SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — San Francisco city leaders are looking to lessons from protests in Boston as they brace for a rally by a far-right group on Saturday by bringing in the entire police force in to work that day.
Portland-based Patriot Prayer, described as an “alt-right” group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, has dubbed its event “Free Speech, Unity and Peace San Francisco,” billing it as “a day of freedom, spirituality, unity, peace, and patriotism!”
“Every available officer is expected to be working on Saturday,” said San Francisco Police Sgt. Michael Andraychak. “So no discretionary time off and days off have been canceled.”
San Francisco has pretty much given up on the National Park Service denying the Patriot Prayer group a permit, out of fear of violence.
“They probably can’t deny it,” said Rory Little, a professor at the University of California Hastings College of the Law. “There is a First Amendment right to assemble and a First Amendment right to speak.”
Now the focus is on working with the National Park Service to prevent the clashes over free speech similar to what happened during a recent Patriot Prayer rally in Seattle.
“Police Chief [William] Scott is meeting at least twice a day now and [park service officials] seem to be depending on our police force being the security for the entire event,” said Mayor Ed Lee
Lee is hoping to use some of the lessons learned in Boston over the weekend where a heavy police presence and fences were set up to keep free speech advocates and counter demonstrators apart. “Boston prepared very well,” he said.
“You can impose some pretty stringent conditions such as no backpacks, no weapons — not just firearms — no baseball bats no clubs, no knives,” said Little.
Sgt. Andraychak would not detail the police plans for the dueling protests. “I’m not going to be able to comment specifically on what tactics may be used this weekend,” he said.
Lee had a message for those who oppose groups like Patriot Prayer. “We will be doing an alternative rally Saturday here at Civic Center,” Lee said. He is urging people to stay away from the event at Crissy Field.
Meanwhile, city leaders in Berkeley hope to prevent violence at a rally that anti-Marxists are planning for Sunday.
Rival demonstrators have fought several times this year in Berkeley, including clashes in April.
Now, the Berkeley City Council has empowered the city manager to issue a one-day ban on weapons like sticks and knives.
It covers protesters who move onto streets and sidewalks, where police usually have less authority than at a city park.