Hundreds of protesters gathered at a San Francisco park Saturday morning and demanded to be allowed past police barricades to protest supporters of a far-right rally that was canceled.
The group gathered around 11:30 a.m. at Alamo Square Park, where the organizer of a “Freedom Rally” was scheduled to hold a news conference. That 2 p.m. conference was canceled.
City officials had shut down the park and erected fencing around it Saturday morning. They said a permit was never issued for the news conference.
Dozens of demonstrators shouting, “Let us in,” and holding signs that said, “Resist the right.” stood at the intersection of Fell and Steiner streets Saturday morning, surrounding a few dozen city police officers on motorcycles wearing riot helmets.
One protester, a teacher wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt who asked not to be identified, said the demonstration was about making white supremacists feel unwelcome in San Francisco.
“We’re here to stand up to white supremacy. This is just one day,” the man said. “There’s white supremacy in our everyday lives.”
“This is a victory rally!” shouted one demonstrator as he clutched a microphone speaking to hundreds near the park. “This is a victory over white supremacy.”
The crowd appeared to have completely overtaken the area where the news conference was to be held by Joey Gibson, founder of the Patriot Prayer group and organizer of the Freedom Rally. The news conference was scheduled in place of the far-right rally planned for Crissy Field Beach that was canceled because of safety concerns.
Many said they felt moved to march despite Gibson’s cancellation in order to send a message that far-right groups, including white supremacists and Nazis who invaded Virginia earlier this month, would not be tolerated in San Francisco.
“We thought it was important to put our bodies on the line,” said Kelly Schultz, a 27-year-old high school student from nearby Richmond. “I don’t really have an opinion on what they’re doing but I thought it was important to be out here against it.”
San Francisco Board of Supervisors President London Breed announced Saturday morning that Alamo Square park would be closed to the public.
Gibson said on social media he would hold an indoor news conference but did not give a location.
Meanwhile, tourists mixed with joggers at Crissy Field on Saturday morning, along with a few dozen counter-demonstrators who gathered at the entrance, uncertain what to do.
“Everything is real fluid,” said a demonstrator from New Mexico, part of a group called RefuseFascism. He and those with him declined to give their names.
“The concern is the fascists are going to show up randomly around San Francisco. Or they could come here,” he said, standing with demonstrators ready to enter the beachfront park with their placards and leaflets.
Inside the park, the scene was placid. There was little sign the venue had been selected as the gathering point for a rally that city officials feared would draw militant demonstrators from across the political spectrum.
Someone brought sidewalk chalk and a beach wall by midmorning was filled with colorful messages such as “Peace and Love From Paris,” “Alt Left Wuz Here” and “I (Heart) SF.”
The Bay Area resident who added the last note was detained by U.S. Park Police officers, who, despite the innocuous nature of his message, ordered him to sit down while they ran a check on his driver’s license and delivered stern warnings about defacing public property.
Afterward, Amir Proushani, 41, an independent filmmaker, was shaken by the encounter.
“I got here, I just saw this beautiful wall, I saw the chalk …” he said.
Within minutes, a National Park Service truck rolled up with a pressure washer.
“Props to the wall!” a passerby shouted.
The planned Crissy Field rally had drawn concerns from city officials and police after the bedlam that marred protests in Charlottesville, Va., earlier this month, and some politicians had denounced the event as a white supremacist rally.
On Friday, Gibson and the organizer of a similar rally set for Sunday in Berkeley both said they were canceling the events due to threats of violence from anti-fascist groups that have sparred with a wide range of supporters of President Trump and white nationalists at past demonstrations in the Bay Area. Gibson said he canceled the San Francisco event based on conversations with police.
Sgt. Michael Andraychak, a spokesman for the San Francisco Police Department, said Friday that investigators had no information about specific threats of violence against the rally.
In an earlier statement, Mayor Ed Lee said the permit for the Crissy Field event had been rescinded. But late Friday, a group called the American Freedom Keepers created a Facebook group urging people to show up for the canceled event anyway.
“We need to show the left, the media and the nation that their fascism cannot silence the truth,” the group’s message read.
Officials in San Francisco and Berkeley said they were still preparing for street clashes.
Gibson told The Times last week that his group was not white supremacist and he feared that extreme or racist figures might try to co-opt his event, a concern shared by experts who track hate groups.
“You’ve got two different people in this world right now. You have people that are trying to change hearts and minds of people, and you have people who are trying to divide the country,” Gibson said.
By Friday, he decided the rhetoric about his rally had grown too heated, and he had no way to control who showed up.
“We have a lot of respect for the citizens in San Francisco and at the end of the day, we want people to be safe,” he said. “In our opinion, it seems like it would have been a huge riot.”
The Police Department had planned to have every officer on duty for the rally. It did not say whether those plans had changed after the event was canceled.
“We are monitoring ongoing developments related to the August 26 rally,” Lee said in a statement, “and we are prepared for any contingencies and spontaneous events.”
Lee noted that the permit at Crissy Field Beach had not been withdrawn, nor had a permit been requested for Alamo Square.
“Our full contingent of public safety professionals is ready to protect our San Francisco neighborhoods,” he said.
After the cancellation of Saturday’s event, focus shifted to Sunday’s “No to Marxism in America” rally in Berkeley, where several political clashes have turned physical this year. Violent protests on the UC Berkeley campus shut down an appearance by Milo Yiannopoulos in February, and subsequent demonstrations in support of Trump collapsed into roving street fights.
As of Saturday morning, the event’s Facebook page listed the rally as canceled. The organizer, Amber Cummings, said in a Facebook message to The Times on Friday that she was “asking that no one come to my event.”
Cummings cited “grave concerns for the safety of the people attending my event.”
Cummings wrote that she still planned to go to Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park on Sunday but that “I will attend this event alone.”
“I’m sorry for this but I want this event to happen peacefully and I do not want to risk anyone getting harmed,” Cummings wrote.
Berkeley officials had expressly banned weapons, sticks, projectiles and even soda cans from gatherings of more than 100 people within the city limits.
Cummings had sought a permit, but was denied. She said the city manager’s office told her Wednesday that the permit application failed to include plans for first aid and sanitary services, and that she had failed to provide sufficient identification.
News that Saturday’s rally had been canceled was seen as a partial victory by counter-protesters.
“Wow, it sounds like we’re having success ahead of time,” Shanta Driver, the Chicago-based counsel for By Any Means Necessary, said as she waited to board a plane to the Bay Area.
Driver said the cancellation showed “white nationalists know they are a tiny minority in America, and there was absolutely no way they could rally in the city of San Francisco.”
Not so, she said, for the city’s neighbor across the bay, with its recent history of showdowns between white nationalists and anti-fascists.
“I think the people who are coming to Berkeley, they come armed and ready, and they come to do physical harm,” Driver said.
Source: us rutur