OccupySF Condemns Mission Vandalism

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Last week, organizers from San Francisco’s Occupy met to go over what exactly happened during a May Day eve protest that turned into a riot causing upward of $150,000 in damages.

“It’s like a murder mystery,” said David Solnit, an organizer with OccupySF, speculating about who may have been responsible for the smashing of Valencia street last Monday night.

The group concluded that no one knows for sure who vandalized the neighborhood businesses, but some believe the riot was organized and that the people who were involved didn’t know the area well.

At last week’s meeting, organizers said that Monday’s events started with a few flyers that were passed around online, announcing a march that seemed to be against gentrification.

Members at the meeting said the gathering wasn’t organized or supported by the Occupy movement. On May 4, OccupySF issued a statement via its website denouncing the actions of the protesters on April 30.

“We consider these acts of vandalism and violence a brutal assault on our community and the 99%. Many Occupiers are your neighbors. We, too, live and work in the Mission, and were saddened and angered by what happened. So, we offer you our hearts and, most importantly, our hands to help repair the damage to your homes, your businesses, and your trust,” the statement read.

The flyers that were handed out before the May Day eve protest gave no hint as to who was organizing the rally, Solnit noted.

Chance Martin, another OccupySF member, said he first saw the flyer on his Facebook wall. “It said, ‘We are all undesirables.’”

Another Occupier who declined to give his name said that the poster he saw simply read, “Start May Day Right,” and that he had heard that Food Not Bombs would be there. So he went.

So did Scott Rossi, a medic and an activist with OccupySF. He expected the park’s gathering to be fun.

Although Rossi didn’t attend last week’s meeting, he spoke to Mission Loc@l about what happened on the night of the protest. He was surprised to see how aggressive protesters became right away, he said. He later found out that someone had posted the flyers to Bay of Rage, an alternative radical organizing website.

“If you read between the lines, you knew — ‘Smashy smashy,’” some of his friends told him after the fact.

Twenty minutes into the rally at Dolores Park, Rossi overheard a man making death threats against another attendee because he was taking pictures.

“I could tell that within 10 minutes this was going to get hot fast,” said the protester who wished to remain anonymous.

Rossi said he recognized a lot of people from previous protests, including some dressed in Black Bloc garb.

When people started marching down 18th Street, Rossi said, things changed fast. Rossi, who has attended many marches, said, “I have never seen a march fall apart faster in my life.”

He counted around 400 protesters at the beginning, he said, but when a smaller group started paint-bombing businesses and smashing windows, the number quickly dropped to 50 or so.

Even protesters dressed in Black Bloc-type clothing quickly bowed out when things turned ugly, Rossi said.

“There were five guys in Black Bloc standing with me and the other medic on that night — two were from Oakland and three were from SF — and they were just shocked,” Rossi said.

The organizers didn’t understand why small businesses were targeted, and neither did business owners who spoke to Mission Loc@l last week.

In the past, when Black Bloc tactics have been used to destroy property, such as at the World Trade Organization in Seattle in 1999, they have been specifically targeted against large corporations or the state.

“There was a Black Bloc in Oakland during the general strike last year, but they only targeted corporate targets; what was so striking about this was that it was only small businesses,” Solnit said.

Solnit stressed that Black Bloc is a street tactic, not a specific group.

“It involves people dressing in all black so that they remain anonymous and the police can’t single them out and snatch people,” he said. “It’s just like the military dresses up, or football teams — it is street theater.”

The people Rossi saw inciting violence were dressed in Black Bloc attire, but none of the other protesters knew them.

According to Rossi, these men were not typical anarchists. Instead of the lanky, thin, almost nerdy men that he’s used to seeing, these men seemed, he said, like high school bullies.

No one he knew took part in the attacks, Rossi said.

Solnit, who has been an activist for over 30 years, said that typically the organizers of non-Occupy protests will show up at OccupySF meetings to ask for support.

“Nowhere did I hear anyone who came to announce the event and say come and support [us]. I didn’t know anyone who was involved. It was weird.”

Occupy protesters are also confused by the inaction on the part of the police.

“We couldn’t fart sideways without riot police showing up,” Rossi said, referring to the last six months.

The police, for their part, told Mission Loc@l that they did not expect the violence and had to wait for more personnel to confront the protesters.

Although Rossi is hesitant to use the term, he believes that the vandalism was the work of “agents provocateurs” — people engaged by the police, government, or other entity acting undercover to incite violence or other destructive acts.

“I’m not some tin-hat-wearing conspiracy theorist; I don’t like using this term,” Rossi said.

Whoever was behind the violence, Rossi said, it’s clear that they weren’t familiar with the neighborhood. People who know the Mission would not have attacked Valencia Gardens, the housing project at Valencia and 15th streets, “just because it looked nice,” he said.

