truly, truly, troubling. Especially from an otherwise good and truly interesting post.

  10. Just to be perfectly clear, because there is no way most will already know this about me, I’m not big on Zionism. I’ve gotten into more than one debate with Israel supporting Jews and non-Jews because of my stance on the conflict there, and the fact that I often take the Palestinians side. I am supportive of the work of Women in Black, and advertised about this march on my blog. I am not, myself, Jewish.

    This is just so you know what perspective I’m coming from when I say I found that passage troubling.

  11. Dear Whatshername and others

    I am troubled by the fact that you are recognizing that Zionism and Judaism are not the same thing and yet you continue to assert that in my discussion of a Zionist link to the violence I am being antisemitic. I quote you: “But when you jump to a “Zionist conspiracy”, with the rampant antisemitic stereotype of the “Jewish conspiracy” pulling the strings behind the scenes, you have got to think about how that reads.”

    I never mentioned a Jewish conspiracy. In fact I never mentioned Judaism once. I recounted what I witnessed and made a conclusion based on that.

    Additionally, I don’t mean to beat a dead horse here, but you don’t have to be Jewish to be a Zionist. The Christian Zionist movement and lobby in the US (cough-neocons-cough) is even more frightening to me than any other form of Zionism… Because they believe in Zionism so that they can prepare for the Second Coming! Hallelujah! Apocalypse Now!

    Also, A. R. Hamed: I did not see the incident you mentioned about the Zionist protester being thrown to the ground. The man I saw who was making a scene in the middle of the Answer rally eventually walked away of his own volition. There were many incidents at the rally and it’s impossible to see everything at the same time. I’m sure your perspective was vastly different from mine. And that in turn is a good thing! I’d be interested in hearing more about what you saw?

    Ultimately, just as others read my article as inflammatory, I find it equally inflammatory to consider Zionism and Judaism as interchangable synonyms.

  12. I was under the impression that the crowd liberated the youth and forced the police back, but I am more concerned that no one has commented on the obvious here — that no one is recognizing the cause and effect of the ruling elitists use of EVERY possible distinction to segment the working class.

    The whole thing gets focused on religion and zionism, when in fact you have two disenfranchised classes that were purposely set against each other to detract attention away from the real problem. Is this such a difficult concept?

  13. Cops are weird. A lot of them aren’t familiar with the law, especially when it comes to free speech and public assembly. I had a run in with an SF cop at a Gaza rally in January. I was basically video taping and harassing a Zionist counter demonstrator, asking him to explain a slogan on his sign, which of course he couldn’t. BTW, he was a redneck SOB, claiming to be Christian, not Jewish. The cop initially told me I had to leave the guy alone, but when I questioned him about the law, he relented. Police make mistakes, and a lot of them probably hold Zionistic beliefs. It doesn’t have anything to do with Judaism.

  14. There were approximately 50 pro-Israeli demonstrators at the rally on Saturday. Why is it that this very small group warrants so much attention? Why do you believe they are responsible for the arrest made by the police? The simple fact that 50 or so people can affect such a large rally’s outcome is due to the power you attribute to them. Finally, if the pro-Israeli, Jews, Zionist, whatever you want to call them truly controlled the police… Please familiarize yourself with our commenting policy before insulting our writers. You can express disagreement in a civil manner. – The Management.

  15. Zionism and Judaism are linked in the popular imagination. “Zionist” is used interchangeably with “Jewish” in white supremacist literature. There is huge pressure in the Jewish community to be supportive of Israel and Zionism.

    Because of this, when you talk about a “Zionist lobby influencing the police”, in support of a Pro-Israel counter-protest, that reads as an extension of the already common “Jewish conspiracy” trope.

  16. “Zionism and Judaism are linked in the popular imagination. “Zionist” is used interchangeably with “Jewish” in white supremacist literature. There is huge pressure in the Jewish community to be supportive of Israel and Zionism.”

    So, basically, what you’re saying is that we should just accept white supremacist literature and not combat the anti-semitic assumption that Judaism and Zionism are the same.

    I mean, really? You’re trying to link a religion to a hateful political ideology and backing it up by mentioning that white supremacist literature says they are the same? And you have the gall to call somebody ELSE anti-semitic?

    I highly doubt the police acted due to some Zionist lobby. Police are pretty racist as is. But no matter how ridiculous that idea is, it has nothing to do with Judaism and so isn’t anti-semitic. What I find anti-semitic and offensive is that you are trying to link my religion to the support of a terror state.

  17. Arab, Muslim, and Terrorist are also used interchangeably in Zionist literature. That doesn’t mean it’s incorrect to criticize terrorists.

