Protests Begin Peacefully But Take Destructive Turn in San Francisco on Saturday

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A protester in San Francisco yelling "don’t shoot" to two police officers. Protests in the city started out calm, but have become more destructive as the night went on.  (Julie Chang/KQED)

Updated 11:45 p.m. Saturday 

San Francisco Mayor London Breed on Saturday night declared a citywide curfew in response to increasingly destructive demonstrations.

The 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew will be effective immediately, she said in  a late-night briefing, adding that she has also been in touch with Gov. Gavin Newsom about having the National Guard on standby.

Breed said that while she understood "the hurt and the pain" that residents are feeling about the death of George Floyd — a black man killed by police in Minneapolis last week — vandalism and destruction in the city would "not be tolerated."

"To be clear, this is the last thing that I wanna do as mayor. I want peace, I want protest, but I don't want the kind of violence and crime that we see playing itself across the streets of our city to continue," Breed said.  "And we have a responsibility to deal with it and that's exactly what we're going to do."

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The curfew will resume Sunday at 8 p.m., Breed said in a tweet.

During the briefing, San Francisco Fire Chief Jeanine Nicholson said "multiple, intentional" fires have been set around the city.

"Stop the madness. Go home, be safe, and just know we will always be there for you," she said.

Later in the evening, protesters gathered outside Breed's apartment, lighting fireworks and tearing down 'Slow Streets' signs, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

The city's daytime demonstration was a calmer affair, but around 8 p.m., protesters broke the glass doors at Westfield Mall on Market Street. Since then, there were several subsequent reports of broken windows and break-ins — including at a nearby CVS, Walgreens, Starbucks and a Swarovski jewelry store.

Around 9:45 p.m., demonstrators began physically blocking the 101 South freeway entrance on Octavia Blvd and Market Street. The on-ramp was blocked for about an hour before police pushed protesters back, and traffic resumed. The remaining crowd then dispersed.

Earlier in the evening, the demonstration led to the closure of another freeway on-ramp. While marchers tried to access Interstate-80 East on South Van Ness Avenue around 7:30 p.m., San Francisco police officers blocked the freeway entrance. Crowds also blocked 17th and Valencia streets.

Friday night, thousands marched in San Jose and Oakland in demonstrations in the name of police reform. Local businesses also saw their windows smashed and fires dotted Oakland's downtown in a scene that spurred outrage from Mayor Libby Schaaf.

"People came out in Oakland to express their understandable anger about the death of George Floyd," she said in a Saturday press conference. "But that rage crossed an unacceptable line. We are sickened to wake up this morning to the destruction and violence to our beloved Oakland."

Organized by an individual, Raiah Sinn, hundreds first met at U.N Plaza and marched to San Francisco City Hall, then gained more marchers as they wound through San Francisco, ultimately stopping before Mission Police Station and dispersing by about 7 p.m.

"They hear our chants, they hear our pleas for mercy," Sinn told the demonstrators, at U.N. Plaza. "Hear us when we're screaming for somebody to get off of our neck. They hear us when we're pleading for a deceased mother during our last breaths, and they still won't make the changes that we need to see."

While demonstrators at first gathered in a socially distant manner, social media showed crowds bunching up as they marched. The densely packed protesters in Oakland sparked warnings from Schaaf that they were endangering their lives amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Saturday, Schaaf warned, "stay home, there are other ways to express your anger and your activism right now."

Speaking to KQED, one San Francisco demonstrator, Kai Galt, says marching during the pandemic for human rights is “just as essential as going to the grocery store.”

San Francisco has seen its share of police killings of unarmed people, including the shooting death of Alejandro Nieto, who was armed only with a Taser, on Bernal Heights Hill in 2014.

SFPD's Mission Station, where San Francisco protesters marched to Saturday, was also the site of the Frisco Five hunger strike in 2016 that pressured the city to fire former SFPD Police Chief Greg Suhr, who eventually resigned, following high-profile SFPD officer-involved shootings some decried as unjust.

This is a breaking story and will be continuously updated throughout Saturday.