Ben 1.000 arresti di pacisifsti a San Francisco
San Francisco -- Sirens wailed through downtown San Francisco and helicopters whirred above it all day Thursday as anti-war protesters poured into the city by the thousands and seized streets, blocked buildings and left beleaguered police and commuters fuming.
Authorities described the day's demonstrations, which began peacefully before dawn and grew increasingly antagonistic and occasionally violent as the day wore on, as the largest seen in years.
Up to 1,400 had been arrested before the protests finally began to wind down after 11 p.m., and about 1,000 remained in custody. Most face citations for blocking traffic and failing to follow police orders, but at least 18 face felony charges.
"This is the largest number of arrests we've made in one day and the largest demonstration in terms of disruption that I've seen," said Assistant Police Chief Alex Fagan Sr., a 30-year department veteran.
The vast majority of demonstrators were peaceful as they denounced the U.S. war with Iraq and shut down more than 40 intersections beginning at 7 a.m. But small bands of protesters clashed with police, accosted motorists and vandalized a wide swath of the Financial District.
"Today we saw a ratcheting-up from legal protest to absolute anarchy," Fagan said. "These people were bent on shutting the city down, and we're not going to allow that."
It was a long day for protesters and police alike. Officers in riot gear hustled to keep up with roving bands of demonstrators. Roughly 1,500 of the Police Department's 2,300 officers were on street duty, officials said, costing the city $500,000 in police overtime.
The worst came during the evening commute.
Hundreds of demonstrators repeatedly tried to storm the Bay Bridge, paralyzing traffic for blocks around. A phalanx of California Highway Patrol officers and city police turned them back after shutting down two approaches to the span and unleashing pepper spray to disperse a crowd near Fremont and Harrison streets.
The protests started at dawn and kicked into high gear around 7 a.m. as demonstrators fanned out en masse to locations chosen in recent weeks in a well-planned campaign to shut down the city. Demonstrators promised to continue their protests for several more days.
"We had a beautiful and very successful action today," Ilyse Hogue of Direct Action yelled into a megaphone to demonstrators gathered outside the Federal Building. "We were able to unplug the war machine for a day."
Because of the fluid nature of protests, no estimates on the number of participants were available, but it was clearly in the thousands -- enough to leave police exhausted.
"After 16 hours of fighting communists and anarchists, a Red Bull can help us go another 16 hours," said Sgt. Rene Laprevotte as he bought two cans of the energy drink at a Fifth Street market. "We're here as long as they are."
Despite the size of the demonstrations and occasional acts of violence, there were few reports of injuries. One San Francisco police officer suffered cuts to his face, and another sprained his ankle in a scuffle with a protester who tried to take his handgun, officials said.
There also were scattered reports of protesters injured by police swinging batons and, in some cases, motorists and workers frustrated by demonstrators' actions.
Some protesters were clearly prepared for violence. Sheriff Michael Hennessey said some demonstrators fired bolts from slingshots, and others slashed the tires of squad cars. Police clearing a mob from Seventh and Mission streets early in the afternoon came away with a haul of pipe wrenches, rocks and other makeshift weapons.
"These are supposedly peaceful protesters," one officer said.
The days demonstrations were marked by a sense of anger and tension unseen at peace rallies earlier this year.
The protests were centered in the Financial District, Civic Center and Mission District. Protesters shut down Market Street and many surrounding intersections and streets off and on throughout the day.
MUNI BUSES DETOURED
It left drivers fuming in traffic and the Municipal Railway scrambling to reroute buses. Cable cars and the historic F-line trolleys were shut down, and buses were wildly off-course all day.
"We don't want to alienate people. I hope people realize that political murder merits action that inconveniences them," protester Quinn Miller said shortly after the protests got under way.
His hope went unanswered among some of the people who were late to work or unable to maneuver through downtown.
"You suck," motorist Larry Chu yelled from his car near the Transamerica Pyramid. "Why don't you all go to North Korea and do this?"
Hot spots cropped up all over the Civic Center and downtown through the day. One of the hottest was Seventh and Mission streets, where scores of baton-wielding police surrounded some 200 demonstrators in a standoff that lasted about two hours during the afternoon.
Police corralled the protesters, refusing to let them pass and, witnesses said, hit many of them with their batons. At least one person escaped after breaking a window in the federal courthouse and climbing into the building.
One of those arrested was Wendy Norris, a graduate student in museum studies. "I was just here observing, and the police told me to go this way, so I did," she said. "But there was another line of police, so I couldn't go anywhere."
Protesters also gathered by the hundreds at several points during the day outside the Federal Building on Golden Gate Avenue, where they blockaded entrances and kept employees from entering. They also congregated around Union Square, where dozens of police struggled against the advancing crowd.
S.F. MAYOR IRRITATED
Mayor Willie Brown said in no uncertain terms that, although he opposes the war, he had no patience for the demonstrators and he lamented the tremendous cost the demonstrators had inflicted on the city.
"I must express my frustration at the tactics of some protesters, who have chosen to specifically try to disrupt this city, rather than gather peacefully to voice their desire for peace, at the expense of the day-to-day lives of ordinary San Franciscans -- and at great cost to the city," he said in a statement Thursday afternoon.
The tide of anti-war sentiment also was met by counterdemonstrations, most comprising no more than a handful of people, defending the Bush administration and U.S. soldiers.
"Now, at a time of war, these people out here protesting are behaving like traitors," said Russian immigrant Alexander Gosen. He spent the morning at Franklin and Fell streets waving a sign reading "Viva Bush" on one side and "Go to hell, peaceniks" on the other. "They should all be arrested. They don't know what it's like to live under a tyrant."
Although police braced for the worst, they found themselves scrambling to keep up with the wide-ranging demonstrations.
By shortly after 7 a.m., protesters had flooded intersections throughout downtown, tying up traffic as they sat, arms linked, in the street as horns blared and fists waved around them.
At some spots, firefighters had to assist police by using bolt cutters and saws to separate protesters who had locked their arms together in metal sleeves.
The process went slowly, forcing motorists to wait as long as an hour for intersections to clear.
'TRYING TO LIVE OUR LIVES'
"I'm definitely anti-war, but at the same time, we're trying to live our lives here," fumed Mark Thedis as he spent 30 minutes in his idling Range Rover in an alleyway off Folsom Street trying to get to work. "If they're trying to get people on their side, it's not working."
A few blocks away, protesters strung police tape and rainbow-colored yarn across Fifth and Mission streets, blocking the intersection for about an hour.
After a brief lull late in the afternoon, the demonstrators regrouped at 5 p.m. near Union Square and marched through the Financial District to the Bay Bridge, where many attempted to take the span.
"We tried all three ramps," said a young man who was arrested. "But nobody got anywhere near the bridge."
But 10 bicyclists rode onto the bridge after pedaling up an off-ramp at Eighth Street. They were quickly arrested.
MANY FACES OF PROTEST
The demonstrators, united in their cause, were varied in their tactics. A band calling itself "Pukers for Peace" vomited on the steps of the Federal Building. The "Crafty Bitches, Knitting for Peace," knitted at Fourth and Market streets. Down the street a bit, a lone trumpeter performed a solemn rendition of "We Shall Overcome." At First and Market streets, a handful of women did yoga -- earning them some sexually suggestive comments from passers-by.
Brad Kelly, a tourist visiting from Phoenix with his wife and three children, watched the protests from Chinatown.
"This is a great education for our kids," he said as he explained the protests to his 9-year-old son, Brandon. "It's like we're watching the news as it happens. There's nothing like this in Phoenix."