  18. Whatshername,

    Since the white supremacists lump Zionism and Judaism together it makes it ok for you to lump them together?

    Yes, there is a support of Zionism in many Jewish communities. But there are also many Jewish communities who denounce it: Not In Our Name and a Jewish Voice for Peace to name a few.

    Just because “Zionism and Judaism are linked in the popular imagination,” doesn’t mean it’s ok for you, a seemingly educated and informed individual, to blatantly link them. As I stated before I find it distressful when religions and spirituality are hijacked and misused for political ideology.

    By further insisting that Zionism and Judaism are inextricably bound *just* because mainstream opinion says so, you are reinforcing it as ok to do.

  19. Wow! 50 or so Pro-Israeli supporters out there and you guys are like a dog with a bone….let it go. They did not cause the police to to react the way they did. Take some responsiblity for your actions! If the jews controlled the police things would have turned out much differently.

  20. Lily, have you ever met any of those pro Israeli counter demonstrators? Talk to them and you will feel violated, losing hope for the human race. That is my experience. Not a nice group of people.

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  22. Jamal,

    I am not here to say who is nice or not. I just don’t understand why 50 pro-Israel supporters garner so much attention. This was meant to be a peace rally not a hate fest toward the Jews.

  23. So, basically, what you’re saying is that we should just accept white supremacist literature and not combat the anti-semitic assumption that Judaism and Zionism are the same.

    No. I’m saying that talking about a “Zionist lobby” “influencing the police force” is a truly troubling depiction because of the way that exact language has been used and deployed before (in an antisemitic way).

    You’re trying to link a religion to a hateful political ideology and backing it up by mentioning that white supremacist literature says they are the same? And you have the gall to call somebody ELSE anti-semitic?

    Zionism is not necessarily a “hateful” political ideology. From reading Jewish writers on the topic and watching speeches like this one from Jewish (and he says Zionist) UK MP Gerald Kaufman, it seems clear the issue is more complicated than just that.

    Since you’re Jewish yourself, you must be aware of this complicated relationship. I’ve read many Jews talking about how conflicted they feel not supporting Israel, and how much pressure there is within the community to do so, because Jewish-ness (as an identity) has become so wrapped up in Israel’s existence and Zionism as an extension of that.

    In addition, I didn’t call Umayyah Cable anti-semitic, I was taken aback that after the police attacked some Arab demonstrators her reaction to it was “Zionist lobby influenced the police!”

    Yes, there is a support of Zionism in many Jewish communities. But there are also many Jewish communities who denounce it: Not In Our Name and a Jewish Voice for Peace to name a few.

    And Women in Black, who were at the demonstration and who I said previously I support.

    Just because “Zionism and Judaism are linked in the popular imagination,” doesn’t mean it’s ok for you, a seemingly educated and informed individual, to blatantly link them.

    They are linked. They are not the same, but they are linked. I called attention to that part of your post because it read to me like something out of a white supremacist magazine, and I found that troubling.

    As I stated before I find it distressful when religions and spirituality are hijacked and misused for political ideology.

    Don’t forget that to be Jewish to many is also an ethnic identity, and there are the same identity politics with that as there are with other ethnic and racial identities.

    By further insisting that Zionism and Judaism are inextricably bound *just* because mainstream opinion says so, you are reinforcing it as ok to do.

    But that’s not what I was doing, that wasn’t the point of my comment at all.

  24. I’m pro-Zionist and I was completely with you and horrified for what you wrote about the way the police treated you all. And then I got to the ridiculous line where you wondered whether the pro-Zionist people might have influenced the police’s reactions and you lost me entirely. Honestly, that wrecks a bit of your credibility as a writer.

    Maybe it was just a passing comment of speculation while you were still in the heat of the moment, swept up with the passion you mention at the beginning of the post. I can tell you what it wasn’t: professional. I don’t know how seriously I should take you when you fling stuff like that around, even in passing.

    If you were indeed treated in this way by police then it was wrongly done and I hope the policemen have disciplinary actions brought against them by their superiors in the police. Peaceful protesters do not deserve this.

    And Jamal, way to generalize and insult a huge group of people with varied perspectives and views. It may just be me, but I ‘lose hope for the human race,’ as you referred to it, when I see blanketed hate like yours. Classy.

