SF to End Curfew Thursday After Criticism, 2 Nights of Peaceful Protest

Protesters doing a sit-in at the San Francisco Hall of Justice on June 2, 2020, past the city's 8 p.m. curfew. The order will be lifted June 4, 2020 at 5 a.m. (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez/KQED News)

Update, 12:50 p.m., Wednesday, June 3: San Francisco's 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew will be lifted after just one more night.

Mayor London Breed announced in a series of tweets Wednesday afternoon that the curfew would end at 5 a.m. on Thursday. The previously indefinite curfew took effect Sunday evening in response to crimes such as theft, vandalism and assault adjacent to mass demonstrations against police violence.

Breed added in a written statement that "the overwhelming majority of people out protesting are doing so peacefully and we trust that will continue."

Civil liberties advocates and one city supervisor had criticized the order as vague, potentially illegal and expensive.

Original post, 9:25 p.m. Tuesday, June 2: Civil liberties advocates, including a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, are pushing back against curfew orders imposed by more than a dozen jurisdictions around the Bay Area in response to property damage, thefts and assaults that have coincided with protests against police violence.

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"I have not seen any evidence demonstrating an indefinite threat that justifies such indefinite restrictions on the rights of residents," San Francisco Supervisor Matt Haney wrote in a series of tweets that questioned both the practicality and constitutionality of the nighttime curfews declared over the weekend by Mayor London Breed.

Haney's comments came as the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California signaled that it may go to court to challenge the curfews, which Tuesday evening covered more than a dozen Bay Area jurisdictions home to 5.5 million people.

Resistance to the curfew orders took more concrete form on the sidewalk in front of City Hall Tuesday evening, as about 50 protesters refused to leave the area as the overnight edict took effect at 8 p.m.

"I feel like that's going to be used to shut down everyone, not just the specific rioters," said Ricardo Bravo, 21, who said he lives in Central California. "With that curfew, they could just come out here and arrest us."

Police did not disperse the crowd at City Hall after 8 p.m., and most of the group then marched to San Francisco's Hall of Justice, where they staged a sit-in. Police began detaining the group of about 30 demonstrators shortly before 10:30 p.m.

Breed resorted to the curfew after widespread looting and vandalism that followed demonstrations triggered by the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

"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 when the curfew was first declared Saturday night. "And we have a responsibility to deal with it, and that's exactly what we're going to do."

But Haney questioned whether the curfews, enforced by a massive police presence, make sense for the city financially.

"Why hasn't anyone else raised the issue of costs?" he asked. "Hundreds of officers arresting a handful of people for protesting at 8:15 p.m. is a MASSIVE cost, at a time when we are facing a $2 billion deficit."

Haney also argued that the police don't need the curfew to protect the city or its residents, despite the recent unrest.

"I understand there are some people who want to use this moment to wreak havoc, destruction, violence," Haney wrote. "We reject that, entirely, and should prevent it. There are better, more targeted ways to do so while balancing civil liberties and civil rights. We can be better than this."

Police Chief William Scott defended the curfews at a Board of Supervisors meeting held remotely Tuesday because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"What it allows us to do is get out in front of it and be more proactive," Scott told the supervisors, who must approve the curfew for it to continue indefinitely, as Breed has ordered.

Scott said most of the property destruction the city has seen since the protests began has taken place after nightfall. He argued that if San Francisco doesn't maintain a curfew while surrounding jurisdictions do, that could make the city a target.

"Right now, we are still in the thick of things," Scott said. He added that police expect a demonstration Wednesday that "may be volatile."

Supervisor Aaron Peskin questioned why the mayor had called for an indefinite curfew, instead of setting an end date as most cities and counties have done.

"I don't feel like I want to sign a blank check," Peskin said. "It's frankly an extraordinary thing in our First Amendment-based society to do this."

"This can't go on for very long," he added.

The board is scheduled to discuss again whether to approve the curfew on Thursday.

A similar discussion by the San Jose City Council on Tuesday ended with city officials deciding to lift a curfew there at 5 a.m. Thursday, with plans to revisit the decision on Friday.

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The ACLU of Northern California criticized the emergency measures, which ban most residents in the affected communities from leaving home between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m., as hasty and lacking clarity as to their scope and duration.

"Blanket closure of all public spaces gives police unfettered discretion, which has shown to lead to selective and biased enforcement, and high potential for the exact type of racialized abuses that are being protested," the ACLU chapter said in a statement.

The civil liberties group's Southern California chapter issued a more formal challenge to a curfew order imposed across Los Angeles County. In a letter, the chapter argued that the order violates state law by being overly broad — covering millions of people in areas where no unrest has taken place — and infringes upon First Amendment rights.

“Counties in Southern California are suppressing a huge amount of very important peaceful protests in the name of stopping a small number of people who in a few places have engaged in looting,” Ahilan Arulanantham, senior counsel at the chapter, said in an interview.

In Oakland, officials initially resisted instituting a curfew, but the city joined an Alameda County-wide emergency order on Monday.

“We’re very appreciative that the city has given us the tool of the curfew, simply really to interdict and abate that violence,” Oakland interim Police Chief Susan Manheimer said Tuesday afternoon.

“Where it crosses the line is when anyone tries to harm anyone else, including our officers who have been the target of significant rocks, bottles, Molotov cocktails and incendiary devices, and to gunfire," Manheimer said. "We’ve had gunfire at our police building. We’ve had gunfire out on the streets.”

David Levine, a professor at UC Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, says public officials are trying to strike a balance in how they respond to the unrest that's occurred alongside the current protests.

"With a curfew, the issue is whether it solves a problem or creates a problem in the sense that if the if the populace thinks that the government is coming down with too heavy a hand, it might just enrage people and maybe even get more people out on the streets," Levine said Tuesday.

But officials are weighing that possibility against something even more draconian, he said.

“For example, the president's threat to put the military on the streets, which I think by and large has been condemned by elected officials. ... And so I think the perception is, given the amount of damage that we've seen in Oakland, in Los Angeles, New York City, a curfew is a modest escalation in pressure to get people to come to peacefully protest and to comply with the law.”

Others have pointed out that another problem with the curfews, aside from the constitutional and other problematic aspects, is that it's subject to selective enforcement.

“If you are an essential worker, you have to believe that the color of your skin and also what you're wearing and things like that are going to influence how safe you feel in being able to assert this exemption when the police try to stop you, the ACLU's Arulanantham said. "... It's ironic because that is the underlying issue that the protests are about and the government's response is just heightening the exact injustice that the protests were trying to address in the first place.”

Bay Area Journalist Shane Bauer offered a case in point, in which an African American man was arrested in Oakland on Monday after the 8 p.m. curfew took effect. Officers appeared to take him into custody because he had no media credential.

Bauer, who was standing next to the man and said he also had no media credential, was not accosted.

This story includes reporting from KQED's Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez, Adhiti Bandlamudi and Bay City News.

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