A demonstration of roughly 200 people in protest of a prison-themed Pride party held at the Armory turned violent Saturday, ending with three protesters being given citations and three more arrested. Those arrested, Rebecca Ruiz-Lichter, Sarai Robles-Mendez and Prisca Carpenter are still in police custody. Their individual charges include those related to interfering with an arrest and assault with a deadly weapon.
According to the Sheriff’s Department Public Information Officer Kathy Gorwood, the bail for Robles-Mendez and Ruiz-Lichter is set at $50,000. A $78,000 bail was posted for Carpenter, but she refused to accept bail and remains in custody.
Depending on who’s retelling the night’s events, the instigator of the violence leading up to those arrests differs widely.
“Several protesters were clubbed, tackled, bloodied, and beaten after a protest numbering several hundred marched to the Armory at 14th and Mission Streets in the Mission District,” said a press statement released by the groups organizing the protest Gay Shame and LGAI (Lesbians and Gays Against Intervention).
More photos from kink/armory protest (well before the arrests, which happened when ppl were just standing around) pic.twitter.com/WAla7sAVOs
— freddie (@silverspeakers) June 29, 2014
Mike Stabile, spokesperson for Kink.com, which owns the Armory and co-hosted the party in question, gave a sharply different story.
“While the protesters were largely peaceful, some were more belligerent and attacked security guards at the event,” Stabile said. “One of the guards was spit on, another was punched twice in the stomach. The guards did not retaliate in any way, but we were temporarily forced to shut the entrance to prevent those entering from being injured.”
Accounts of the evening’s exact timeline vary, but the protest began at around 10 p.m. at the 16th Street BART Plaza, and then marchers moved up Mission Street to the Armory at 14th Street, where the “Prison of Love Party” was underway. Protesters gathered outside the Armory and projected slides criticizing the event’s prison theme. The projected text read, “There is no Prison in Queer Paradise” and “There is nothing sexy about prison.”
According to Erin McElroy, an activist who was at the event, the protest outside of the Armory was largely peaceful. McElroy said that the event was essentially over, and most of the protesters had returned to 16th Street BART Plaza when police arrived to the BART plaza and started making arrests at roughly 11:20 p.m.
“We were back at 16th and Mission when the police drove up onto the sidewalk and just started grabbing people,” said Kate Raph, a member of LGAI who helped organize the event. Raph says she saw a man with a Kink.com T-shirt standing with the police and pointing out people in the crowd who the police then arrested.
McElroy believes the police were arresting people somewhat arbitrarily and says “that the police had gotten vague descriptions of what protester organizers looked like and they were just pulling random people out of crowd who vaguely fit description.”
Raph and McElroy said protesters “just standing around 16th Street Plaza” were pushed to the ground by officers and handcuffed on the spot. At least three protesters were detained, given citations and released, including one legal observer from the National Lawyers Guild.
Officer Albie Esparza says that the three citations were written for protesters “that were resisting or interfering with a police arrest or had battered one of the security guards at the event…One person threw an egg at a security guard, another security guard was spit on.”
Esparza says that two of the three arrests were made for charges of lynching, a felony that is defined as unlawfully trying to take a prisoner out of police custody. The police arrested a third protester for charges of assault with a deadly weapon and criminal threats, among other charges.
“That person threw a metal object at a security guard,” Esparza said. “This person also made threats of violence against one of the security guards.”
“We think they’re bogus chargers,” said Carlos Villareal, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild’s Bay Area Chapter. “It was really troubling that they went after one of our legal observers, in part because he was trying to get information to the protesters about their rights.”
“There was nothing being thrown, we didn’t even have metal objects,” said Lacy Johnson, an organizer with Gay Shame. “There was no spitting, we weren’t even close enough to the guards to have spit on them.”
According to Stabile from Kink, at least some of the protesters got “unruly” while they were outside the Armory. He says protesters were spotted spitting and punching guards, and one even had a slingshot that they aimed at party-goers.
Stabile said one man leaving the party was assaulted by protesters and had his phone smashed to the ground. He said that another’s collarbone was broken after a confrontation with a protester, but didn’t know whether or not anyone was hospitalized. SFPD had no information on these altercations.
“We were concerned that our staff and people trying to attend the party were safe getting in,” said Stabile, who explained that at one point party organizers shut down the event and Kink staff called the police.
“We weren’t aware of any arrests until we saw the press release,” Stabile said.
The protests aimed to call attention to what Gay Shame and LGAI saw as a highly problematic theme for the party happening on Pride Weekend.
“We just feel that it’s inappropriate to be celebrating incarceration; we have over two million people in prison, and queer people of color are disproportionately targeted for just being in the street looking alternative,” Raph said. “There’s nothing fun or sexy about being in prison.”
Earlier this month, Kink.com’s CEO Peter Acworth publicly stated that he has some regrets about the party’s incarceration theme on his personal blog.
“We share the protestors’ complaints about the prison industrial complex, and respect their right to engage in public dialogue about the nature of Pride, BDSM, trans rights and prisons,” Stabile said. “But physical attacks on people at a Pride party—whether celebrants or workers—are outrageous and unacceptable.”
The District Attorney’s office has yet to issue a court appearance date for the three protesters still in custody. LGAI and Gay Shame are circulating an online petition that urges the DA’s office to drop criminal charges.
Update, 3:15 p.m.: This story has been modified since it was first published to include information from SFPD and the Sheriff’s Department.