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Resist: Let's make actions cop-free zones

by Christina A. DiEdoardo

Federal Protective Service police officers show up uninvited to a January 29 Refuse Fascism action at Immigration and Customs Enforcement headquarters in San Francisco. Photo: Christina A. DiEdoardo
Federal Protective Service police officers show up uninvited to a January 29 Refuse Fascism action at Immigration and Customs Enforcement headquarters in San Francisco. Photo: Christina A. DiEdoardo  

For the last several years, the presence of San Francisco Police officers at events like San Francisco Pride and the Trans March has become increasingly controversial. Given the frequency by which SFPD officers kill people of color, from Alex Nieto in 2014 to Mario Woods in 2015 to Luis Góngora Pat in 2016 to Keita O'Neil in 2017 (to name just a few) and the general lack of subsequent public consequences for those who wear badges and pull triggers, it's not surprising that the SFPD can look more like a threat than an asset to many. Similarly, given that many in the trans community, especially those in San Francisco, trace our struggle for liberation back to the Compton's Cafeteria uprising of 1966 where trans women of color literally fought the SFPD and won, the heavy police presence at the Trans March and similar events has always seemed incongruous.

Those concerns become even more explicit when SFPD invites itself to anti-fascist demonstrations and protests, as has been happening with greater and greater frequency since November 2016 as the number and intensity of those actions ramps up. In contrast to SF Pride, these demonstrations and protests often draw a cadre of fascists in response, many of whom have threatened (and some of whom have carried out) violent acts against anti-fascists.

Sadly, it's become clear that the SFPD - like most police forces, no matter what their leaders may say - is hardly a neutral party. Last August, I saw with my own eyes how the SFPD gave Joey Gibson of Patriot Prayer a personal escort (presumably, at taxpayer expense) as he traipsed around Civic Center after he forced the city to blow several hundred thousand dollars preparing for his event at Crissy Field that Gibson canceled the day before it was supposed to take place. I've also seen SFPD sniper teams set up in Union Square when Refuse Fascism has a demonstration and noted said teams appear to be mysteriously absent when the fascists assemble in that same space.

At actions where the police attempt to enforce a buffer zone between the anti-fascists and the fascists, SFPD will typically come down hard on any anti-fascist who tries to push through, while allowing fascists far greater leeway and room to maneuver. Even when that isn't happening, it's frankly disturbing to see anti-fascist parades be flanked on both sides by SFPD officers marching alongside and - in some cases - leading the procession.

Either the streets are truly ours - as we lustily proclaim at every march to the call-and-response to "Whose streets?" - or they are not. If the former is true, it's time to come up with a way to assume responsibility for the security of our events and not rely on an organization whose members have repeatedly slaughtered persons of color, often resisted investigating hate crime charges against those who attack trans women and who, by acts of omission and commission, frequently enable fascist organizing.

To do this would require a major revision of the San Francisco Police Code, which currently gives the police chief veto power over whether a parade (defined as any procession on a city street longer than a block that "interferes" with traffic, except for military parades) happens or not; the code also provides that parades that take place without a permit are punishable as an infraction, as is any attempt to interfere with or disrupt the parade, though both of the latter provisions are seldom or never enforced. The code not only allows the deployment of officers to "police" parade lines, but also grants the chief power to deny a permit if they think calling out enough cops to do that would "prevent normal police protection to the rest of the City and County of San Francisco."

One way to change that might be to have the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (which, after all, has a better sense of how traffic flows work than the SFPD does) be the lead agency for permit requests and to require applicants to prepare a security plan if they don't wish to use the SFPD's services. As the organizers for the March to Reclaim King's Radical Legacy demonstrated in Oakland last month, it's possible for activists to maintain a safe environment for marchers and the public using their own resources.

I'm not naive enough to believe this will completely eliminate law enforcement officers from our events. They'll continue to show up, whether invited or not and whether in uniform or not. That said, having community members being publicly seen to be responsible for maintaining safety is the best way to make the "Whose Streets? Our Streets!" chant a statement of reality rather than one of aspiration.

It's what we, as queers and as anti-fascists, should be working toward.

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