Keep Occupy out after sweeping up encampment

Congratulations to Mayor Ed Lee for finally clearing out the Occupy San Francisco encampment from Justin Herman Plaza, some two months after the protest started. Our patient mayor has bent over backward to accommodate the demonstrators, including offering them space in the Mission district.

However, after failing to reach an agreement, and after weeks and months of warnings that overnight camping is not allowed in city parks and on city streets, Lee finally had enough. He must now stand firm to ensure that the protesters don’t rebuild their encampment in Justin Herman Plaza or anywhere else in The City. Lee made a good start by rescinding his offer for the Mission district space.

One of the problems is that city officials have sent mixed signals to the protesters. On Oct. 29 the Board of Supervisors, on an 8-3 vote, passed a resolution supporting Occupy SF and opposing the use of police force to dislodge the demonstrators unless there was a public safety threat. They were concerned about a repeat of the violent Oct. 25 raid on Occupy Oakland  and the near-raid that shook up the San Francisco camp the
following night.

What the majority of the supervisors failed to realize, however, was that the public safety threat from Occupy SF had already been escalating at the encampment. An ex-con was arrested for possession of a semi-automatic handgun. Numerous protesters were assaulted. Fights broke out nightly. A bottle was thrown at a Public Works Department employee. A chair was thrown at the face of a police officer.

Like the majority of San Francisco residents, The SF Examiner supports the main ideas put forth by the Occupy movement: fiscal responsibility from our politicians, justice done to corrupt corporate heads and an open dialogue about the economic challenges plaguing our nation. However, when the health and physical safety of residents, tourists, business operators and the most vulnerable living at the camp are at risk, action had to be taken.

And it is perhaps Lee’s similar conflict — agreement with the purpose of the movement but concerns about issues at Justin Herman Plaza — that caused his mixed messages and lack of initial enforcement of citations.

“I understand and sympathize with the anxiety and frustration caused by the lingering recession, economic disparity and joblessness in the country that prompted the Occupy movement that has now spanned the world over,” said Lee in a statement. “I continue to fully support the spirit of the movement that calls for peaceful assembly and protest to bring about social change.”

But with lack of clarity from The City, is it any wonder that protesters are vowing to take back Justin Herman Plaza? “As soon as the cops go away, we’re going to go right back in there and set up our tents again,” said one of the protesters.

Despite their ideological affinity with the demonstrators, Lee and the supervisors must represent all San Franciscans, including the 99 percent who do not feel the encampment represents the beliefs of Occupy SF. The City’s streets, parks and plazas belong just as much as to the protesters.

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