Wednesday, May 20, 2009

white night fright

As the deadline looms for the California Supreme Court to release its decision on the legality of Proposition 8, people are watching intently. So intently, in fact, that seemingly minor actions are being scrutinized as a sign.

Yesterday, barriers were unloaded in the Castro and in front of Government buildings in downtown San Francisco, which many speculated were a sign that a ruling was imminent. Has this been true, the ruling would have come on the thirtieth anniversary of the White Night Riots.

For the uninititated, the White Night Riots were an act of civil disobedience by a community outraged by the miscarriage of justice when former Supervisor Dan White was convicted of voluntary manslaughter for the premeditated double murder of George Moscone and Harvey Milk. City hall was attacked, people rioted in the streets, police cars were set ablaze. The police responded in a facsist matter and attacked the community in return. Not their finest hour.

All in all, probably not a fortuitous anniversary to release a decision which may very well uphold bigotry codified into law in the Golden State. So when no announcement was forthcoming, world leaked out that there was to have been an announcement tomorrow, but Mayor Gavin Newsom asked that it be delayed. His office has since denied the story.

But that does not make it untrue, especially considering the likely outcome.

Will we have Civil Rights soon? I'll let you know as soon as I hear.


Birdie said...

It does not bode well that someone in the city feels that barricades will be necessary. Can the decision be made known to powers-that-be before being publicly announced? Or do I sound like a conspiracy nut?

BGreen said...

Why does it not "bode well" that "barricades" will be necessary?

It all depends on whether you consider them to be "crowd control" barriers or "traffic control" barriers. There are a few on the corner of Castro and Market, and a few more at Castro and 18th. To me, that looks like preparations to close the streets to traffic.

Many organizations have had plans for months to march on the date of the decision, regardless of the court's decision. If it's a good decision, then it will be a celebration. If it's a bad decision, then it will be a protest march.

The police and the Mayor's office cannot help but to be aware of these plans. And for the police to put out barriers to close the streets to automobile traffic in order to clear the way for the protesters (or celebrants) is a good thing, not a bad thing.

This is just part of a routine, not an ill omen.

Jeff said...

And the fact that they also surround City Hall and are showing up in other cities as well?

BGreen said...

I can't speak for other cities.

In San Francisco, we're not exactly talking about insurmountable barriers. We're talking about light-weight. three-foot tall things that are used to draw lines that say, in effect, "Please don't walk/drive past here" or "Keep off the grass," depending on where they're set up.

As "crowd control" measures, they're pretty useless. Any crowd (or individual) wishing to move past them can (a) jump over them, (b) push them over or (c) pick them up and move them aside.

These barriers are used all the time. They are used to stop traffic and to define the entrances to every street fair in the city. They are used at Gay Pride around City Hall and Civic Center to define the backstage area and to discourage people from walking in certain areas. There are currently four of them on 17th Street near Castro, discouraging cars from driving through the newly established pedestrian plaza.


They say, "please, if it's not too much trouble, we'd like it very much if you wouldn't go past here, thanks, sorry to bother you."

To me, their presence says that the police expect a fair number of people to show up. To me, it says that the police are communicating with and making preparations with the people who have organized this future protest/celebration. To me, it says that they intend to set up some kind of stage at City Hall for various civic leaders and community activists to make speeches. Nothing more ominous than that.

Now, when the event actually happens, if the cops show up in riot gear, THAT would be ominous.

Jeff said...

I'd LOVE to be wrong, but the fact that the decision was moved from White Night does not seem particularly comforting either.

Are we oversampling the data?

We'll know Tuesday. Happy weekend, evetyone!

BGreen said...

I'm not saying people aren't angry. And I'm not saying that the police aren't preparing for all eventualities. In fact, I would hope that they are preparing for all eventualities.

I'm saying that these barriers should not, by themselves, be taken as a sign that the police assume there will be a riot.

There's a big difference between this and the White Night Riot. The White Night Riot, as far as I can tell, was a crime of passion, a gut reaction to a jury's unexpected verdict. This time, there's little to no hope for a positive outcome, but we've known that for months -- this would not be a surprise like the Dan White verdict was.

Also, if you remember, there was a near riot in San Francisco in the wake of AB101 (state gay rights bill that the governor vetoed after promising to sign) in 1991. People went on a protest march to the state building downtown, and some of the protesters got out of hand and caused some property damage (breaking windows, setting an office on fire). Nothing on the scale of the White Night Riot, but not a peaceful protest by any means. Again, a crime of passion, a reaction to Pete Wilson's sudden betrayal by changing his mind at the last second and vetoing the bill.

This time, I hope that people remember that this city and county voted overwhelmingly against Prop 8. To riot here and cause millions of dollars of property damage would be to reach out to hurt the people who explicitly, unquestionably supported us. It's harder to claim that you were reacting in the throes of passion when you got bad news you were expecting for three months.

On the other hand, I know that there's a difference between the concept of bad news coming and the actual arrival of that bad news. When a friend or family member is fatally ill, no matter how many times you talk about how their time is limited, there's no real way to prepare yourself for the reality of their passing, and the emotional hurt is not abated in any way by the anticipation of its arrival.

So, no, I cannot say that I'm certain that no one will be moved to attempt violence if the Supremes come out with bad news. To some, losing this case could be the emotional equivalent of losing a loved one, and their passions will be high. I hope people can keep a more level head and a more civil tongue, but I wouldn't bet money on it.

Jeff said...


I wasn't presuming a riot. I was presuming that Prop H8 would be upheld, which it was. And I strongly suspect that delaying the announcement was both an admission of foreknowledge by certain officials and an attempt to diffuse the situation.

You may now return to your second class status.