A three-hour standoff between police and Occupy SF demonstrators at Justin Herman Plaza on Wednesday night ended with cops leaving the site about 9 p.m., appearing to be outnumbered by the group of several hundred people.
Some 40 to 50 protesters had illegally entered the closed-off plaza area — which had been raided early Wednesday — and were corralled by police. Negotiations to release them stalled officers’ attempts to disband the gathering.
Only half the demonstrators accepted an ultimatum from police, but then cops retreated and protesters vowed to reclaim the plaza — even setting up tents by press time.
Supervisor Eric Mar had showed up about 7:30 p.m. and was involved in negotiating the release of those arrested.
“There was clearly not enough police for the demonstration,” Mar said.
At 1 a.m. Wednesday, police raided and tore down the plaza camp and arrested more than 70 people.
By 8 a.m., many of the demonstrators were milling around Market Street near the plaza talking about what had happened just a few hours earlier.
By noon, they had reorganized and started talking about rallying later in the day.
By 6 p.m., they had shut down part of Market Street and defiantly returned to Justin Herman Plaza, forcing another confrontation with police. After protesters erected a tent in the middle of the plaza, police issued a dispersal order that some demonstrators disobeyed, leading to more arrests.
But the question still remains on what will happen to Occupy SF — part of a national protest movement against corporate greed and wealth inequality — in the days to come.
On Wednesday afternoon, occupiers didn’t have a clear answer to that question, but at the evening general assembly many insisted they would eventually take back Justin Herman Plaza. And if they did not reclaim the site, they vowed to maintain a presence on the streets of The City.
“As soon as the cops go away, we’re going to go right back in there and set up our tents again,” said Red Hollister, a bruised 22-year-old protester who said he tussled with police during the raid.
Others were adamant about the group’s activities continuing, but less sure about whether they will find a venue.
“They’ve done it now,” occupier Mike Clift said of the raid. “The bees have scattered. And the swarm has no hive.”
But it remains to be seen if occupiers will maintain momentum until they can find another base of operation in San Francisco. According to Mayor Ed Lee’s office, an offer made by The City for a new camp in the Mission district is now off the table.
Since the Occupy movement started in September, The City and protesters have clashed at various times. Police raided an earlier encampment in front of the Federal Reserve Building in early October, which led to protesters relocating to Justin Herman Plaza, where they had remained until this week.
SF Examiner Staff Writer Andrea Koskey contributed to this report