By Eric Louie
April 3, 2012
A day after Occupy SF took over a Catholic church-owned former mental health clinic with plans to set up a new headquarters, police – acting on a formal complaint lodged by the Archdiocese of San Francisco – arrested about 80 occupiers during a Monday afternoon raid.
The arrests on trespassing and other misdemeanor charges at the two-story building at 888 Turk Street went smoothly according San Francisco police, with demonstrators calling it police repression. As the sun set, about 100 OccupySF demonstrators marched from Civic Center to the Hall of Justice, chanting against police, bringing food and collecting information for legal help as their comrades were released. A few dozen officers in riot gear behind metal barricades watched before demonstrators dissipated.
“They came in with a giant gun,” said Beth Seligman, a member of Occupy SF’s communications committee, shortly after being released. Occupiers had planned to run a kitchen, sleeping areas and meeting spaces, with many activities including yoga and photography classes planned Monday. “They kicked in the door. Does that sound peaceful?”
Police spokesman Sgt. Michael Andraychak said the arrests started around 1:15 p.m., with no force used or injuries on either side. One protester, however, was believed to have suffered a broken wrist but it was unclear if the injury was sustained during the eviction.
“They were in there illegally,”Andraychak said. He said police did not issue a dispersal warning beforehand, saying there were bricks and other objects police feared could be used to attack police.
George Wesolek, spokesman for the Archdiocese of San Francisco, said occupation organizers were wrong in saying the building has been vacant for five years after the city cut funding for a mental health services center. Wesolek said the church bought the property five years ago and it held a center for a few years after. It was also used as music classrooms for Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory High until new facilities opened elsewhere. The building had been vacant for 18 months, he said.
Wesolek said the church wants to lease the building, and pointed to numbers that more than a third of students from the school get financial assistance worth almost $3 million a year.
“If we’re going to use this property for permanent income, we can’t have Occupy staying in it,” said Wesolek, noting graffiti, barricaded doors and damage to the building. He did not have an estimate of how much rent the building could generate.
The church had said Sunday night that they would make a final decision in the morning, but Wesolek said there were no plans to meet with occupiers. Some in the building Sunday thought that was the case.
Jail Veda, a member of Occupy SF’s interfaith coalition, was still hopeful they can talk to the church about some temporary arrangement. He said the church has been sympathetic to causes like immigration and labor, and believes the church didn’t want them kicked out necessarily when they signed papers saying occupiers were not allowed in there.
“They were always in solidarity with everything,” he said. Veda, who left Sunday night and was not arrested, said there was no plan to hurt police. He said those inside could not have been surprised by the daytime raid through the front door. The other doors were barricaded so those inside would feel safe from such raids, and the bricks were among the found materials inside used for the barriers, he said.
The occupation started Sunday after Occupy SF and other supporting groups held a rally at Union Square in conjunction with the Western Regional Advocacy Project’s “We Won’t Get Fooled Again” national action focusing on the criminalization of the poor and homeless.
Eric Louie is covering the Occupy movements for The Newspaper Guild-Communication Workers of America Local 39521.
Luke Thomas contributed to this report.