As talk about the night of April 30 drew to a close, organizers brought up the recent arrest of five anarchists in Cleveland, where the role of an FBI informant has been criticized.

OccupySF organizer Craig Rouskey has had experience with surprise property damage ruining what was supposed to be a peaceful march. During a march he organized on Jan. 20 of this year, a rogue stranger dressed in Black Bloc attire broke the window of a Bentley dealership. For months after, Rouskey tried to discover the man’s identity.

“You won’t find who did this,” he said. “I’ve tried before.”

39 Comments

  1. suki

    You misspelled David’s surname. It’s “Solnit”.
    Great article.

  2. NoTown Kasper

    Oh please. The oldest trick in the book. Do something that ends badly for you…then claim it wasn’t you who did it.

    No one’s falling for this idiocy. Occupy has -ALWAYS- had a huge Communist and Anarchist element, and neither element can ever be trusted not to resort to violence. Indeed, they can usually be trusted to escalate any violence encountered.

    We’re not fooled. Get yourselves an official structure or you have -NO- right to claim something was not an Occupy action. Simple rules of organization and reaction.

    • Amy Kitty

      I couldn’t agree more. I’m tired of OccupySFers and their conspiracy theories. Something bad happens, and suddenly they don’t know nuthin’ ’bout nobody. And waiting 5 days after the violence and vandalism to “meet and talk about” what happened so they could all reassure each other that it couldn’t possibly be their fault??? Too little, too late. If OccupySF wanted to be viewed as legit and “of the people”, their response should’ve been immediate, to spend May Day helping repair the Mission. Instead, they were out throwing bricks out of a building they don’t own. Need I say more?

      • ohno

        You just want someone to blame. Sorry but since day one what has brought people to Occupy is the idea of non-violence. These fools who destroyed the Mission have nothing to do with the people involved in the non-violent movement of shedding light on greedy corporate practices. They have absolutely nothing to do with each other.

        If violence was going to happen, it would have been the Federal Reserve Building’s windows that got smashed, first. I’m not saying it’s a conspiracy, I’m saying that these assholes just co-opted Occupy for their own gain, whatever it may be.

        • NoTown Kasper

          Doesn’t matter. Any organization/group/movement/whatever that issues an open invitation for the public to get involved, without any official command structure to control what they do, has willingly opened itself up to being co-opted.

          You might as well hold up a sign that says “Make us look bad…because we have no intention of stopping you.”

        • Amy Kitty

          My friends were AT the OccupySF rally on May Day and saw with their own eyes as the other OccupySFers threw bricks out of the building their illegally occupied. Are you claiming that that is non-violent??? Also, Occupy Oakland agreed at one of their general assemblies a number of months back that they acknowledged the right of individuals within their movement to express their protests through violence or vandalism. This was documented in the minutes of that GA and posted on their FB page. I read it there. Were my own eyes lying?

  3. Papa Potrero

    The “agents provocateurs” theory pretty much broke down a day later with public and documented pipe and brick throwing. Stop blaming phantoms and start taking responsibility.

    • NoTown Kasper

      In their defense…if they ever owned up to their black-bag (Masquerading as Black Bloc) tactics…they would lose that microscopic shred of credibility that proclaiming their non-violent nature seems to afford them.

      Not that there’s too many out there who ever bought that story from a bunch of Communists, Anarchists, Socialists and other unAmerican swine.

    • Mark Rabine Staff

      “Agents Provocateurs” are not theoretical, much less conspiracy-theoretical. They are a historical, standard, and re-occurring physical feature of all protest, in the U.S., Europe, Asia — in that sense, universal. Though no one knows “who done it” on Monday night, the action predictably weakened popular support for the Occupy movement (see comments here)and probably had a negative impact on turnout for the next days activities. Given all the money the police and Homeland Security have dedicated to squelch Occupy, they would be remiss and incompetent if they did not employ agents provacateurs in precisely this manner. As some pointed out, the mindless smashing of car and restaurant windows do not bear the fingerprints of the Black Block. Neither do they resemble the actions of the anti-gentrification in the Mission in the late 90s. And my understanding is that Tuesday afternoon was totally unrelated to Monday night; they were fighting with police over the use of an otherwise empty building (which you may or may not approve of, but it is different than the aggressive stupidity of Monday night).

      • marco

        Mark Rabine — does Staff mean Mission Local staff? If Mission Local is striving toward journalism, I find it extremely unprofessional that the “staff” would write something like: “Given all the money the police and Homeland Security have dedicated to squelch Occupy, they would be remiss and incompetent if they did not employ agents provacateurs in precisely this manner.” What does SFPD have to say about your “theory”? What about the SF Board of Supervisors? As a journalists, if you’re going to make assertions that imply that the SF City Government is somehow responsible for the vandalism on Valencia Street, don’t you think you should find some proof to back it up… a mole in city government… (If even David Campos won’t go on record implicating SFPD in the mayhem, who would!?)

