San Francisco police arrested more than 100 people—32 adults and 81 juveniles—Saturday night in wake of a skateboarding gathering near Dolores Park. The incident—during which one police officer was injured—sparked shock, outrage and umbrage Sunday among members of the public and some elected officials, with at least one protest scheduled in response Sunday evening.
The event, organized by city skateboarders and advertised on social media, often occurs in mid-July and has drawn thousands of participants and spectators in previous years. After gathering at the park, many try their luck rolling downhill from 21st Street to 18th Street.
The hill bomb in 2017 involved fights and bottles thrown but no arrests; however, a collision that year between a police officer and a skater led to a proposed $275,000 settlement. As recently as 2020, after a person died at the hill bomb and several participants suffered serious injuries, city public works crews installed "Botts dots" along parts of Dolores, with San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency leader Jeffrey Tumlin expressing concern for safety within multiple communities.
In a statement Sunday, San Francisco police Chief William Scott decried the behavior.
"This dangerous and unlawful behavior put members of the public and our officers at risk of serious injury or worse," Scott said in part.
"This behavior will not be tolerated in our city and I thank our officers for taking action to hold those accountable who brazenly engaged in reckless and dangerous behavior and violated the law. Thankfully, there were no serious injuries."
On Sunday morning, San Francisco Supervisor Dean Preston expressed his displeasure at police's response to the incident, calling it an "abuse of power, waste of money, and trauma inflicted on our young people."
"I’m ashamed of our City leadership for this type of militarization of our streets and attack on our youth," Preston said in a tweet. "People deserve answers."
The Harvey Milk LBGTQ Democratic Club called out "the large scale show of force by police in military gear against teenagers," and urged a full and independent investigation into the response.
"Law enforcement agencies bear the responsibility of prioritizing de-escalation tactics and demonstrating unwavering respect for the rights and well-being of all individuals, especially when engaging with young people," the club said in part. "The freedom to assemble is a constitutionally protected right that should not be undermined by a heavy-handed approached reminiscent of a fascist police state."
Supervisor Rafael Mandelman was more supportive of the city's response to the event.
“The hill bomb has been a problematic event for years, responsible for lots of harm to property and persons, including at least one death," he said. "In that context, I think the City managed this year’s event much better than last year, although I think there is still room for improvement. I’m wishing the injured officer a speedy recovery.”
According to a police statement Sunday, officers at the department's Mission Station planned this weekend for "an unpermitted and non-sanctioned event around Dolores Park" by setting up barricades and adding officers for crowd-control purposes.
By 6:15 p.m., police said people with skateboards gathered at the park's outskirts, with officers at Cumberland and Dolores seeing fireworks set off, receiving vandalism reports and helping fearful residents return home.
At 7:10 p.m., police said an officer helping residents return was approached by a male who spat in his face. When that officer tried to stop the male, a female approached and interfered. The officer was later taken to a hospital for treatment of facial lacerations.
Other officers later arrested a 16-year-old boy on suspicion of aggravated assault, violence against an officer, assault and battery, resisting arrest, conspiracy and crimes involving a juvenile, and a 15-year-old girl on suspicion of resisting arrest. After treatment at a hospital for what police called a non-life-threatening injury, the boy was booked into Juvenile Hall.
As a crowd threw what police described as metal cans, glass bottles, smoke bombs and lit fireworks at officers during the arrest, San Francisco Fire Department firefighters responded to the area to put out fires caught by lit fireworks at the park.
Around 7:30 p.m., police called an unlawful assembly and ordered the park closed. Moments later, officers responded to reports of gunshots at 18th and Church streets near an occupied Muni light-rail car blocked in by moving crowds, and saw people vandalizing the car and climbing atop it, risking falls or electrocution. Officers soon found a second Muni car vandalized at 17th and Church streets.
While officers continued ordering crowd members to disperse, a group of 200 people gathered shortly after 8:10 p.m. at 18th and Dolores streets and began removing set-up street barricades. After some crowd members approached a third Muni car and began vandalizing it, officers said they followed the group to 17th Street and detained it between Dolores and Guerrero streets and carried out a mass arrest.
San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency spokesman Stephen Chun said two light-rail vehicles, a street car, a trolley coach, an inspector truck and a Go4 parking-control interceptor vehicle were spray-painted, with one vehicle's window broken. No preliminary estimate was available for damages.
Chun said that the system's 22, 33 and J lines were switched back to avoid the service disruption from 7:45 p.m. to just after 9:45 p.m. He added that there were no initial reports of any passenger or driver injuries.
Muni released a statement later Sunday saying that event attendees climbed on top of a light rail vehicle while it was still energized, "putting themselves at risk of falling and/or touching the high voltage electrical equipment." Muni workers were able to de-energize the overhead lines "to avoid a very dangerous situation."
Police said officers recovered left-behind firearms, unlit fireworks and "narcotics paraphernalia" at the scene. Thirty-two adults were arrested and booked into San Francisco county jail on suspicion of inciting a riot, remaining present at an unlawful assembly and conspiracy, with one adult cited and released for resisting arrest, remaining present at an unlawful assembly and conspiracy. Eighty-one teens were also arrested on similar charges, with one teen later hospitalized for treatment of intoxication.
On Sunday evening, a protest was held at Clarion Alley, just steps away from the department's Mission Station where many of the arrested had been held for hours in post-arrest processing.
Earlier Sunday, former San Francisco educator Annie Phan posted to social media about additional ways she thought city leaders could have responded before Saturday's events.
Phan said she remembered speaking with students often too keen to skate on campuses, but who would also look out for and prevent peers un-ready or underprepared for dangerous slopes or other risky situations. Accordingly, she looked at Saturday's arrests as failures of opportunity to use "collaboration, rather than coercion" and less punitive approaches, including provision of helmets, water and ambulances nearby, and connection with experienced skaters to offer advice about risk assessment.
"I'm sure there were some people who were part of this and actively participating that would have been, like, 'Yeah, barricades are a good idea, and when I saw those other people taking them down, I saw that as concerning,' right?" Phan said in part on Sunday.
"How do we empower people within the community who are actively participating in this to hold those boundaries and expectations? No one wants people to die from a skateboarding accident. No one wants their event to be shut down, and not be able to participate in something that they enjoy."
Calling for "a city that works for everyone," Phan insisted that she wanted "public safety and public education around safety" rather than "people in paramilitary gear with batons yelling about tear gas and or, you know, if you don't leave, we're going to use projectile weapons and tear gas or chemical weapons on you. That just doesn't feel like the San Francisco I want us to be, and I know that we don't have to be."
This is a developing story.