Only real change can avert more conflict


This week's May Day events brought together immigrant groups, labor unions, and activists with the Occupy movement to confront gross inequities in our economic and political systems. That's a healthy democratic exercise, even if it sometimes provokes tense standoffs with police and property interests. But the day was marred by violence that didn't need to happen, and that's a dangerous situation that could only get worse.

The Oakland Police Department debuted new crowd control policies to manage marches of several thousand people, and there were some improvements over its previous “military-type responses” that have placed the OPD under the oversight of federal courts. For example, when the decision was made to clear Frank Ogawa Plaza around 8:30 p.m., police allowed escape routes (instead of using dangerous kettle-and-arrest tactics), clearly visible public information officers were available to answer questions, and people were allowed to return shortly thereafter.

“We're not attempting to permanently clear the plaza, we just want things to settle down,” OPD spokesperson Robyn Clark told me at the scene.

But the OPD continues to provoke conflicts and mistrust with its confrontational tactics, even as it argues that such tactics are actually intended to improve its approach to handling large demonstrations. “Today’s strategy focused on swiftly addressing any criminal behavior that would damage property or jeopardize public or officer safety. Officers were able to identify specific individuals in the crowd committing unlawful acts and quickly arrest them so the demonstration could continue peacefully,” OPD wrote in press release late Tuesday night.

That sounds nice, but it's only partially true, and the entire situation is a lot more complicated and volatile than that. Clark and witnesses told me at the scene that the dispersal order came after police charged into a crowd of several hundred, perhaps more than 1,000, to arrest someone with a stay-away order and were met with an angry reaction from the crowd.

What did they expect? The city decided to seek stay-away orders against many Occupy Oakland protesters – a barely constitutional act that only fans divisions between the city and protesters – and then to execute them at a time when elements of both sides were itching for a fight anyway. Perceptions become reality in a scene like that, which can quickly escalate out of control (which is what happened – almost all the property damage in Oakland occurred after the plaza was cleared by police).

“These pigs can't wait to come in here and bust us up,” speaker Robbie Donohoe told the crowd shortly before the sound permit ended at 8 pm, warning people to leave soon is they didn't want to assume the risk of a violent confrontation with police.

It wasn't an unreasonable expectation after watching police decked out in riot gear, loaded down with tear gas canisters, and gathered around an armored vehicle with military-style LRAD sound weapon since mid-afternoon. Donohoe wasn't advocating violence, but an important revolutionary and constitutional principle: the right to assemble and seek redress of our grievances.

“They didn't have a permit in Egypt, they didn't have a permit in Tunisia, and we don't need a permit here! If you want to stay, you stay!” he said.

Many Americans share that viewpoint, and they're frustrated that political corruption and economic exploitation have continued unabated since the Occupy Wall Street movement began almost eight months ago. And many young people – particularly the Black Bloc kids who show up with shields and weapons, ready to fight – are prepared to take those frustrations out in aggressive ways, as we saw Monday night during their rampage through the Mission District.

Witnesses and victims of that car- and storefront-smashing spree are understandably frustrated both with the perpetrators and the San Francisco Police Department, whose officers watched it happen and did nothing to stop it or apprehend those who did it. SFPD spokesperson Daryl Fong told us it just happened too quickly, with less than 20 officers on hand to deal with more than 150 vandals.

“Obviously, you have people with hammers, crowbars, and pipes engaged in this kind of act, with the number of officers involved, it was challenging and difficult to control,” he told us.

In both Oakland and San Francisco, the reasons for the escalation of violence were the same: police officer safety. That's why OPD asserts the right to use overwhelming force against even the slightest provocation, and it's why the SFPD says they could do nothing even when the Mission Police Station came under attack.

Now, I'm not going to second-guess these decisions by police, even though we should theoretically have more control over their actions than any of us do those of angry Black Bloc kids, although I do think both of these sides are looking for trouble and invested in the paradigm of violent conflict.

Rather, I think it's time for our elected leaders, from Mayor Ed Lee to President Barack Obama, to stop giving lip service to supporting the goals and ideals of the Occupy movement and start taking concrete actions that will benefit the 99 percent and diffuse some of these tensions. This is dangerous game we're all planning, and we're teetering on the edge of real chaos that will be difficult to reel back in once it begins.

