Why Were There No Arrests at the Women’s Marches?

No one was jailed at any of the women's marches nationwide, and some activists say racial privilege has a role.

(Courtesy Rudy Espinoza)

The women’s marches held in the Bay Area on Jan. 21 drew a combined 200,000 demonstrators in San Francisco and Oakland. Yet there were no arrests at either of these events, or at any of the women’s marches nationwide.

The lack of arrests has drawn praise from some, but it has also been criticized by activists and commentators who note that the predominantly White marches were policed differently than other demonstrations typically are.

There has been no shortage of think pieces addressing the issue: In “The Myth of the Well-Behaved Women’s March,” a Jan. 24 piece published in The New Republic, author Jess Zimmerman points out that protests primarily consisting of people of color have been harassed by police for generations, such as when civil rights icon John Lewis — now a Georgia member of the House of Representatives — marched in Selma, Alabama, with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In “Why I’m Skipping the Women’s March on Washington,” a Jan. 17 Colorlines piece, the writer Jamilah Lemieux observes that the original name of the Women’s March on Washington (“The Million Women March”) was an obvious appropriation of the Million Man March, organized by the Nation of Islam in 1995, and the Million Woman March, planned by Phile Chionesu in 1997.

On Jan. 23, Teen Vogue even published a poem by civil rights activist Johnetta Elzie, about White women’s apathy longtime toward the suffering of Black people, from slavery to modern-day police shootings.

“We’ve been marching for years — where the hell have all of you been?” Elzie writes.

Women’s March San Francisco leaders tell SF Weekly that things may have been different here because they have an existing relationship with the San Francisco Police Department, formed over years of organizing the Dyke March, which is attended by roughly 50,000 people annually.

“This relationship was very helpful in navigating the involvement of the police for Women’s March,” the organizers said in a statement. “Women’s March worked closely with the SFPD and communicated regularly as plans evolved. In addition, all volunteers were trained in de-escalation techniques as a way to diffuse any situations that may have arisen, and organizers hosted several trainings on peaceful peacekeeping tactics.”

For its part, the SFPD argues that Women’s March San Francisco was simply an exceptionally peaceful protest.

“All participants demonstrated in a peaceful manner,” SFPD Public Information Officer Giselle Talkoff tells SF Weekly. “There was no difference in our role or standard protocols taken.”

Yet a photo posted on Twitter on Jan. 21 may offer some insight into the disparity between the recent women’s marches and other recent large-scale demonstrations for civil rights and social justice causes.

As of this writing, the image has been retweeted more than 22,000 times and has become one of the most enduring images from the women’s protests. It features the Los Angeles comedian Amir Talai holding a sign that reads: “I’ll see you nice White ladies at the next #BlackLivesMatter march, right?”

Joe Kukura is an SF Weekly news writer.

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