  25. Lily, Zionism by definition is a hate fest towards Arabs. The pro-Zionist protesters are extremely hateful people. They carry signs advocating the extermination of Arabs and Muslims. As with all Zionists they engage in acts designed to hide the truth, like carrying very large signs to hide their small numbers. I guess you got to hand it to them. They’re zealots, but fundamentally corrupt like all Zionists. I’ve been to these rallies, so I know. Zionism is a revolting concept, something that’s helping drive so many terrible things in this world. Hopefully we’ll wake up and realize what an awful thing Zionism and its related ideologies are, either that or we’re doomed.

  26. Wow! 50 or so Pro-Israeli supporters out there and you guys are like a dog with a bone….let it go. They did not cause the police to to react the way they did. Take some responsiblity for your actions! If the jews controlled the police things would have turned out much differently.

    Unless some of those people show up for the express purpose of harassing people and instigating things, as the JDL has at demonstrations around here, then it might be just a tiny bit relevant to think that the police might be acting to keep those people separate from each other. That’s not a conspiracy theory and it does not mean that any religion “controls the police,” please.

  27. Given the verbose rhetoric I’ve seen here it’s no wonder nothing ever changes. Not one reply to my post addressed my question. Until seeking solutions becomes more important than listening to your own rants, your movement is doomed.

  28. Lily, I’ve offered to discuss this in 2 different places that are better suited than here. For instance:

    http://globalcomment.com/forums/topic.php?id=23&replies=1

    Typical Zionist response I must say, though. When asked to explain, basically insult and then go away or worse start dropping bombs. I’m here whenever you want to have a real discussion.

    Things are definitely changing. Zionism is a movement. Palestine is a country. We’ll see which one is doomed within the next few decades.

  29. At the risk of causing a greater fuss, I have one last thing to say:

    Opinions are like assholes. Everybody’s got one and everybody thinks that everybody else’s stinks.

  30. ON MARCH 19 , 2010 FRIDAY APPROXIMATELY 5:00 PM A GROUP OF FOUR UNERCOVER POLICE OFFICERS DRESSED AS CIVILIANS APPROACHED AN AFRICAN AMERICAN MALE PEDESTRIAN NEAR THE CORNER OF LEAVENWORTH STREET AND TURK STREET. THEY HANDCUFFED THE INDIVIDUAL AND MADE HIM LIE ON HIS STOMACH ON THE GROUND AND STARTED BEATING UP ON HIM. WITHIN MINUTES ADDITIONAL POLICE OFFICERS ARRIVED AT THE SCENE MAKING THE TOTAL NUMBER OF OFFICERS MORE THAN TEN. SOME OFFICERS TRIED TO DISPERSE THE CROWD THAT WERE YELLING AT THE POLICE OFFICERS OPPOSING THEIR CONTINUAL PHYSICAL ABUSE ON THE SINGLE HELPLESS , HUNDCUFFED AND LEGCUFFED INDIVIDUAL .THE TOTAL BEATING LASTED ABOUT 20 MINUTES UNTIL THE CROWD BECAME AGRESSIVE AND BECAME ROWDY . FINALLY THE POLICE WAGON CAME UP WHICH TOOK THE SO CALLED SUSPECT WHO WAS CARRIED INTO THE WAGON BY SEVERAL OFFICERS WITH THE SUSPECT PANTS HALF DOWN SHOWING HIS BEHIND LIKE AN X-RATED MOVIE ACTOR.ONE OFFICER WAS HEARD SAYING “YOU ARE BUSTED”. ANOTHER PEDESTRIAN REPLIED “YOU BUSTED HIS HEAD WITH THE SIDEWALK , DON’T PLANT FALSE EVIDENCE ON HIM IN THAT WAGON”.ANOTHER WOMAN STARTED YELLING AND CRYING CALLING THE SUSPECT’S NAME BECAUSE SHE GOT THE CHANCE TO SEE AND RECOGNIZE HIS FACE WHILE HE WAS BEING TAKEN INTO THE POLICE WAGON . SHE WAS UNABLE TO SEE THE PERSONS FACE THE WHOLE TIME BECAUSE THE HANDS AND KNEES WERE ON TOP OF HIS HEAD WHILE THE BEATING WAS GOING ON WHICH COVERED HIS FACE FROM THE CROWD THE WHOLE TIME.

  31. THE FACT THAT SAN FRANCISCO POLICE OFFICERS BRUTALLY PHYSICALLY ASSAULTED THE ONE AFRICAN AMERICAN MALE BY PROFOLEING HIM RACIALLY ON 03/19/2010 5PM – 5;30PM AT THE CORNERS OF TURK STREET ANDF LEAVENWORTH STREET WILL NOT BE FORGOTTEN BY THE ANGRY CROWD WHO WAS MAKING THEIR VIEWS KNOWN IN ALL ASPECTS.

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