Mission Captain Gavin McEachern has requested permanent fortifications of the Valencia Street station — an upgrade from the metal barricades that have stood on the sidewalk for the past two years, and a nightmare for public space and disability advocates.
For a department dedicated to community policing, barricades send a pointed us-versus-them message.
“Why do they feel that creating a barricade between themselves and the community members, who they claim to serve and protect, why [do] they feel like that’s necessary?” asked Luke Bornheimer, an organizer with Community Spaces SF.
This week, Bornheimer asked the station captain when the barricades would be removed and, to his surprise, he was told that the police don’t intend for the gates to be temporary.
“I can tell you that we have asked for a more permanent and atheistically [sic] pleasing replacement for these barricades, but as of yet our requests to the City have been ignored,” wrote McEachern in an email response to Bornheimer.
As protests erupted worldwide in the days after George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police in May, 2020, San Francisco police gated off the tiny amount of public, walkable space available in front of its station, ostensibly to protect Mission Station from the public.
Some of the Mission District protests in 2020 got “volatile,” McEachern told Mission Local. “No other stations are the focus of anti-police type groups.”
However, in covering the protests against police violence, there have been no reports of any injuries of SFPD officers in front of the station. The last protest at Mission Station was in 2021.
In February, Bornhiemer, who lives in the neighborhood and said he walks along 17th Street and Valencia Street regularly, first asked 311 to remove the barricades. He was told in a relayed message from a police officer that the fencing was still “there for the ongoing protests.”
In a conversation with Mission Local, McEachern said he put the station under lockdown two or three times this year, including during the peaceful Trans March last month. “You never know what’s going to happen on any given day,” he said, so he wasn’t sure whether removing and reassembling the gates as needed was a good idea.
He said the barriers still serve a purpose in “protecting the officers,” even though they weren’t originally envisioned as a permanent addition to the station. He believes there are cost limitations to putting up the more artistic, permanent barriers that he wanted.
Meanwhile, residents like Bornheimer say any barrier at all diminishes and restricts public space. Not to mention, it illustrates the police department’s apparent lack of trust in the community.
In the first iteration of the barrier, pedestrians were shunted into the street, forced to walk alongside cars and bikes, or cross to the other side. Eventually, the barriers were moved to allow sidewalk access. But even today, pedestrians are trapped on the block until they have passed the station entirely.
Barriers such as the ones around Mission Station aren’t new; McEachern said they’ve surrounded City Hall and the Hall of Justice. And just last week, Supervisor Hillary Ronen had fences put up to block vendor access to the 24th Street BART plazas.
McEachern said that Bornheimer’s request earlier this week was the first complaint he’d received about the barricades since he took over as station captain late last year. Though he had asked about making the barriers permanent, he said that he is currently deciding what to do with them next.