24 hours at Occupy SF: Camp clashes undermine movement's intent

The third major fight at the Occupy SF encampment was supposed to be the last of it Monday night after about 100 protesters banished “Jimmy the Instigator.” Most protesters believed he was responsible for about half the brawls that broke out there in recent days. Once he was gone, tensions eased, and a heartwarming singalong forecast a peaceful night.

Then Nick took off his pants, the drugs and alcohol took their toll and the violence returned.

Hang out for a while at Occupy SF and you will encounter two distinct camps. One is operated by a core group of leaders who are smart, peaceful and genuinely dedicated to the global movement against economic inequality. The other is dominated by addicts, opportunists, and people suffering from mental illness.

As long as these two communities live side by side, it’s hard to see how the movement’s message will ever transcend the storyline being scripted by the troublemakers. During 24 consecutive hours at Occupy SF, a San Francisco Examiner reporter witnessed about a dozen assaults and countless shouting matches.

Responsible protesters worry that the opportunists are hijacking their message and derailing their movement before it even has much chance to be influential.

As the sun rose over Justin Herman Plaza Tuesday, a camper named Stuart looked up at a banner that hung over the encampment: “Occupy SF: A living example of a better system.”

As he packed up his belongings and prepared to leave the camp after a single horrifying night, Stuart mentioned that banner. “Hard to look at that after a night like that,” he said.

It’s a beautiful, sunny day. Some 10 activists are discussing the camp’s “uncontained violent element.” Meanwhile, one occupier complains, “But I don’t want to be contained!”

12:10 p.m. — The main concern is how to prevent someone from stealing kitchen supplies or peeing on the food. That’s what happened last night. Arguments ensue about whether to restrict kitchen access. After all, someone notes, restrictions are for the 1 percent.

12:20 p.m. — Anthony, a landscape artist, is working on a canvas that depicts the camp.

12:40 p.m. — Jamar is having quite a day. While clutching a plastic water bottle quarter-filled with booze, he nearly plows his skateboard into several people. He ridicules someone with a flag, saying that if he’s so into America he should join the Army. Shortly after Jamar says he may be 35 but is looking for “something young, something sweet,” a coed group of high school students on a field trip drops by, temporarily making his day. Jamar proceeds to hit on them. He is sad when they leave.

1 p.m. — One camper walks by eating a bagel. Someone else says, “You sure someone didn’t piss on that?” The hungry camper replies, “I don’t care.”

2 p.m. — Police stack barricades near the camp, fueling speculation of a raid. Protesters denounce being “caged like animals.” Activists later learn that no raid is planned and that a meeting with Mayor Ed Lee is scheduled for Wednesday.

2:40 p.m. — The Drumm Street 7-Eleven is a hot spot for occupiers. One highly agitated woman storms out of there claiming there are bugs all over the doughnuts. Close inspection proves otherwise.

2:55 p.m. — Jimmy the Instigator, a man in his late 30s with the build and haircut of a soldier and the breath of a drinker, asks me for 50 cents. After I give it to him, he hugs me, then tries to work me for more.

3 p.m. — The afternoon’s first assault occurs when Eric, a middle-aged man with a bushy beard, runs up and swings at a younger man. Drunken hollering temporarily renders the motive unclear. It turns out that the kid got too close to the tent occupied by Eric’s girlfriend.

3:20 p.m. — The fight continues, and sparks other fights. Jimmy tries to break it up but, due to his abrasive manner, he ends up fighting Eric. Then other peacekeepers intercede, only to be attacked by both men. Police ask if anyone needs medical assistance or wants to sign a citizen’s arrest. No one does, so they retreat. Jimmy tries to hug Eric, but gets attacked. As he keeps trying to hug Eric, their fighting continues. Jimmy and some pals eventually carry Eric off to the curb. Several women sob. The fight gets boring after round 20.

3:25 p.m. — Protesters command Mickey — the pseudonym I have adopted as part of my day at the camp — to turn off his camera or have it confiscated. I comply.

4 p.m. — A woman heads through camp handing out bread, bananas and apples to campers, many of whom are homeless. It’s a nice moment.

4:20 p.m. — A resident of the camp’s east side, which is home to the stoners, yells, “Happy 420!” A camper on the other side, where the drinkers hang out, yells, “F— you, hippies!”

4:30 p.m. — Eric fumes about Jimmy. He stomps around hollering, “Cops are looking for Jimmy, not me!”

4:38 p.m. — Rumors swirl that Jimmy is a narc and also may have urinated on the kitchen food.

4:40 p.m. — A different Jimmy talks about camp cliques. His friends stay in the east side “Punk House.” They all look after one another’s belongings due to rampant robberies. Jimmy No. 2 tells people to stay off their territory.

5:27 p.m. — Rumors swirl about a possible raid, but nothing happens.

