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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Occupied Church Building Cleared, Police Arrest 24

Posted By on Wed, May 2, 2012 at 7:46 AM

click to enlarge When Occupying goes wrong. - ALBERT SAMAHA
  • Albert Samaha
  • When Occupying goes wrong.
The madness at 888 Turk St. began a little after 5 p.m. Police officers in riot gear had begun erecting metal barricades around the front of the previously empty Archdiocese of San Francisco building, which protesters had occupied a few hours earlier.

Aside from a few demonstrators yelling at police for infringing on their right to protest, and a guy with a yellow "Don't Tread on Me" flag who biked in circles while demanding that the police defend the Constitution, the scene was pretty calm. Turk Street, between Gough and Franklin, was re-opened to traffic and officers herded spectators and reporters to the sidewalks. The protesters who had no plans to be arrested left the building and posted up across the street or around the corner.

Then a protester -- black bandana masking his face -- grabbed one of the barriers and pulled it down. A police officer flipped it back up. Then another protester in a black bandana -- or it may have been the same guy -- pulled down another barrier. This happened a few times, as aggression on both sides heated up.


An unmasked protester tried to rip a barricade from an officer's hands, initiating a sort of tug-of-war. Other officers converged, threw him to the ground, and cuffed him with plastic wraps. The spectators behind the police line swelled into the street to get a better look at the scene. Cameramen and protesters, respectively, filmed and shouted. The street was now completely blocked off.

Soon one protester dragged a barricade halfway up the sidewalk, before an officer swung his baton into the top of the metal fence to shake off the protester's grip.

That's about when the first brick rained down from the two-story building's roof.

Police Chief Greg Suhr said the man -- who police later identified as 34-year-old Jesse Nesbitt -- was aiming for an officer holding a video camera. The brick instead hit an Occupier in the face and chest (he walked away on his own power and was treated by paramedics). Many in the crowd scattered back toward the sidewalk. The rooftop thrower stood with his arms raised, a brick in each hand.

Protesters down below shouted at him to stop. A protester inside the building went up on the roof to try to take the bricks away. The effort was unsuccessful and the next brick soon smashed into the ground. Then another. By this point, the street was clear, and the police switched into full-on riot control mode, marching into the road with bean bag, pellet, or tear gas guns, aiming for the roof.

The brick thrower retreated.

The pipes began flying soon after. It was surprising at first, because they seemed to come out of nowhere, as if falling from the sky. It took some seconds to see the black-clad figure standing on the top of the three-story building behind 888 Turk.

This man had plenty of pipes and he chucked them toward the row of police cars lined along Jefferson Square Park. He had chunks of concrete, too, with which he was able to reach clear across the street into the park. There were between six and eight pipes in all -- it's easy to lose count of how many pipes are falling from the sky when you're focusing on not getting hit by them.

Rows of more police officers entered the scene. There were motorcycles and firemen with axes.

One protester shouted into a crowd of officers, "Look what you started! Is this what you wanted?!"

Another yelled, "You caused this! You caused this!"

A handful more piped up, "Fuck the police!"

Many other protesters, though, stood back in shocked silence. This is exactly what they feared: Leading off the evening news, a couple of dumbass punks running around throwing bricks at cops, because that is the first step toward economic equality.

One lighthearted young man leaning against a parking meter blurted out, to no one in particular, "So this is how normal Republicans feel when they hear Michele Bachmann talk."

By 6 p.m. the scene had calmed down. Nesbitt was arrested when he left the building. The police had set up surveillance teams in a nearby highrise soon after the protesters took over 888 Turk. Nesbitt was charged with felony aggravated assault. No word on the pipe-thrower. Suhr identified them as part of "a gang of anarchists," often referred to as the Black Bloc. These were the same people who trashed the Mission the night before, he added.

Perhaps 200 people remained in the building, the chief suspected. And some were "stockpiling pipes, bricks." But the police withdrew before Giants fans had finished filing out of AT&T park a few miles across town.

At 5:30 a.m. on Wednesday, police raided the building, arresting 24 protesters.

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Albert Samaha

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