Although San Francisco’s sit-lie law has been used only sparingly against the problematic vagrants who were its intended target, the regulation is now the latest police enforcement tool for dealing with the sidewalk dwellers of the Occupy SF movement.
The law prohibits sitting or lying on The City’s public sidewalks between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m., with certain exceptions for First Amendment practices such as participating in a demonstration.
But there is an exception to the exception.
“Indefinite occupation of public space” isn’t on the list of permits one can apply for in San Francisco — so protesters don’t have one — and that leaves them subject to the sit-lie law when they go to sleep.
After their Justin Herman Plaza tent city was cleared by police during an early morning raid Wednesday, occupiers returned to their original Market Street camp outside the Federal Reserve Bank and have since been sleeping on the sidewalk there. But Wednesday evening and Thursday morning, several sleeping protesters were rousted by officers and handed slips of paper informing them of the sit-lie law.
At a meeting of the Police Commission on Wednesday night, police Chief Greg Suhr reiterated that city laws prevent overnight camping in public parks. But now that occupiers are back on the sidewalk, Suhr was asked whether demonstrations would be tolerated outside the Federal Reserve.
“As long as they’re not in violation of sit-lie, they can be in front of 101 Market,” Suhr said, then suggesting that Occupy SF might be compelled to morph into “more of a daytime operation.”
Officer Albie Esparza said that while police have done everything they can to facilitate the First Amendment rights of protesters with gestures such as traffic control during street marches, officers still need to enforce municipal laws. Esparza said the warning slips serve as an admonishment — a required precursor to citations, which cost $50 for a first offense and can escalate to $500.
“We have to ask them what they’re doing,” Esparza said of handing out the tickets. “They have to tell us if they’re involved in a protest, but they can’t just say it’s a protest.”
Esparza added that other enforcement tools might include a state law against “illegal lodging” on private or public property without permission.
On Thursday, occupiers outside the Federal Reserve said they were annoyed by the slips, but more so with the recent cat-and-mouse street theater between protesters and police.
“We’re constantly battling to get into survival mode,” said Kyle Lesley, who gave up his Mission district apartment to sleep outdoors with the movement. “And once we set up our infrastructure, they find a way to tear it down.”
Lesley said constant camping and sleeping are part of the group’s message, and therefore a form of First Amendment expression.
SF Examiner Staff Writer Ari Burack contributed to this report.
Take a seat
Exceptions to The City’s sit-lie ordinance:
- Medical emergency
- Need for a wheelchair or walker
- Patronizing a permitted commercial establishment on the sidewalk
- Attending a permitted parade, festival, performance, rally, demonstration or meeting
- Sitting on a public bench supplied by a public agency
- Sitting in line for goods and services, as long as the sidewalk isn’t blocked
- A child in a stroller
- Sitting in a parklet
Source: San Francisco Police Code, Section 168 (b)