        Is this comment an Official Mission Local position? What does the Berkeley School of Journalism have to say about this type of writing from “staff”?

        • NoTown Kasper

          Reason #500 why bloggers are not really ‘journalists’.

        • Amy Kitty

          Agreed. Real journalism involves interviews with ALL sides involved, not just quotes from individuals on one side of the story. The latter is called “shilling” and is more propaganda than anything else. As a resident of the Mission who cares very deeply about her neighborhood and community, I want to see even-handed reporting, not shilling.

          • Hi there,

            I can’t speak for Mark, who is a columnist, but as a longtime reporter at Mission Loc@l I can say we strive to be objective in our reporting and writing.

          • marco

            Maybe Mission Local does strive to be objective in theory, but clearly Mark does not strive to be objective. From this comment, as well as other comments he’s posted here, he clearly leans far toward supporting Occupy… even to the point of supporting the loony Agent Provacateur theory as to why the Mission was vandalized. I think Mission Local does a great job on reporting local stories, and I think it’s a great resource for the community, but clearly it’s not what one would consider traditional journalism.

      • Papa Potrero

        I would also count lobbing pipes and bricks at police and spectators as aggressive stupidity, and it weakens the theory that Monday night’s aggressive stupidity was completely out of character for some Occupiers … and therefore could have only come from agents provocateurs. We’ve seen this kind of violence from anarchist groups in the Mission in the past (see the incident that propelled Josh Wolf to fame/infamy) and more recently with the BART police protests. Without any evidence, agents provocateurs is a conspiracy theory that provides comfort to those who would rather not face the uncomfortable evidence — that some irresponsible people used the Occupy rally as a jumping off point to throwing a “political” tantrum and causing thousands of dollars in damage to innocent individuals and businesses.

  4. Andy

    Wait, so “condemns” now means the same thing as “facilitates”?

  5. Lisa

    There only seem to be two logical explanations: one, that this ‘action’ was started by agent provocateurs (and, like Scott Rossi, I am not some tin-foil hat wearing nut job), or that it was started by people who are from outside of San Francisco and just looking to trash a community that is nicer than the shithole suburb where they live. Either way, it pisses me off and I would love to find the people responsible.

    • Amy Kitty

      Actually, there is a third and more likely explanation: this fringe group is an off-shoot of OccupySF and they don’t want to publicly ‘fess up to their crimes because they’ll lose face and any hint of credibility “the movement” still might have left. Sometimes the most obvious explanation really IS the real one. Very rarely is it a zebra; mostly, it’s just a horse.

  6. Considering that most, if not all of these “Anonymous” protesters have an abnormal affinity for a movie called, “V for Vendetta”, I predict much more violence will be used as a tactic to draw attention to the OWS movement.
    We ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.
    Just wait.

  7. marco

    Nice try. And Mission Mission needs to provide other corroboration for quotes such as this one: “According to Rossi, these men were not typical anarchists. Instead of the lanky, thin, almost nerdy men that he’s used to seeing, these men seemed, he said, like high school bullies.” Ah ok — so it wasn’t the anarchists, it was frat boys. Right. If Occupy is going to facilitate such actions, they need to denounce such actions — not just in words after the fact, but with action during the protest. If they can act en masse to surround police when a protestor is being arrested, they can certainly act en masse to surround the violent Anarchists during their own rallies in order to isolate them and — god forbid — identify them to police. How about a paintball gun to hit each of these Anarchists in the back so they are “tagged” for ID. We’ve had about enough of these clowns trashing our communities. And as for the police… they fell right into the “Agents Provocateurs” story by not doing a thing but escorting these fools through our neighborhood. Hear this Occupy: You are not welcome here! Go back to Oakland or wherever you came from.

    • ohno

      Until you have proof yourself, you’re just speculating, too. Get off your high horse. You think you’re some inspector gadget? You’re just another internet opinion.

      • NoTown Kasper

        The Proof is Occupy’s ability to operate en-masse when the target is a cop…but their failure to even act individually…to try and stop the Anarchists/Communists/Terrorists.

        Actions speak louder than words…and Occupy refuses to take appropriate action.

        • Papa Potrero

          Amen. Occupy’s greatest weakness is its failure to draw a line between its actions and its desired outcome. When it spends the bulk of its time protesting the treatment of protesters, it allows the ruling class to go about its business.

    • NoTown Kasper

      Very important point, actually.

      And I find it very telling that the only counter to the point you raise…is a random “OMG you’re an idiot…but I have nothing to counter you with.” variety of post…

      Seriously, if Occupy refuses to take -ACTION- to stop these people…that’s tantamount to support. They can deny it all they like…but the truth is undeniable.

