Scenes From Saturday's Protest Marking the Debut of Super Bowl City

The Justice For Mario Woods coalition welcomed the NFL to San Francisco in the most quintessentially San Francisco way possible on Saturday: with marching, chanting, and a cadre of police officers in dogged, if sluggish, pursuit.

In theory, the protest, which began with a rally of about 100 people at Union Square at 11 a.m., was about police reform rather than the Super Bowl itself. But the NFL took a little heat, too.

“A billion dollar industry has come here to San Francisco, and it’s all about pay to play,” coalition leader and SEIU union rep Phelicia Jones told the morning crowd.

But the demonstrators soon returned to their central themes: Police Chief Greg Suhr’s resignation, indictments for the officers who fatally shot 26-year-old Bayview resident Mario Woods on Dec. 2, and a federal investigation of the police department (which, coincidentally, will be announced later today).

[jump] “Sign Guy” Frank Chu was among the crowd, wielding a placard emblazoned with the name of late San Francisco clothier Wilkes Bashford (among other things, of course). Asked whether he was there for the cause or just on his normal route, Chu said, “I am here because I believe the police are guilty. I read about this in the Chronicle and decided I had to come out.”

The plan was to march right up to Super Bowl City, which had just opened to the public minutes earlier. The crowd spilled down Powell Street (cable car traffic was briefly halted, but the morning tourists got a photo-op of a different flavor for their trouble) and into the middle of Market, making it as far as Fremont Street, just a few blocks from the main Super Bowl City entrance, before the police — about 50 of whom had plodded along behind the march calling for the crowd to disperse the entire way — made their move, forming a solid blue line with batons at the ready.

Nonplussed, the protest dispersed into smaller groups to prod for a weak point in Super Bowl City security where they might slip in. A group led by Nation of Islam minister Christopher Muhammad found themselves stymied at a Mission Street blockade that briefly stalled three Muni lines and sent tourists away complaining that they couldn’t get into the festivities with the cops in the way.

Presumably realizing they couldn’t halt traffic on Mission Street all day, and that arresting 30 people for misdemeanor charges just to loose them all a few hours later was a pain in the ass, police eventually agreed to let the marchers through, provided they go around Super Bowl City rather than into it.

And so, those brunching at waterfront eateries were treated to the oddball sight of a small number of slightly weary activists (it was now several hours since everyone left Union Square) making a circuit around the festivities while flanked by roughly 50 helmeted cops comprising what was sarcastically dubbed their “police escort.”

Since the police were effectively a captive audience, Muhammad took the opportunity to preach to them a bit.

“We want the good officers to speak up,“ Muhammad said. “How dare you be silent if you’re Asian, Latino, black, or a woman in the police department. Because guess what? They’ll treat you the same as us next.”

“We want you to snitch,” added Daniel Landry, spokesman for Justice For Mario Woods. “We need some good snitches in this police department.”

There were no immediate takers.

That crowd only got within eyeball distance of Super Bowl City before dispersing around 2 p.m, but the evidence on Twitter showed that another group walked right in, even managing to foil the event’s prohibition on signs by smuggling in handbills emblazoned with Woods’ image.

It was a long, hard slog, but in the end they took Mario Woods to the Super Bowl after all.

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