Nearly 300 protesters rallied at City Hall Thursday, demanding Mission Playground soccer field be open and free to use for all.
The rally was a success, as Recreation and Parks Department Manager Phil Ginsburg declared the soccer fields would no longer require an advance permit to play on.
But during the rally, more information was revealed about the fight that sparked the new rules in the first place. A viral video depicting a clash between tech workers and Mission youth spurred the debate over new park use rules. At the rally one of those youth, 15-year-old Hugo Vargas, alleged Airbnb Community Support Lead Conor Welch kicked him in the back, injuring him.
The back injury has caused Vargas pain when he plays soccer, the teen told the Recreation and Parks Commission Thursday. Vargas said a doctor told him he has severe inflammation in the tissue of his lower back, forcing him out of soccer for a month.
Outside the commission meeting, Vargas told The Examiner how it all went down.
Kai, a tall youth who made many eloquent arguments in the viral video, kicked a soccer ball, which ricocheted off of one of the tech workers. “I was like damn, I've gotta go apologize,” Vargas said.
But as Vargas ran to catch the ball, he said Welch jumped up to slap it from his hands, and allegedly kicked Vargas in the back in the process.
Vargas grew angry, he said, and considered fighting back.
“They held me back,” Vargas told The Examiner. “My friends kept saying, 'be mature.'”
Indeed, much of the reaction after the video of the argument between the kids and the tech workers focused on the maturity of the teenagers, and their calmness in response to what many said was a class struggle.
Ultimately, Vargas kept his cool, and the altercation did not escalate. But he said he plans to file charges with the Police Department against Welch.
According to California penal code, police cannot arrest for misdemeanor battery that was not made in their presence, with some exceptions (like domestic violence). Vargas could, however, conduct a citizen's arrest. But if Vargas can show he was injured severely enough, the charge would change to felony assault.
When contacted by The Examiner, short-term rental company Airbnb denied that any altercation took place after the video, and released this statement:
“We want to apologize for the Airbnb team at the Mission Playground. Enhancing the neighborhoods and the cities we serve is our top priority and these employees didn't live up to our values. We have reminded everyone on our team that we all have an obligation to uphold our shared values every day, no matter where we are. This incident took place several months ago and everyone ended up sharing the field. We all agree that our team should have handled this entire situation differently, but no physical altercation took place.”
Welch could not be reached for comment, but in the video he addresses the teenager recording and says, “this is really awkward, and weird.”