San Francisco police will be out in force Saturday for a rally that is expected to draw white supremacists and counter-protesters who have clashed violently in the past.
San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott said he hopes a large police presence can prevent the kind of violence seen in Virginia and elsewhere.
While San Francisco officials cannot stop the permitted gathering at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area by the Patriot Prayer group, Scott said his officers would work to keep the peace.
“You want to keep the people as peaceful as possible and don’t allow violence to occur,” the chief said. “Violence isn’t going to be tolerated.”
Clashes between right-wing and left-wing protesters sparked violence and arrests earlier this year in Berkeley. Saturday’s San Francisco rally will be followed by another one Sunday in Berkeley.
Keeping the two sides apart with officers separating the rally and counter-protesters will go a long way toward ensuring everyone’s safety, the chief said.
Scott said big cities like Los Angeles, where he served as a deputy chief, have long responded to these types of protests by having officers keep opposing sides apart. The tactics, in the end, aren’t complicated.
“When you see something violent happening, you stamp it out immediately,” Scott said. The chief said his commanders on the ground would be ready to take action to prevent confrontations from escalating.
Scott said his officers would start off with the hope that crowd management will ensure a peaceful day but will act swiftly if protesters cross the line to violence.
“Boston last week is a good example of how these protests can be policed,” Scott said, citing a large rally and counter-protest in that city last weekend.
There were less than three dozen arrests as about 50 extreme-right protesters saw their self-described “free speech” rally dwarfed by a massive turnout of about 40,000 counter-protesters. Police there officially ended the rally and escorted conservative rally members to protect them from the massive crowd.
Scott’s boss, Mayor Ed Lee, already has denounced the San Francisco rally as designed to “incite hate, bigotry and violence.”
“They will have their rally on federal land because the U.S. Constitution provides all of us the right to freedom of expression,” he said. “But as mayor of this city, I say: Any message of hate is not welcome.”