San Francisco’s curfew order in response to days of protests was hotly debated by city supervisors Tuesday— but they were ultimately unable to reach agreement on whether to vote it down.
The Board of Supervisors has seven days to take action on an emergency order such as the curfew, but without unanimous agreement, procedural restrictions leave Mayor London Breed with largely unilateral power to keep or end the emergency.
In other words, the 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew is here to stay for now, although the board did vote 6-5 to continue the issue and revisit it on Thursday.
Breed implemented the curfew late Saturday night after San Francisco’s first protest against the Minneapolis killing of George Floyd were followed by vandalism and looting. She asked for the National Guard to remain on standby while 208 law enforcement officers from other regional or state agencies added to the response for a protest on Sunday.
In San Francisco alone, thousands have protested four days in a row against Floyd’s death, which was captured on video, and those of other recent black victims of police brutality like Breonna Taylor in Louisville.
But the rights of protesters and regular residents to not be exposed to widespread search and seizure gave some supervisors pause. Supervisors Shamann Walton, Peskin, Hillary Ronen, and Matt Haney sought to change to a more limited form of the curfew after a daily assessment.
“It’s, frankly, an extraordinary thing in our First Amendment-based society to do this,” Peskin said. “I’m reluctant to allow this emergency to go on for a long period of time, for more than a few days.”
Haney said he could not support an indefinite curfew.
“The reason for these protests are police violence and excessive force,” he said. “Deploying thousands more police, with less oversight, less protections, less restrictions, than ever, is not the way we move forward.”
The emergency order that authorizes the curfew is set to end Saturday, after seven days, but could be renewed. Due to public notice requirements, the soonest supervisors could hold an emergency meeting to weigh the matter again is Friday. Otherwise, they need to be in unanimous agreement to intervene.
A representative from the Mayor’s Office said there is the ability and willingness to amend the order, which is being assessed daily. Supervisors Sandra Lee Fewer, Rafael Mandelman, and Ahsha Safai expressed support for the curfew.
“We have a president who incites people, we have people who are out of their minds with guns,” Fewer said. “The reality of it is, this is an out of control situation. What’s really dangerous is the possibility of loss of life.”
The last known curfew in San Francisco was in place during the April 26, 1992 Rodney King riots.
Police Chief Bill Scott, who was a Los Angeles officer at the time, cited his experience in those riots as evidence of the need for a curfew.
“[The curfew] is the ability to be proactive instead of reactive,” Scott said. “It’s almost impossible to tell who’s peaceful and who’s not until the person who’s not peaceful acts.”
The strict nighttime curfew in response to the protests against police brutality comes after two and a half months of a shelter in place order to contain coronavirus. Oakland, Walnut Creek, Vallejo, Antioch, Santa Rosa, and San Jose have also instituted similar curfews, as have other cities nationwide.
Among the more than 80 people arrested Sunday after the curfew, a handgun was found as well as a backpack containing fireworks, according to Scott.
First responders, authorized press or media representatives, and people experiencing homelessness are not subject to the curfew. However, one reporter, Leonardo Castañeda of Mercury News, was met with zip ties around his hands after identifying himself as press Sunday evening.
Decades of research have found that disproportionate and escalated police force antagonizes peaceful protesters, leading to conflict.
“The irony is not lost upon me that the reason these protests are happening in the first place is communities of color have incidents of over-policing and killings,” Ronen said. “It’s a very unique situation in that way, to create the potential of these interactions and those conflicts to be even greater.”