(San Francisco – KALW) Last night's protests against BART police, now in their third week, caused far less disruption than the previous two demonstrations. In its place was what one might call dialogue – at least in isolated pockets.
As promised, a small groups of demonstrators took up posts outside Civic Center station just before 5pm, some wearing their signature Guy Fawkes masks, others kneeling on the ground writing signs with Sharpies.
By 5:30 the demonstration had become a march down Market Street towards the other downtown BART stations. Meanwhile, at Civic Center, several demonstrators lingered to debate with counterprotesters supporting BART police.
One, Geoff Hodgins, held a sign that read: "Don't want to be shot? Don't attack police with a deadly weapon!" He said he'd thrown a sign together at the last minute and would debate people until it fell apart. Another, Kurt Wagner, said he was a former member of the military and challenged a demonstrator on whether she had "ever had to wear a uniform." He said he respected the BART police's need to make quick decisions. The demonstrator, Rupa Marya, was Charles Hill's doctor at San Francisco General Hospital. "I wear a different kind of uniform," she told Wagner. "I'm on the other end of those guns."
Throughout the evening, demonstrators for the most part kept the focus on the issue of police brutality – the protests' original premise. Prior to the demonstration, organizers with Anonymous had issued a statement telling their members to stay on message, in no uncertain terms. "Stay put, stop randomly marching around, and pick a target," was the headline of one section. Another read: "Ideological inconsistency will ultimately do more harm than good, even if the conflicting voices are individually beneficial. To sway people to our cause we must win in the court of public opinion, and to conduct ourselves in such an erratic manner does little in this regard."
The statement was an acknowledgment that even a big and decentralized group -- as Anonymous prides itself on being -- cannot necessarily succeed without leadership. Demonstrator Ryan Bell said he didn't see that as a bad thing. "When someone gets a hold of a megaphone and starts going off about the Federal Reserve and the Illuminati, well – that's not what today's protest is about." Bell said he wanted to see more accountability from BART police, and for them to be stripped of their guns. "They can't be trusted with them," he said.
As the demonstration continued, long rows of armed police flanked demonstrators up and down Market Street and into and out of downtown BART stations, which remained open to commuters. Both police and demonstrators made their most dramatic showing at Embarcadero station around 6:15PM -- a yelling match and short scuffle that resulted in the night's only two arrests.
The protest was winding down by 7 and ended by 8, a development which, the San Francisco Chronicle noted, permitted "a massive police and media contingent to disperse as well."
Until next Monday, that is.