“We are not criminals. We are workers, we pay rent, we own homes,” Alicia Stanio, an immigrant and labor organizer for the Pacific Steel Casting Company, told a crowd of thousands that had gathered in San Antonio Park in Oakland, where three marches converged on their way to City Hall, carefully monitored by a phalanx of cops.

She and thousands like her didn't march or speak or risk violence on May Day just because they like being in the streets. They're desperate for change, real change, and it's time that our leaders begin to deliver it before things really get out of hand in this country.


Shawn Gaynor contributed to this report.


let's drill a little deeper here

this eye witness account tells a very different story of what happened on Valencia St...

Posted by anonymous on May. 03, 2012 @ 5:53 pm


The cops are perfectly capable of putting a stop to vandalism in these cases - they were clearly capable of deploying hundreds of cops at a moments notice when Occupiers did such horrible things like jaywalking or sitting down.

But they did absolutely nothing when a group of thugs started smashing shit. They could have easily had a moderate response, which say, could have arrested the vandals while letting non-violent and law-abiding protesters continue to march. In some towns, they actually do that.

These were agents provocateurs, pure and simple. Probably undercover cops or Pinkertons. And the cops were deliberately allowing them to smash shit.

Posted by bingo! on May. 03, 2012 @ 6:51 pm
Posted by Anonymous on May. 03, 2012 @ 7:09 pm

DurangoKid 2012-02-27 08:13

Agent Provocateurs are all over the web, too. Check the various comment pages and you'll see the same pattern. Fortunately, most of them are easy to spot. Their arguments are shallow, lean toward the status quo, sexist, racist, and read a lot as if written by Sarah Palin. It helps to read the likes of Santorum and Gingrich to learn the style, such as it is, and be able to spot the AP's.

Posted by ap watch on May. 03, 2012 @ 7:20 pm

examples of police brutality, and collaboration with agents provocateurs and fascists, in Greece...

Posted by the inoculator on May. 03, 2012 @ 7:29 pm

United States

In the United States, the COINTELPRO program of the Federal Bureau of Investigation had FBI agents pose as political radicals to disrupt the activities of political groups in the U.S., such as the Black Panthers, Ku Klux Klan, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

New York City police officers were accused of acting as agents provocateurs during protests against the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City.

Denver police officers were also found to have used undercover detectives to instigate violence against police during the 2008 Democratic National Convention. This ultimately resulted in the use of pepper spray against their own infiltrating agents.

Posted by fbi watch on May. 03, 2012 @ 7:12 pm
Posted by Anonymous on May. 04, 2012 @ 11:32 am

This is about probability based on past experience; past experience which shows the FBI and police are frequently the instigators of violence and property damage during protests.

The past record is the evidence.

This combined with an eye witness report showing some really obvious damning truths (such as the fact that SF police who have historically been extremely aggressive toward cracking down on Occupy, in this case did absolutely nothing and allowed the riot to continue while making no arrests) makes it a no-brainer that this was some sort of concocted instigation operation by the cops and/or FBI.

If you are so incredibly dull witted as to not recognize the obvious, I feel sorry for your cognitive capacity...

Posted by anonymous on May. 05, 2012 @ 10:40 am
Posted by Guest on May. 07, 2012 @ 11:49 am

I always come to the Guardian comments expecting a load of provocative old bollocks from trolls. Your blog post was a pretty good read though, thanks very much for a well told story. Now I have to work my way down the page to the rest of the comments....

Posted by Tim Daw on May. 07, 2012 @ 11:38 am
Posted by Anonymous on May. 03, 2012 @ 6:05 pm

"Rather, I think it's time for our elected leaders, from Mayor Ed Lee to President Barack Obama, to stop giving lip service to supporting the goals and ideals of the Occupy movement and start taking concrete actions that will benefit the 99 percent and diffuse some of these tensions."

But neither work for the 99% so why would they do that? Corporatist Obama has made it quite clear who he works for: the 1%. The "bourgeois elite" couldn't care less about the 99%. Obama is part of the "bourgeois elite." The same thing for that other political sack you mentioned. They work for where their money comes from. How much longer will it take people to understand this? Or maybe people don't want to understand it. The corporations run this government. There's a term for that. What it's called? It's two words. Here's a clue: The first word is "Corporate" and the second word starts with an F and it's one of those "isms."

