Handed a printed ultimatum late afternoon Thursday, October 13 to either remove all tents by midnight or get arrested, the 150 Freedom Occupiers at the San Diego Civic Center held a democratic general assembly and decided to peacefully resist the assault on their rights of free speech and assembly.
The occupiers, mostly youth , many of color, had been camped near City Hall since Saturday to proclaim solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street protests nationwide and to begin a movement of youthful confrontation with local injustice.
By 9:30 p.m. protestors had moved most of the tents and personal belongings to a park near the embarcadero and had symbolically set up about a dozen tents of various sizes in front of the Civic Center Plaza building. Drawing a chalked line on the cement around the tents, one young man named David called it the border line between Freedom Square and the police state. The protesting youth vowed to lock arms and protect the tents, now a symbol of liberation from greed and corporate servitude, with their bodies and be arrested en masse. By 10 p.m. there were over 300 people milling about.
As the local media finished up their “news at 11” live broadcasts, the Civic Center’s Concourse became a human ebb and flow under the full moon as older activists eyeing their watches and cell phones as midnight approached, slowly, quietly slipped away; while ruckus teenagers and more youth of color arrived on skateboards, carrying musical instruments and wearing bandanas over their faces. They had tuned in, seen through the media’s propaganda and distortions, their crap detectors were working perfectly, as they looked into the faces of their peers on the screen, sisters and brothers, challenging privilege, wealth and the ugly specter of militarism in our city’s streets.
By midnight several hundred youth and a few seasoned activists stood ready to be arrested in the name of freedom. The deadline passed, the shivering, breezy hours on the cold pavement passed slowly. Theories skipped through the encampment, one was that the police informants had mistakenly told the brass that the group was separating, splitting into factions because of the tactical move to the embarcadero and another smaller group, perhaps a dozen, who were afraid to be arrested, had moved to Balboa Park.
My theory is that San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne, a hard, bitter man (whom I have interviewed in the past) set the midnight deadline so that officers could crush the city’s burgeoning youthful rebellion with full force and violence, under cover of darkness and away from television cameras but was overruled by the Mayor, who’s numbers crunching accountant suddenly realized how much it would cost to pay overtime for an army of officers in the wee hours of the morning. And, sure enough, they waited for the early morning shift to deploy.
Moving into the concourse slightly after 7 a.m. a pitiful number of 35 police officers began to inch into the encampment, trying to target and arrest protestors one by one in an effort to frighten off the rest. In almost hilarious Keystone Cops antics, 8 or 9 officers took over 20 minutes to arrest one young man, their first pick of the day. Maneuvering around corporate media, alternative journalists and even tourist with their phone cameras, while pushing against demonstrators and occupation supporters, “San Diego’s Finest” stumbled, tripped and look very sweaty, fearful and foolish, dragging the young man out of the crowd, like a crowd of bears pulling a single salmon out of a stream. At that rate, it would have taken about 20 hours to arrest all the demonstrators.
Retreating to the front of Golden Hall, the gang of cops, looked disoriented and confused. Lieutenants called Captains, Captains called supervisors, supervisors called Commanders and all of a sudden, out of nowhere, Deputy Police Chief Boyd Long appeared, almost dragging a hapless Police Chief behind him. Lansdowne appeared dazed, unsteady, like he and his gun, flopping obscenely at his side, had been pulled reluctantly into the OK Corral at Tombstone. Boyd was clearly in command, as Lansdowne stood chewing his fingernails and looking sheepishly at the city’s entire corporate television crews.
As thick-booted motorcycle cops, with heavy helmets, arrived; pulled off their beats, the police force facing down the youths grew to about 75 officers. All the cops were rattled, Lansdowne watched in horror and disbelief. This doesn’t happen in San Diego! In the two decades I have been reporting in this city, sure there have been youth arrested, picked off at the end of a march or like during Bio-Devastation in 2001, picked off individually or in small groups in alleys and side-streets or a few, like Jacob Faust, murdered by a SDPD officer with a grudge and then protected by Lansdowne; yet, here were 150 youth – black, Chicano, Chicana, Asian, LGBT, Native Americans and working-class students – who were not intimidated, they had outgrown the fear hysteria of 9-11.
They had no political agenda, no list of demands, no leaders, no dogma, Friday morning as they stood in Freedom Square. Like their insurgent brothers and sisters of “Arab Spring,” they will mutiny and, rather than tinker around Obama style, they will attempt to change the very paradigm of power in this nation’s “American Autumn.” Standing, arm in arm, waiting for the corporate state to send its armed agents against them, they chanted “we are not here to comply, we are here to occupy,” and “arrest the corporate criminals not the protestors.” The steel in their eyes, the determination in their voices, the beauty of their solidarity, their bodies and freedom on the line to defend the symbolism of a liberated space, if even for a few hours or days, brought tears to these aged eyes.
Stay tuned…. as one young man told me – the war for Middle-Earth has begun.
All photos by Rocky Neptun