6 p.m. — The daily general assembly commences.

6:30 p.m. — A third resident whose parents named him James talks about a recent suicide and attempted suicide. He says a noncamper fatally leapt from a building south of camp. A second man tried to hang himself from a bus shelter. A second protester later says he also saw both incidents.

6:50 p.m. — As about 70 people participate in the general assembly, roughly 130 keep up their usual routines. Habitués of the camp’s eastern side sit around drinking, smoking cigarettes and joints, and shouting.

7 p.m. — Only 15 feet from the general assembly, Jimmy the Instigator has returned. He is hollering that people are near his tent. He assaults several people and threatens several more, causing an uproar that disrupts the meeting several times.

7:15 p.m. — Meeting participants call for a stop to the violence. When asked who has been assaulted, about 20 raise their hands. One activist says Jimmy the Instigator committed about half the assaults. Someone else says people like him are sick and need help.

8 p.m. — After more discussion about camp violence, about eight people break off to physically remove Jimmy the Instigator from camp. He resists, but then a 100-member mob spontaneously coalesces, chanting, “Whose camp? Our camp!” The mob chases Jimmy across Steuart Street and into the path of an oncoming streetcar, then toward the police. After police take him away, the camp becomes much more peaceful.

9:55 p.m. — The eastern side is a vibrant party filled with people young and old, although some of the young people are transients and some of the older ones are loud, slobbering drunks.

10:05 p.m. — Several campers join in on a singalong to a song by Sublime.

10:12 p.m. — Nick decides to take off his pants. He wants everyone to know it too.

10:24 p.m. — The noise of partying campers angers a sleepy protester, who screams, “All of you! You’re drink! You’re drugs! You’re parties! Eff you guitar! Help me not kill you!”

11:45 p.m. — The tents on the Market Street sidewalk are quiet. All the insanity is at the plaza’s east side.

Midnight — The east side now resembles a scene from “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Drunk people are fighting and yelling incessantly as someone sings a folk song in a low, bluesy voice.

12:05 a.m. — An apparently sober man named “B” with a gas mask and military clothing returns from Oakland, where he says nothing is happening. A veteran named “Dr. B” tells stories about being in a Cold War submarine battle against the Russians. Nick is still running around without pants, idiotically screaming.

12:30 a.m. — A Vietnam veteran named Joey says he just beat up a bully. To show me how, he pretends he is punching me, then grabs me around my neck to show me how he choked “the little Asian bastard.” Then a scuffle breaks out nearby, and Joey attacks a random yeller.

12:45 a.m. — Pantsless Nick, who is more belligerent by the minute, keeps begging people to acknowledge that he isn’t wearing pants.

12:50 a.m. — The transient youths on the camp’s east side must have just glimpsed the moon, because now they are howling. Then they go back to yelling uncontrollably, running into each other and breaking into repeated minor scuffles.

2 a.m. — Pantsless Nick is running across the camp, up and down the steps, as if he really needs to get somewhere.

3:35 a.m. — Nick won’t go away. Now he is hollering, “We’re here to party!” at campers who prefer to sleep.

3:45 a.m. — Joey, who is apparently done assaulting and choking people, is now a good guy. He is sweeping out the wretched filth that litters the floors of the portable toilets. It’s quite a transformation from his aggressive past.

4 a.m. Although several dozen people are still partying, the boozing and hollering begin to die down.

5 a.m. — Morning joggers begin appearing on Market Street en route to The Embarcadero. It is the quietest point so far at the encampment.

5:30 a.m. — Here’s the wake-up call, and it isn’t roosters. One woman gets into a spat with a woman in the neighboring tent, which turns into a shouting match involving a half-dozen campers. Angry campers eventually emerge from their tents and a man is assaulted. One of the women shouts uncontrollably and unintelligibly for 20 minutes.

6:10 a.m. — The shouting awakened others. Campers flip on the radio, smoke pot and listen to news about the Occupy Wall Street raid.

7:15 a.m. — Commuters are streaming from the Ferry Building to the Financial District. Some look curiously into the camp. Others wince at the stench.

8:40 a.m. — Mayor Ed Lee tours the encampment’s perimeter. He says he will meet with Occupy SF representatives Wednesday, hoping they will agree to move out of the plaza and possibly relocate to
private property.

11:00 a.m. — Pantsless Nick is now wearing jeans — but no shirt.

11:59 a.m. — The east side is once again drinking and smoking joints, as they prepare for another day protesting economic inequality.


Beat L.A.? Niners will have the chance against Rams in NFC Championship Game

San Francisco has won six straight over their long-time rivals

The downturn persists: Examiner analysis reveals that S.F.’s economy has a long road to recovery

‘If you don’t keep downtown a vibrant place, it has cascading consequences on all the neighborhoods’