Posted by Guest on May. 03, 2012 @ 7:11 pm

Another good word for it is plutocracy: rule by the rich. I agree with you that's essentially what we have and how both Lee and Obama are leading. But as I said, both claim to understand the gross economic inequities in this country and the problems it creates and should be pushed to turn that into major reforms. I admit, I'm not hopeful they will, but I also don't think it serves the 99 percent for this country to simply descend into anarchy, so we need to keep organizing and pushing and doing what we can to turn things around. They will only do it if we force them to join us because sticking with the 1 percent becomes politically untenable.

Posted by steven on May. 04, 2012 @ 11:15 am

Anyone else concerned about false flag ops fbi and other operatives in the occupy movement should also look into the governments COMPLICITY in the events of 9/11 that led to all the oil wars, "patriot act", torture all the way down to the repressive police tactics and abuse we can see in our own cities.

Posted by truth now on May. 04, 2012 @ 10:56 am
Posted by Guest on May. 04, 2012 @ 10:57 am

It's not about what the mob wants, it's about what the people need, and about understanding that if the people are denied opportunities and ways to meet their basic needs, they will form into mobs and things will get ugly. It's a simple concept that has replayed over and over throughout history.

Posted by steven on May. 04, 2012 @ 11:22 am

could be used by anyone, anywhere, at any time, who happens to have a grievance against someone else. That way leads to violence and crime.

In a democracy, the majority does matter. And of course a majority can achieve change through legal means - elections.

If 99% really all thought that you were right here, then we'd all simply elect at all levels of government people who think like you and Occupy.

But of course we don't - even liberal SF votes in Mayor Lee with more than 60% of the final vote even though you claim he only represents the "1%"

There's some funny math here.

Posted by Anonymous on May. 04, 2012 @ 11:36 am

If the majority could change things through elections, then there would be no Tea Party, no Occupy.

The majority does not matter to government, to elected officials to the duopoly or plutonomy, we've seen that time and again with wars, bank bailouts, individual mandates, negotiating with pharma for Medicare prescriptions, that are where high margins of public support can't stop the opposite policies from being enacted into law.

The majority does matter to Occupy. The majority does not support property destruction or damage and Occupy is accordingly a nonviolent group because it operates within the broad base of public support.

Posted by marcos on May. 04, 2012 @ 11:56 am

told Occupy that they didn't want them smashing up small mom-n-pop businesses, and didn't want them vandalizing cars, and didn't want them obstructing streets, then would Occupy listen to them and change their ways?

Occupy is doing what the small number of people in Occupy want to do. Occupy are not out there polling and asking the majority what they want. In that sense, they are acting exactly like you claim governments do - for themselves.

Posted by Anonymous on May. 04, 2012 @ 12:50 pm

1. Occupy didn't commit that vandalism, it was the Black Bloc, opportunistic vandals, and/or young people frustrated that nonviolent tactics don't seem to be working.

2. Understanding how and why violence happens doesn't excuse it. I was simply explaining that if the needs of the masses are ignored long enough, there will be consequences, whether any of us like it or not. Those in power can't fool us or pit us against each other forever, at some we catch on. 

3. You're a fool if you think majority rule is the basis of our electoral system. Choosing between two corporate-sponsored candidates that you don't like and which represent a very narrow band of ideological/philosophical thinking isn't democracy. Many Americans see their election-time options as akin to the giant douche vs. turd sandwich choice from South Park.

Posted by steven on May. 04, 2012 @ 2:21 pm

1) It's clear that Occupy attracts the violent elements. we've seen that before in SF, Oakland and elsewhere. Occupy always claims it was a "fringe" group every time it happens but it happens too often for thate xcuse to work.

2) Lots of people are poor and don't commit crimes and violence. Your idea that conflict is "inevitable" is little more than a thinly disguised attempt to intimidate politicians into making concessions with no elevctoral mandate. If you think your ideas are good - go to the voters with it - don't threaten us.

3) So you prefer street violence to free elections? That's just great, Steven.

Posted by Anonymous on May. 04, 2012 @ 2:35 pm

"even liberal SF votes in Mayor Lee with more than 60% of the final vote..."

