Mission Police Captain Robert Moser said today that although his officers were prepared for a gathering Monday night, on May Day eve, they didn’t expect it would turn violent and cause upwards of $150,000 in property damage.
“You certainly don’t expect a peaceful gathering to turn into a riot,” Moser said.
If protesters had taken to the streets peacefully and marched as expected, Moser said, he would have had enough personnel for crowd and traffic control.
Instead, police were confronted with “a mob of 100-plus people intent on being violent and causing damage,” he said.
In light of Monday’s attacks, Mayor Ed Lee said that discussions about changing police tactics are underway.
It took protesters just 20 minutes to make their way through the neighborhood, shattering windows at local businesses, slashing car tires and paint-bombing buildings.
At about 9 p.m., an hour after the rally started, a group of up to 150 people walked down 18th Street, according to Moser. When they reached Guerrero Street, the march turned violent, he said.
“They got to Guerrero and started producing weapons and committing acts of vandalism.”
Protesters put on black hooded sweatshirts, bandannas and ski masks. They took out crowbars, rebar and sledgehammers, and smashed car windows and windshields. They spraypainted anarchist signs and threw paint bombs at the police station and on storefronts.
As many as 30 businesses were targeted during the protest, and at least one — the Weston Wear clothing store on Valencia Street — remained closed on Thursday.
At Farina restaurant, at 18th and Guerrero streets, diners quickly got up and moved to the back of the restaurant when protesters picked up outdoor chairs and tables and threw them at the windows.
Farina’s chief financial officer, J.H. Kolsteni, told Mission Loc@l he saw a protester try to set fire to a car belonging to one of his customers. He immediately dialed 911.
As he spoke to a dispatcher, Kolsteni noticed a police car and police van, so he hung up, hoping officers were there to arrest violent protesters. But to his surprise, he said, they seemed to be escorting the protesters.
“They were outmanned, that’s what the one [officer] told me last night,” Kolsteni said.
“They had to know what was happening. They lost control immediately.”
Moser said police couldn’t safely interfere with the crowd until they had enough personnel on hand.
“We were trying to get enough officers to appropriately and safely handle a crowd,” he said.
If police want to arrest someone who is in a group of protesters, Moser explained, they have to insert officers into the group and extract the suspect.
“If you send four or five officers into that group, they would be attacked with crowbars and what have you. You would need several squads to even try to attempt it.”
When he saw what was happening, Moser — who had dispatched a squad of officers to Dolores Park and had another squad ready at the station — immediately called for backup.
He was eventually able to round up as many as 70 officers, who dispersed the crowd near 14th and Mission streets.
Although he wishes protesters hadn’t caused so much damage, Moser said the most important thing is that no one was injured.
“This unfolded rather quickly,” he said, “but we were able to muster significant resources and we were able to disperse the crowd. There was property damage but nobody was hurt.”
Restaurants and small businesses said the attacks were fast — some as brief as 15 to 20 seconds — but intense.
At Therapy, employees compared the protesters to a tornado ripping through their side of the street.
A few doors down at Bar Tartine, where a special wine-tasting event was taking place, General Manager Vinny Eng is grateful that most of the customers were in the back of the restaurant and thus no one was hurt. At Farina, Kolsteni poured glasses of champagne for all the customers once the protesters had left.
Although officers were present during these acts of vandalism, only one person was arrested. Identifying perpetrators when the people involved all have their faces covered is difficult, Moser said.
“If you have people covering their faces, you’d have to watch that person commit these acts of vandalism, then you have to safely go into the group and extract that person,” he said.
“Otherwise you grab somebody that’s wearing the same kind of clothes, and unless you can specifically identify them as the person who committed those acts, you can’t arrest them.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, Moser said, police were still investigating the protest. They have reviewed surveillance footage and expect to make more arrests.