Mass arrest of teens follows chaos near SF's Dolores Park

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Monday July 10, 2023
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Police in riot gear attempted to disperse people from the annual Dolores Hill Bomb event on July 8. Photo: Courtesy Underscore SF
Police in riot gear attempted to disperse people from the annual Dolores Hill Bomb event on July 8. Photo: Courtesy Underscore SF

Over 100 people were arrested near Mission Dolores Park on Saturday after what San Francisco police characterized as a "riot" following chaos at the annual "hill bomb" skateboard event down Dolores Street.

Gunshots, smoke bombs, a stabbing, vandalism, the takeover of Muni streetcars, and fireworks led to the mass arrest around 8:30 p.m. after dispersal orders from the San Francisco Police Department, authorities said. In all, 81 juveniles and 34 adults were arrested, according to police.

Community reaction to the police's actions has been mixed. The Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club stated it was "outraged" in a Facebook post Sunday, citing video footage that appeared on Mission Local's website showing police pointing rifles at teenagers.

"This display highlights a clear lack of understanding and practice of de-escalation techniques within the police force," the club stated. "We demand an immediate and comprehensive independent investigation into the arrests, as well as an explanation for the targeted deployment of riot police at the Dolores Hill Bomb event,

an annual gathering."

A hill bomb is a skateboard maneuver in which a rider goes down a big hill.

Debra Walker, a lesbian who serves on the Police Commission, said the commissioners are working to gather the facts.

"It is our job to be part of the conversation but I'm not going to jump ahead," Walker said. "I don't want to evade the issue, but I'm not going to respond to the news reports until I see what's presented. Our commission oversees these issues so it will be presented. The good news is we do have a department that looks at these, learns from them in any case, not like a lot of police departments. I hope as a police commission and a police department that we show we are looking at it."

Walker said that she's confident the department will act in good faith in looking into its response.

"One of the reasons I am on the commission in the first place is that there is a commitment to reform on the part of the department," Walker said.

The issue will likely come up during the chief's report at Wednesday evening's police commission meeting, she added.

Paul Henderson, a gay man who is executive director of the Department of Police Accountability, told the B.A.R. he couldn't comment other than to confirm the existence of an investigation. His department takes into consideration SFPD rules and not just legal statutes, giving it more of an ability to redress people's complaints.

The Milk club called for any investigation into the police's handling of the matter to look into the detention of juveniles until 3 a.m.; the use of restraints, batons, and rifles; and how much was spent on the "show of force by police in military gear," which it called "one of the most violent police actions in recent memory involving riot gear, batons, rifles, and the drawing of guns."

The SFPD did not return the Bay Area Reporter's request for a response to the club's demand for an investigation. In a July 9 tweet, San Francisco Police Chief William Scott defended his department's actions.

"This behavior will not be tolerated in our city and I thank our officers for taking action to hold those accountable who brazenly engaged in reckless and dangerous behavior and violated the law. Thankfully, there were no serious injuries," wrote Scott.

Milk club members were among those out in force Sunday at the SFPD's Mission Station protesting the department's actions. Gay club President Jeffery Kwong was there; he told the B.A.R. that it was a grassroots protest.

"We were there to raise serious concerns about the allocation of resources and funding by the SFPD," Kwong told the B.A.R. "They had to send out hundreds of police in riot gear, drawing guns, chasing kids, waving batons — a row of them pointing rifles across barricades at unarmed teenagers? For vandalism and spitballs? C'mon, if they can't prioritize de-escalation tactics with the youth — what have we been training them for? Where's the enhanced training and community-centered policing practices Mayor [London] Breed and Chief [William] Scott have been telling us about since the Black Lives Matter movement?"

On the other hand, gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman said he's "grateful" for the police and San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency responses. He called the hill bomb "problematic" — indeed during a 2020 event, a skateboarder and a cyclist collided, leading to the cyclist's death and raised pavement dots being installed on Dolores Street to disincentivize future use.

"The Dolores Hill Bomb has been a problematic event for many years," Mandelman stated to the B.A.R. on Sunday. "Property damage and injury to participants seems to have been reduced this year, but plainly there's more work for the city to do to prepare for next year. I'm grateful for the work of MTA and the PD to contain the mayhem this year and wishing the injured officer a speedy recovery."

Barricades were erected and additional officers were assigned to the area in preparation for the annual hill bomb, which agitated the largely teenage crowd attending the event, according to media reports.

Police stated in a news release that reports of vandalism and fireworks began at 6:15 p.m. "Officers responded to the area and assisted residents in accessing their homes because they were afraid for their safety," the release stated.

Then, the release continued, at 7:10 p.m., a 16-year-old boy spat in a police sergeant's face.

"The sergeant moved to detain the male suspect and while doing so was approached by a female who tried to interfere with the sergeant's attempt to detain the male suspect," the release stated. "The sergeant was assaulted during the incident and suffered lacerations to his face, for which he was transported to the hospital."

The boy and a 15-year-old girl were eventually arrested; however, during this arrest "the crowd began to throw ignited fireworks, smoke bombs, glass bottles, and metal cans at officers, which struck them."

Five minutes later, police ordered the crowd to disperse. Fireworks caused damage in Dolores Park, but the fires were extinguished by the San Francisco Fire Department, the release stated.

"The park was ordered closed to clear the crowds of the unlawful assembly. As crowds moved out of the park at approximately 7:35 p.m. there were reports of gunshots at 18th and Church streets near an occupied Muni light rail vehicle (LRV), which was unable to move due to the crowd blocking the street," the release stated. "Officers arrived on scene and observed the LRV being vandalized and several people climbed on top of the LRV, putting themselves at risk of falling and/or touching the high voltage electrical equipment.

"Officers attempted to move the crowds which fled in various directions," the release stated. "A second occupied Muni vehicle was vandalized at 17th and Church streets. Officers continued to give dispersal orders throughout the area, but the crowds remained moving around Dolores Park with some people igniting fireworks and vandalizing property."

Things came to a climax at 8:12 p.m., when 200 people began removing the barricades the police had set up earlier, the release continued. A third Muni streetcar was occupied and vandalized. Twenty minutes later "it was decided that a mass arrest of the crowd was to be conducted to stop the ongoing unlawful assembly and destruction of property. During the arrests officers located and seized several firearms left at the scene."

In a statement Scott noted, "This dangerous and unlawful behavior put members of the public and our officers at risk of serious injury or worse."

A B.A.R. reporter inquired on Facebook if anyone had any eyewitness accounts of Saturday's events but did not get any responses.

The San Francisco District Attorney's office issued a statement July 11 that said most of the adults arrested and booked were issued citations for misdemeanors.

"One individual arrested in possession of a gun is facing additional charges," stated Randy Quezada, communications director for the DA's office. "Each case will be assessed individually and all avenues to ensure there is appropriate accountability will be explored."

When asked about the juveniles, Quezada stated to the B.A.R. that the "juvenile proceedings are confidential."

Updated, 7/11/23: This article has been updated with comments from the DA's office.

Updated 7/12/23: This article has been updated with comments from Paul Henderson.

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