Maybe it's because a bunch of kids were standing on an American flag that was spread out on the ground. Maybe it's because he didn't like how the young man with the bullhorn was drawing comparisons between cops and Nazi soldiers. Or maybe he was just having a bad day. It was, after all, Oct. 22-the seventh annual National Day Against Police Brutality, and his kind wasn't welcome with the crowd of 60 or so gathered downtown at the Hall of Justice.
Whatever the reason for his mood, a heavy-set police officer and his heavy utility belt pushed through the outskirts of the crowd, making it a point to sideswipe anyone close enough. For the protesters, most dressed in black and many with bandanas covering their faces, it was a fitting example of the unnecessary aggression they loudly denounced. For those who were there simply to observe, being singled out for a shove by a guy in uniform hurt-physically at first, followed by a lingering feeling of betrayal.
“Please don't push and shove. Thank you,” sang a black spoken word poet who took possession of the bullhorn. It was merely a coincidence that at that precise moment, her words matched an external reality.
“[The possibility of] war is creating a frenzy,” said Jeff Greaves of Anarchist Black Cross, a vocal anti-establishment group that strives to generate awareness of individuals wrongly imprisoned in the U.S. and abroad. “People are getting really irrational,” he said, referring to what he sees as an increasing acceptance of police and military force.
The street rally wasn't the protestors' only goal that day. At 10 minutes to 5 p.m., an event organizer encouraged the crowd to join her on a trip up to District Attorney Paul Pfingst's office, something that hardly pleased Hall of Justice security personnel, who scrambled to shut the doors, saying first that they'd allow only two representatives into the building. Miriam Clark, the matriarch of the group, who was allowed in, said later that she sought to confront Pfingst on what critics describe as the shoddy work of the Police Review Board, a citizens' group tasked with investigating complaints against the San Diego Police Department. “They've never really found fault with officers,” she said. “They've never sanctioned an officer for a shooting; they've always found it justified.”
Clark's message to Pfingst went unheard, however; his office doors were locked before she got there.
For those not allowed into the building, passion, youth and mob rule threatened to prevail as a dozen or so protestors took turns trying to slip past guards. “Let the people in,” they chanted in unison. “It's not a very public building, is it,” mocked one girl who looked to be not much older than 17. “So, if you don't have a tie, you can't get in?” asked one of her cohorts. “We're witnessing a fascist state,” yelled a third.
In spite of the melee taking place a few feet away, a young black City College student named Michael got up the guts to share his story in spite of the dozen or so officers who stood on the fringes of the crowd. “Four months ago,” he said, “four or five cops entered my house, put me in handcuffs, put my mom in handcuffs. Only then did they look at my record. I go to college, I have a clean record.
“I'm affected,” he said. “My little brother saw me in handcuffs. He looks up to me and he saw me in handcuffs.”