It's rather choice that the antiwar group Direct Action to Stop the War is complaining about "increased repression from the San Francisco Police Department."
Their so-called peace demonstrations certainly were designed to repress -- that is, "subdue" or "restrain," according to my dictionary -- people in San Francisco. Activists boasted they wanted to close the Financial District to end "business as usual." So they sabotaged public transit and blocked intersections to gridlock city traffic.
Protesters vomited in front of the Federal Building. They scared off customers who would have spent money in city stores. While they claim to care about the poor and infirm, they've sucked some $900,000 daily from a city that is facing its worst deficit ever.
They've taunted police. They've resisted arrest. They've announced they want to practice civil disobedience. Then they complain when they are arrested.
"Civil disobedience, you expect to get arrested," noted Mayor Willie Brown's spokesman P.J. Johnston. Actually, most protesters were cited, then released. They generally had to be arrested twice to be held on Thursday.
Antiwar dissidents have every right to protest the war. But activists who block streets, shut down public transit and block access to buildings are breaking the law -- as well as trampling on other people's rights.
Longtime antiwar activist David Harris wants nothing to do with these stunts. "This is political narcissism. OK, you're against the war. That doesn't give you the right to take it out on the city of San Francisco," said Harris.
Bill Hackwell, a spokesman for the peacenik International Answer, dismissed Da Mayor's complaints about the high cost of the protests to the city. Hackwell told The San Francisco Chronicle that San Francisco should send the bill "directly to the White House."
Translation: Let them eat cake.
It's more important for peaceniks to have their little tantrum than for the city to have money to serve the public.
"It is one of the painful ironies of this war that one of the most antiwar cities in the nation, San Francisco, is being disproportionately harmed by the tactics of antiwar protesters," Da Mayor complained in a statement last week. Brown has urged out-of-towners to demonstrate in their own hometowns.
But if activists are foolish enough to believe their demonstration helps their cause -- instead of alienating the public -- they at least are smart enough to protest where they are most likely to get away with breaking the law.
Enter District Attorney Terence Hallinan -- or Fluffy, as the peace movement should call him.
Do you think Hallinan will prosecute the people the SFPD arrests? I asked one officer on Fifth Street. No, he answered, without hesitating.
Last week, antiwar groups began writing Hallinan, asking for amnesty for the 1,300 protesters arrested at the time. "We demand: Free all protesters now.
Drop all the charges," wrote the Partisan Defense Committee's Kathy Ikegami.
The D.A.'s office has pledged to prosecute violent protesters to the full extent possible. "The ones we're trying to figure out how we can best handle," Hallinan told me Monday, "are the ones that are straight nonviolent civil disobedience. How do you have those people repay the city without costing the city more money than we get?"
It's true. Prosecuting lawbreakers costs money. So does not prosecuting, as it only encourages more lawlessness. It sends a message that in the Special City, civil disobedience means never having to say, "Guilty, your honor."
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