San Franciscans will be subject to an 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew for at least two more nights after the Board of Supervisors today voted 6-5 to put off a vote on rescinding it until a special Thursday meeting.
It will require a unanimous vote of all 11 supervisors to either curtail the curfew or extend it past Sunday. In the likely possibility that unanimity isn’t reached, the current curfew, instituted by Mayor London Breed on May 31, will expire on Sunday at 5 a.m.
The Board’s decision to delay its vote was made in the wake of continuing protests in San Francisco and more than 100 other cities to decry the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. While San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott acknowledged that many of the protesters were peaceful, he said that his department was “overwhelmed” when violence and looting broke out on Saturday night.
Addressing the Board today, Scott laid out his case for why the curfew should be continued indefinitely, describing the chaotic Saturday scenes in a lawyerly manner. He noted that two demonstrators arrested for violating the curfew order had, respectively, a handgun and backpack of fireworks, in their possession.
“Had we not had this curfew, the position that we would have been in is we wouldn’t have known about that handgun and those devices until either somebody was shot or shot at or those [incendiary] devices were used against us or a business or somebody else,” Scott said. “The curfew gave us the ability to get in front of it.”
While Scott touted the curfew as a critical tool to curb looting of the sort experienced in Chinatown, SoMa, Union Square and elsewhere on Saturday, some supervisors expressed concern over taking such extreme measures to limit civil liberties — and questioned why the curfew order was so sweeping.
“This is one of the more extreme and far-reaching orders that has been issued as compared to any of the other cities,” said District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney. “It looks like ours is one of the few that is indefinite.”
Supervisors voiced a diverse range of opinions over the three hours of discussion and public comment that took place, not always falling along standard ideological lines. Emotions ran high for some, including District 1 Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer. She choked up as she recounted the experiences of her husband, a former police officer, during previous civil disturbances, and called for full support of Scott and the proposal. Others took a more cautionary approach to the extension, like District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who questioned why the curfew couldn’t be decided upon a day-by-day basis.
The decision to revisit this matter on Thursday — when, again, unanimity will be required to curtail the curfew or extend it past Saturday — itself came a mere hour before the curfew that supervisors were debating set in. In the wake of the supes’ move, San Francisco’s brach of the Democratic Socialists of America called for a Tuesday night City Hall sit-in to protest the curfew and stand in solidarity with #JusticeforGeorgeFloyd.
Throughout today’s meeting, supervisors expressed concern for the safety of the city from looters as well as the protection of demonstrators’ civil liberties.
“Why do we have an order that actually prohibits peaceful protests?” questioned Haney. “It does seem like this order … makes it illegal for you to step outside of your home and stand on your sidewalk and express your mind about what’s happening in the world. You can be arrested for that, under this order.”
Scott met inquiries regarding the broad and indefinite nature of the extension with insistences upon the need for order and preemptive action to avoid looting of the sort that occurred mostly in the Union Square area on Saturday. He also conjured up foreboding remembrances of the deadly 1992 Rodney King riots, in which he worked as a young Los Angeles Police Officer.
“That city then didn’t get to asking for help until it was too late,” he said. “We do not want to be that city. If we think about it, it’s just backwards thinking, in my opinion, to wait until you have a city in shambles and then get the help.”
In several days of clashes with demonstrators, Scott said that SFPD has not discharged any firearms or tear gas, but has employed “less lethal munitions” such as soft rounds (not to be confused with rubber bullets), and used batons and “body weapons.” He also noted that a number of demonstrators have been taken to the ground.
Several supervisors, however, were concerned to hear that the 208 officers brought in from other parts of California through mutual aid efforts operate under the use-of-force policies of the counties they come from, as opposed to San Francisco’s.
Scott replied that these officers were being stationed at peaceful sites to stand guard while SFPD was handling looting and other potentially confrontational situations.
With the curfew still in effect, a small band of protesters stood in the twilight outside City Hall awaiting arrest.
As of press time, none had been detained.
Update, 10:35 p.m.: After meeting no opposition at City Hall, several dozen protesters walked down to the Hall of Justice on Bryant Street at around 9:15 p.m. Arrests were under way shortly before 10:30.
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