Mayor Ed Lee flexes his muscle with useless crackdown on Occupy SF


December 7th will live in infamy for a different reason in the history of the Occupy movement.

In San Francisco, Mayor Ed Lee gave the OK for a brutal pre-dawn raid of the OccupySF encampment, with police moving in around 1 a.m., tearing down tents, seizing property, and arresting 80 people.

The police department’s justification for the raid was the so-called “public health” danger from the encampment.

That might explain the use of street sweepers, but not the violence reported by eyewitnesses who saw protesters zip-tied, beaten, and choked with batons.

The protesters, however, remained undaunted by the excessive force.

By Wednesday evening, some 16 hours later, the occupiers returned, breaking through the taped-off area to take back their space at Justin Herman Plaza.

Only this time, the assembly was allowed to gather without police harassment–as long as no one pitched a tent or camped out. The SFPD was there in force, outnumbering the protesters. They just weren’t swinging freely and arresting people.

Call it a victory for the First Amendment. But backing down to the occupiers was an embarrassing retreat on the part of the mayor. Force was good enough at 1 a.m., but I guess it wasn’t good enough at the dinner hour when people are watching. It made the whole day a rather dismal show of leadership from San Francisco’s newly elected mayor.

The pre-dawn raid may not have been as violent as the raid a few weeks back in Mayor Jean Quan’s Oakland. (Perhaps that’s because there wasn’t a core group of agitators among the occupied willing to mix it up with police.) Still, the whole incident could have easily been avoided.

I guess we’re learning after Quan and Lee that having an Asian American mayor doesn’t make any difference at all when it comes to knowing how to deal with mass movements and sensitive First Amendment issues. Surely, Lee had to realize he had no valid reason to crack down on the encampment?

The day before, four prominent Asian American politicos took a stand on OccupySF. Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, Supervisor Jane Kim, Supervisor Eric Mar, and State Sen. Leland Yee appeared at the Occupy camp site and expressed their solidarity with the protesters.

It was almost like an extension of the mayoral race that Lee won last month. Supervisor John Avalos, who finished second to Lee, was also with the group in support of the protesters.

Avalos told the rally that the mayor and the police were in charge of what might happen to the camp, and that the supervisors had not heard from the mayor or been consulted.

Supervisor Kim, whose district encompasses the camp site, seemed to express the sentiment of her fellow politicos that taking a hard-line on the camp’s hygiene was no reason for any harsh or violent action toward it.

“If there are any concerns about public health, we feel confident we can work with you to develop a protocol that balances First Amendment rights and public health concerns,” Kim said.

But by 1 a.m. Wednesday morning, the rhetoric apparently failed to move the mayor or the police.

Lee told reporters after the crackdown that his hand was forced when occupiers cut off talks with the city to move the encampment. “We still wanted to talk with them, but because these discussions were cut off, we felt this was the right time,” Lee said.

Seems like the pre-dawn raid was just a lame excuse to crack some heads and pay police overtime. The only thing it accomplished was to show the world who really has the upper-hand in San Francisco.

The 99 percent still do.

Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator.
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