Calm Before the Storm

Before last week's megaprotests, cops and marchers made nice in the Mission

An angry man who was not attached to the march upended a garbage can on Valencia and then ran away when Mammone yelled at him. Three protesters stopped to help right the can. It was that kind of crowd.

The march snaked in a narrow formation onto 20th Street and spread out again as it hit Mission, where protesters chanted for people to come out of their homes. Reporters with cell phones had, by this time, learned that the United States had dropped the first bombs on Baghdad. A while later, a handful of protesters wearing scarves across their faces formed a knot around a man standing in front of a store with a television inside.

Police had hoped the crowd wouldn't find out about the bombing. From the very beginning, there'd been concern that the march would turn ugly if war broke out while protesters were on the streets.

But that didn't happen.

In front of the BART station at 24th and Mission, speakers took to a makeshift stage and addressed the crowd. The convergence of anti-war demonstrators and a small army of cops in the heart of gang territory on a wet Wednesday night was surreal.

At one point, a heated altercation broke out in front of a McDonald's outlet when one of the numerous photographers following the demonstration snapped a picture of a man who had nothing to do with the protest. Mammone, a former bartender, calmed the guy down. Cohen took sticks away from a group of neighborhood kids. He used to run a video production business and recorded a CD of anti-violence rap songs under the name "MC Powder." Go figure cops.

By 7:15 p.m., the rally was winding up, but a small contingent of mostly young people carrying a flag started up Mission, yelling about marching back downtown. The cops were not pleased.

Squad cars and police motorcycles cut them off at about 20th Street. The blue uniforms formed a barrier across the road. A woman standing in front of a building on Mission yelled, "Merchants here are struggling to exist." It was clearly a plea to spare some anticipated violence.

Another woman yelled, "Protect the Constitution, you coppers. Leave those kids alone."

The checkers game between the small remaining group of demonstrators and the police finally stopped around 20th Street and Valencia. Police formed a line in front of the Shell station on Valencia, while motorcycle cops blocked the street to the north, and then took over the intersection. Cohen filmed the event, while monitors from the Office of Civilian Complaints watched, describing the scene into tape recorders.

Someone serenaded the police with bad trumpet playing. Another man yelled at the cops to get real jobs. Mammone jokingly pondered the suggestion for a minute. Everyone shivered in the damp night air.

Finally, most of the police were called away and the remaining protesters and hangers-on drifted off. Cohen gave an interview to a television reporter. The rest of the media packed up and left. The war had started in Iraq, but the biggest battles in San Francisco were yet to come.

Less than 12 hours later, of course, protesters and police fought an ugly battle for control of the same stretch of Market Street where they'd shared a walk that was, for the most part, a peaceful demonstration.

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