As usual, you conveniently left out that the voter turnout for that election was 42.47% which means that nearly 60% of the registered voters did *not* vote at all in that election for whatever reason they had. Of those who did vote, we don't know how many were self-described "liberals." A real liberal would not have voted for Mayor Pak-Brown-Lee.

And I don't know that this city can any longer be called "liberal SF" at the rate things are going. That's a thing of the past. A "liberal" city would not vote for criminalizing homelessness (sit-lie), as one example. As Steven Jones wrote after that vote, (I'm paraphrasing): it looks like the city has decided to join the rest of the nation in the downward spiral. True, unfortunately.

Posted by Guest on May. 04, 2012 @ 1:54 pm

This is such a tired whine, when the true believers win elections they have finely got through to the masses, when they lose the masses were duped.

Posted by Guest on May. 04, 2012 @ 2:22 pm

By that standard, they'll be claiming that Lee "stole" the election, or doesn't have a "mandate" in 2023.

Posted by Anonymous on May. 04, 2012 @ 2:36 pm

The true believers of Mayor Pak-Brown-Lee seem to still be in campaign mode. Why? Are you really that insecure with your candidate? Someone else wrote, "you lost, get over it." That whine is very childish and immature. As for the 2000 election, my right-wing Republican relative is still complaining about that election. She too, thinks that election was stolen, even though she supported Bush. She did not like the way things were handled, regardless of the outcome. She didn't think that the Supreme Court should have chosen the "winner." She too is offended by the "you lost, get over it" mantra. She says it's childish, low-grade and disrespectful to all voters. I agree. I would never say, "you lost, get over it" to anyone, even someone who supported a candidate differently than myself. It shows that someone is more concerned about winning at any cost, rubbing it in someone else's face and to hell with the process.

Posted by Guest on May. 04, 2012 @ 3:14 pm

you lose is the only strategy that makes sense. You can whine and complain and bitch and gripe but, in the end, all you can do is work harder next time. Election injustices happen only when the result is close (which Lee-Avalos was not) and that is as much as anything a failure of the losing side to convince the majority.

As for 2000, eventually there was a total florida recount and in fact it showed Bush won by more than originally thought. Nothing was stolen, as it turned out.

Move on.

Posted by Anonymous on May. 04, 2012 @ 3:37 pm

No anonymous. You make a point based on a clever lie. The consortium of newspapers that paid for a complete and thorough recount of the 2000 Florida ballots discovered that while limited recounts the Gore and Bush campaigns were advocating/stipulating to would not have changed the election outcome... A COMPLETE RECOUNT OF FLORIDA WOULD HAVE MADE AL GORE THE PRESIDENT.

Please go back to spamming SFGate with your useless tripe. (It's one way to guarantee I won't see it again.)

Posted by lillipublicans on May. 04, 2012 @ 3:55 pm

because it wasn't done. We do have the projections that were done which you acknowledge would have elected Bush.

Regardless, you're really making my point for me. I claimed that liberals never let go of that loss and, right on time, here you are, a liberal revealing that you're still all bitter and twisted about it.

Gore would have been a disaster anyway but that's another story. Get over it.

Posted by Anonymous on May. 04, 2012 @ 4:08 pm

If all the uncounted Florida ballots had been counted, Gore would have been president. This is ignoring widespread Republican election fraud such as caging voters and mishandling military votes and the illegal "butterfly" ballots which cost Gore 35K votes. I've got one point to make and I don't want you to be confused about it anonymous: STFU.

Posted by lillipublicans on May. 04, 2012 @ 6:20 pm

But I am curious why you are so concerned about what is almost ancient history now. It just goes to prove my earlier point that the left are bad losers, which is odd considering how much practice they have had at losing.

Posted by Anonymous on May. 04, 2012 @ 6:30 pm

Google: Not That It Was Reported, but Gore Won

You previously referred to our "free elections."

We don't have "free elections" here. That's delusional. Have you never heard of the easily-hackable electronic voting machines? These machines are all over the nation, and elsewhere in the world:

Google: Diebold e-voting hack allows remote tampering

"Computer scientists have demonstrated a hack that uses off-the-shelf hardware to tamper with electronic voting machines that millions of Americans will use to cast ballots in the 2012 presidential elections."

Posted by Guest on May. 04, 2012 @ 4:07 pm

Of course not. You'd be claiming a peoples' mandate.