      “Diversity of Tactics” ring a bell, geniuses?

      • someone

        “diversity of tactics” is occupy’s “enhanced interrogation techniques”

  8. ohno

    Thank you for doing some actual reporting on this incident, unlike what we get from the SF Chronicle.

  9. SF Protestor

    As a veteran of many protests, I’ve seen this happen with time and time again. But part of what enables this fringe element is the attitudes of other protesters and many leaders.

    If you really truly believe in something, you ought to be able to stand up and be counted without wearing a disguise or wanting to appear anonymously. If supposedly legitimate protesters are adopting “black bloc” dress, it only helps the vandals do their thing.

    Lastly, I’m in the minority, but I’ve never thought the “all police are bad” attitude was productive. Police are people too. With a job to do. Are there rouge cops? Absolutely. But if you go into every protest expecting, hoping, desiring a confrontation, chances are you’ll ignite one.

    • I completely agree that Police are people, too. I’ve been with OccupySF (then OccupyFDSF), since Sept. 17, 2011 and, while some SFPD are friendly and respectful public servants, others are the archetypical thugs with licenses to kill and beat the poor (but that’s socially acceptable, as they are without ethical or legal protection from discrimination) with impunity. The same goes for any group, but when government becomes so corrupt that civil justice is not available, people get desperate when subjected to repeated police violence and harassment. Jesse, who threw the brink, was an unstable war veteran, who had recently been released after one day from a 5150 and, with police waking him up every two hours in front of the “Fed”, his judgment was severely impaired. I expect that he thought he was in a war and, truth be known, we are in a war for our sovereignty over the Banksters who engineered the present financial collapse, but the news won’t tell you that, now, will they and our public servants are paid to look the other way. Search your feelings and find that this IS the truth.

  10. Alex

    Kasper, you lose all credibility throwing around labels and thinking
    they determine anyone’s actions. Occupiers are “unAmerican” so we
    can’t trust them? Thank you McCarthy, have you no sense of decency, at long last? Your suggestion is ridiculous that
    peaceful protesters employ their magical telepathic hive mind to agree to surround
    and stop armed vandals with weapons, at least one of whom was issuing
    death threats, while armed officers themselves don’t want to get
    close. Occupiers are individuals, not stereotypes. The movement is horizontal and dynamic, not monolithic. Try thinking in
    those terms and you might get somewhere more productive. Honorable
    occupiers distanced themselves from the vandalism as soon as it happened, or
    implored the vandals to stop, or documented what they could, swiftly as a deliberating body denounced the actions in no uncertain terms, and
    characteristically lent their hands to clean up the very next morning.

    As for your jabs at someone sharing the relevant fact that there’s
    already been massive federal and local suppression of this groundswell
    movement for economic justice – and that infiltration is an effective and well-documented tactic to keep in mind – while the vast majority of reporting on
    the movement takes your same narrow sneering stereotyping view, I’ll take this
    fellow’s philosophy of journalism over yours, thank you very much.

  11. jth

    Why is it that whenever anything bad happens around the Occupy movement in this country, the standard response every_single_time is “Wasn’t us. They weren’t part of Occupy. We had no idea who that person was. Never seen them.” Vandalism, assaults, rapes, public defecation, even the attempted bombing near Cleveland: “Nope, wasn’t us.”

  12. someone

    A few missed facts from this op-ed:

    * occupysf *did not* unequivocally denounce the vandalism. They had a 3+ hour meeting and could not come to a consensus. The holdouts wanted more qualification on what kind vandalism is not supported by the organization.

    * It looks like the post that you’re quoting has been taken down. when it was up, it also said “more to details to come.” no more details ever came, though, because of said inability to pass a motion denouncing the vandalism.

    * It is disingenuous of them to say that they don’t know anything about the meetup or the posters. Both occupysf.org and occupyoakland.org advertised the Dolores Park meetup, whose details were hosted on http://strikemay1st.com/. I went to the meetup because I saw it through those sites, but it’s a bit difficult to track down because they remove things from their sites so often.

    http://occupyoakland.org/2012/04/bay-area-may-1-strike-website-goes-live-strikemay1st-com/

    Finally, denouncing vandalism on the “99%” is tacit support of vandalism against the “1%”. Rational citizens should not support a group that condones andalism and violence against any group of individuals, let alone a vaguely-defined group of individuals.

  13. randolph mortimer

    how can a leaderless organization issue statements ? Anyone can claim to be part of OccupySF and speak for them – this is the same double edged sword we often see with Anonymous.

    When you’re an all inclusive non-hierarchical organization, ANYONE can claim to speak for the movement. The key in this situation is to remember NOBODY can speak for the movement. Those who truly understand these movements never claim to speak for them or to be a leader or higher up in the organization – the wonderful benefit is this that derails those with delusional fantasies of power and control.

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