In mid-August, San Francisco — and the Marina District in particular — was thrown into turmoil with National Park Service’s announcement that the Patriot Prayer group, an organization self-defined as promoting First Amendment rights but directly associated with various alt-right groups across America and membership that espouses white supremacist viewpoints, was going to hold a rally at Crissy Field. If you were in San Francisco at the time, and the Marina in particular, it would have been practically impossible to miss the news.
With significant planning, most of it behind the scenes and out of the public eye, and a little good fortune, Aug. 26 went off in San Francisco without any rally, and most important, without any violence — the best possible outcome. My thoughts on this topic could cover the entire Marina Times, but here are just a few.
The National Park Service has to coordinate better with the city of San Francisco. The first time anybody in our city government heard about this rally was when a constituent called my office. Until then, despite issuing a “conditional permit” to this extremist group, especially in the wake of the recent violence at a similar rally in Charlottesville, NPS didn’t notify anyone. Not the mayor’s office, not the police, not my office — nobody. Events that take place at Fort Mason, Crissy Field, and the Presidio, despite being on federal land, significantly impact San Francisco and our residents. It is in the public interest for different government agencies to cooperate and coordinate. Post-announcement, the law enforcement cooperation and coordination was real, but it should have never gotten to that point.
First Amendment rights should be sacred, but public safety comes first. Some constitutional scholars will disagree, but groups like the Patriot Prayer group, who have stated intentions to cause disruption and violence, must be viewed through not only a First Amendment lens, but also the lens of public safety. Residents in the Marina were downright scared, and those who identify with either ethnic or religious minorities were even more frightened; you should have seen the e-mails I received. It’s one of the core functions of government to keep our residents safe, and these “rallies” have gotten out of hand. I’m not advocating stopping these events or quelling the First Amendment, but a condition for approval must include reimbursing local, state, and federal government for any attendant law enforcement costs that come with keeping our residents safe during these events. You better believe San Francisco is going to send NPS a bill for all of our police overtime. We’ll see what the response is.
San Francisco government has never functioned better. I’m often critical about our city government, in particular when it appears that core government functions are being driven by politicians with an agenda (that might sound strange from an elected official). But in my six-plus years in public office, I’ve never seen our local government more effective (and as the District 2 Supervisor I’ve had a big seat at the table and a great perch to view everything). From the day we learned about the rally, it was “all hands on deck” from our law enforcement agencies to all the other city departments involved. Most of the work was behind the scenes, and coordination was impressive. Luck favors those that are prepared, and I tip my hat to everyone who spent a week of sleepless nights getting ready.
San Francisco residents should be proud of our response. One of the greatest dangers of any similar rally is the potential for violence due to protesters physically clashing with counter-protesters; just look at Charlottesville, and Berkeley the day after San Francisco’s event (and to be clear, unlike President Trump, I place the blame squarely on these event organizers whose mission is to promote violence). On Aug. 26, however, San Franciscans showed our stripes. Thousands of people marched from all over the city without a single violent incident. With another colleague I conceived of the idea of a peaceful, nonpolitical event at Civic Center, which thanks to the Hellman Foundation and some incredible organizing, turned out to be an amazing concert. Between monitoring the situation at Crissy Field, my family and I spent a few hours at Civic Center, and the atmosphere was fantastic. As many of the banners stated, love can conquer hatred, and we should all be proud of our response.
The notion of having an “armed militia” at Crissy Field shouldn’t exist. I had the great fortune of growing up in the Marina, and because my father was a U.S. Air Force officer, of using the Presidio Army Base. It was my second home. Never in my wildest imagination did I think years later an armed militia would declare its intent to protect protesters at Crissy Field, but that’s exactly what happened when the Oath Keepers announced it would attend the Crissy Field rally with firearms. There is no way this should be allowed to happen, and thankfully NPS made it a permit condition not to have any firearms, so they were essentially neutered. To make sure San Francisco is unequivocally clear that this behavior is unwelcome and against public safety, I drafted legislation to restrict the carrying of firearms in public places such as parks, tourist areas, and commercial corridors in the city (and it will apply to the Presidio and Crissy Field). The legislation will be introduced this month.
Obviously the Crissy Field rally shook many people here. In the end the sun set on Aug. 26 in San Francisco with zero violence — something we should all be very proud of. As important, we didn’t give them a victory. We sucked the oxygen from their event through the restrictions put in place by our government, and by creating other events for San Franciscans to attend who simply couldn’t sit still while they were in our city. We did it peacefully and with respect to the values that make us San Franciscans. We did it our way.