Posted by Anonymous on May. 04, 2012 @ 4:14 pm

Did you r-e-a-d the articles I suggested you Google? I didn't write them.

Unlike you, I'm not partisan so had the Supremes chosen Gore, I would have disagreed with that too.

If Avalos had won, I would not say he had a "people's mandate" when most people/registered voters didn't vote.

Posted by Guest on May. 04, 2012 @ 4:35 pm

and don't need another. Anyway, SCOTUS did not appoint a president. The electoral system did and SCOTUS effectively declined to overturn an election result. As you say yourself, had Gore won, that same decision would have been right.

In most elections, nobody gets more than 50% of the electoral register, so your standard for a mandate is ridiculously high.

Posted by Anonymous on May. 04, 2012 @ 4:53 pm

"As you say yourself, had Gore won, that same decision would have been right."

No. I never said that. Don't you read anything? Try comprehending. I suggested you Google an article that I didn't write, but your closed mind refused to read that article.

I said that if the Supreme Court had chosen Gore I would have DISAGREED with that as well. DISAGREED meaning I would have opposed that. Got it? I can draw you a picture if you'd like, maybe that would help, Thick.

Posted by Guest on May. 04, 2012 @ 5:09 pm

1) Bush won any which way you interpret the result. SCOTUS didn't declare Bush the winner - they simply saw no grounds to impose a recount. such evidence as later emerged showed that a recount would have made no difference.

2) My real point here was that lefties never let go of their endless defeats, and you are proving that more with every post!

Posted by Anonymous on May. 04, 2012 @ 5:58 pm

Here are the real facts. I predict anonymous will respond with non-sequitur and ad hominem and perhaps even some Latin stuff which is done behind closed doors and not spoken of.

Posted by lillipublicans on May. 05, 2012 @ 9:24 am

Bush "stole" the election. It's especially entertaining since you offered that as a counter to my assertion that liberals are poor losers.

You're living proof that I was right. Keep it up.

Posted by Anonymous on May. 05, 2012 @ 10:43 am

I would argue that is the true majority opinion. After all, most people are in the middle politically, and not to either the extreme left or the extreme right.

So if Occupy, or any other movement, is truly concerned about the "silent majority" then maybe they should actually ask most of us what we actually think, rather than assume we are as ragingly left-wing as Steven. Because we are not.

SF is moving "downward". It is merely rejecting partisan, extreme politics in favor of a middle way. Steven prefers extremism but he is starting to learn that that view is the real 1%. Occupy should take note too.

Lee scored over 60% of the final tally. Speculation about what those who couldn't be bothered to drag themselbes to the voting booth cannot reasonably be speculated about. The center won i.e. the majority.

Posted by Anonymous on May. 04, 2012 @ 2:30 pm

Here's yer chickenshit perps:

Note that the following language:

"April 30th kicks off a string of actions in the Bay Area against all who would take our ... comrades from every corner of the Bay to descend upon Dolores Park, 8pm April 30th, .... Bay of Rage is an anti-capitalist initiative based in the Bay Area."

was removed from the website.

Posted by marcos on May. 04, 2012 @ 11:52 am

Highly entertaining to see how they lurch from self-imposed crisis to self-imposed crisis.

Posted by Anonymous on May. 04, 2012 @ 4:59 pm

Want to get rid of Black Block violent thugs? Arm all the small businesses on Valencia. I'm betting a few shotguns blasts to some of these trust fund punks would make them scatter like the mice that they are. They are cowards enabled by the weak, overpriced SFPD and OPD.

Posted by Guest on May. 08, 2012 @ 7:44 am

I unfortunately know a few self proclaimed anarchists. They claim they are making a difference and fighting for a worthy cause, though they are lazy, self-entitled complainers who form groups of other angry unintelligent people while claiming to be part of a righteous cause. Of the ones that I know, none contribute to society in any meaningful way and constantly complain about how society and businesses keep people down. They are always failing to take any personal responsibility for their lives and resort to blaming others for their lives not being perfect. They are selfish and their "demonstrations" become nothing more than a way for violent people to vent their anger and hurt innocent business owners and tax payers in the process.

Posted by Self-entitled Thugs on Aug. 19, 2012 @ 4:28 am

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