Emotions ran high at San Francisco State University on May 21, where a group of activists held a rally decrying police officers’ excessive use of force in an incident that occurred last Thursday, May 16. Five arrests were made that night outside a student dormitory. YouTube videos showing police officers tackling the arrestees to the ground, as onlookers cry out in dismay, have drawn thousands of hits.
The five young people were arraigned May 21 and face charges of misdemeanor trespassing, with some facing additional charges of resisting and obstructing an officer. Resham MacFarlane, a friend of the arrestees who accompanied them to the university, said they had all been on campus as guests of SF State students who reside in the dorm.
Officially, the arrests were made by San Francisco State University Police Department. However, individuals who were at the scene told the Bay Guardian that SFPD officers were responsible for injuring several arrestees to the point of requiring them to be transported off the scene by ambulance. According news reports, a campus police officer also sustained minor injuries.
At the rally yesterday, supporters of the five arrestees distributed a zine they’d created to document the events, including detailed descriptions of the injuries sustained. Melissa Nahlen, 25, reportedly wound up with “cuts near her eyes, a bruised and swollen lip, a swollen left hand … and cannot bend her neck downward due to being stomped on by the police.” Since she cannot afford to hire an attorney, Nahlen is being represented by the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office.
Another arrestee, Carlos Cruz, was transported from the scene in an ambulance and brought to a hospital before being taken to jail at 850 Bryant. Cruz was reportedly released yesterday, May 21. During the arraignment hearing, the court appointed defense attorney Stuart Hanlon to represent him, since he was unable to afford an attorney, and the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office cannot legally represent multiple co-defendants.
“Carlos almost immediately received a blow to the head after being told he was trespassing,” according to activists’ written account. He was “Hit on head multiple times … Large bruise on shoulder, swollen wrists, loss of feeling in his thumb and forefinger in his right hand, bruises all over shins and knees, laceration on ear.” MacFarlane, a friend of Cruz’s, said that when she visited him in jail “he had a bruise on his sternum.”
Reached by phone, SFPD spokesperson Albie Esparza said he could not offer detailed comment on the incident because it was under SF State’s jurisdiction. “It’s not our investigation,” Esparza said. “We made no arrests. It would be inappropriate to comment on someone else’s jurisdiction.” SFPD only responded at the behest of SF State, he said, and were called in because “it was a chaotic scene.”
Nan Broadman, a spokesperson at SF State, said campus police initially reported to the dorm because “an unidentified caller said a drunk male was harassing passersby” outsidethe building. A friend of the arrestees noted that they had been drinking earlier on that night. Broadman said a police report for the incident was not publicly available, and did not know whether a formal investigation of officer misconduct was underway.
MacFarlane and another friend of the arrestees, who gave her name as Natasha Noel, both said the trouble started when Cruz and a friend went outside to smoke a cigarrette and encountered police, who immediately pursued them upstairs into the dormitory. The physical clash between officers and arrestees is reflected in the YouTube videos, which Natasha recorded with her cell phone. Someone pulled the fire alarm during the incident, and the building was evacuated.
A day earlier, on May 15, SFPD’s tactical unit conducted an early morning raid at an abandoned building at 200 Broad Street, where some 30 people had been living for months. Esparza said the building’s owner initally contacted police for assistance with removing the squatters. Because the abandoned building had been occupied for so long, police sought guidance from the San Francisco City Attorney’s office as to whether they should proceed, since it was unclear whether the squatters’ presence constituted a civil, or criminal matter. The City Attorney ultimately determined that because it wasn’t a residential property, they could be removed on criminal trespassing charges rather than evicted in a civil proceeding.
A handful of those squatters, including Cruz, MacFarlane, Nahlen and some others, wound up making their way to friends’ dorm rooms at SF State. The arrests occurred just hours after their arrival on campus, according to MacFarlane.
A detailed narrative included as part of the zine notes that the squatted building was known as “the SF Commune, a community center and social space for organizers in the Ocean View district of the city.” According to this account, squatters took over the property, which had been abandoned for several years, in April of 2012. “The building was filled with needles, broken glass, and buckets of human feces. The group worked for weeks cleaning up the building, moving out all the hazardous materials and disposing of them properly, and turning the building into a livable home and organizing space.”
MacFarlane said she had been staying at the squat. “I had another place to stay, but I chose to stay at the commune,” she explained, adding that she found it to be a positive and constructive atmosphere. “There was lots of music and art every day.”