If ever you were wondering what the cost of civic disobedience is in San Francisco, wonder no more: it is $53,000 bail, anywhere from a night to a few days in jail while said bail is collected and the charge against you is eventually dropped.
Less than a Tesla, certainly; but Teslas don’t give you instant messiah status over at IndyBay.
However you want to dissect it, whomever you want to blame, the rally didn’t go so well: folks in keffiyahs tangled with the San Francisco Police Department and its 35-inch riot sticks, arrests were made, but none of it came anywhere close to being as bad as what was happening simultaneously over in Oakland.
(We weren’t there ourselves; if you were you certainly have your own opinion; the rest of us can take a peek at the video available on YouTube and try to figure it out).
[An aside — we think the videos pretty accurately depict the experience of being at a protest — a lot of milling about and shouting, and all of a sudden a lot of screaming and running around without knowing what the fuck just happened.]
At the behest of Supervisor David Campos, who is still in the running for Calling The Most Hearings That Ultimately End in Gestures and Not Action, During Budget Season No Less, the SFPD’s Captain John Goldberg explained exactly what it is that the police do in a “First Amendment situation”: deploy a appropriate amount of cops based on the best guess of the crowd size beforehand, who then stand around and get yelled at until the officer in charge declares the assembly unlawful, at which point the shit has a tendency to hit the fan. The use of force — poking someone in the ribs with a stick, hitting them with said stick, a gloved hand to the face — is permissible “to protect the legitimate needs of law enforcement” as perceived by the officers at that moment, and information collected post-incident is irrelevant. In short, if you’re antagonizing a cop, s/he can crack you over the skull (Goldberg noted that the SFPD does have tear gas and can use it, but the SFPD has not tear gassed an assembly in at least 30 years) and s/he does not have to be nice about it.
When assemblies are trickiest is when there are two groups of protesters screaming at each other and SFPD is caught in the middle. That’s when SFPD “tries to accommodate the needs of both sides,” with the ultimate goal being “to avoid physical confrontation,” Goldberg said. In most cases, someone causing problems at a protest — sitting down in the middle of a public thoroughfare, disobeying cops’ requests to “move it or lose it” — is at worst handcuffed, taken down to the Hall of Justice, given a misdemeanor citation and released; but 10 participants in the March 21 demonstration were arrested and at least six were charged with hefty crimes that required $53,000 bail.
(There’s plenty more that the cops did on that day, according to about 90 minutes’ worth of public testimony given Monday. Check back on SFGTV’s archives once Monday’s meeting is posted).
[Another aside — did you know that “The taking by means of a riot of any person from the lawful custody of any peace officer is a lynching”? So it says in our state’s laws!]
In the weeks that followed, the Arab Resource and Organizing Center collected the funds necessary to procure their bail, and eventually the charges were dropped, and all but $10,400 of what AROC paid in was recovered.
So is that the cost of free speech: $53,000 bail, plus legal fees and a night or two at 850 Bryant? Well, no — there’s OT pay for cops involved, an assembly permit and the related fees, plus all other sorts of impacts a motivated economist could find. The Appeal contacted both AROC and the District Attorney’s Office for the final tally and will update when we hear back, but we can estimate: $10,400 in bail paid to the city (out of over $300,000 initially collected), minus whatever it costs to house people in jail and to outfit the police unit who put them there, all equaling up to no criminal charges filed, no civil lawsuits filed (that we know of, still waiting to hear back) and nothing else accomplished save an awful lot of shouting and some hurt feelings.