This year’s annual Dolores Park ‘Hill Bomb’ skateboard event on July 8 resulted in the unprecedented mass arrest of 117 people by SFPD, and the legal pressure and question surrounding SFPD’s actions continue to mount.
For the last two years, SFPD has attempted to stop the ‘Hill Bomb’ — a yearly unsanctioned event attended by the skateboarding community and spectators alike — by installing speed bumps at the bottom of each hill, without much success.
This year, SFPD arrested 34 adults and 83 minors, leaving some elected officials and local leaders to condemn SFPD’s excessive police tactics. Parents of some of the youth who were present that day are also threatening legal action against the police.
Community members angry with SFPD showed up in force to Police Commission meetings on July 12 and 19 to voice their outrage and demand accountability from SFPD.
Ryen Motzek, a lifelong skateboarder and President of the Mission Merchants Association, spoke during public comment on July 12.
“What I don’t understand is why there was no outreach. We knew this fire was going to happen, why let the fire happen, just so you can put it out? Why not avoid the fire from happening?” Motzek asked SFPD. “Heavy response is not the only way to deal with problems. As a community, as a city of San Francisco, it’s important that we come to peaceful solutions rather than aggression.”
At the July 19 Police Commission meeting, SFPD Chief Bill Scott not only defended his department’s response — citing vandalism and an alleged cut that an officer received after being struck by a minor — but confirmed that 81 police officers were deployed, 30 of which were deployed overtime.
One skateboarder, 13-year-old Ethan Leya, was present at the hill bomb. Leya and other spectators walking from the event were cornered on 17th street between Dolores and Guerrero streets by SFPD.
“All the cops were in riot gear. They were screaming and they had batons and their guns out. And then like, all the younger kids were kind of scared, I think the ages were like 12 to 18, were like what’s happening? So they just threw their boards on the floor and just went to the street with their hands up,” Leya said.
The cornered spectators were loaded onto muni buses and taken to the Mission police station. At the station, minors were separated from the adults. These details were confirmed by Chief Scott on July 19.
“I was put in a holding cell, it was like 20 feet tall. There was no roof, you could see the sky, and all 40 kids were in there. My body was aching because they didn’t give us food, they didn’t give us water, they didn’t want us to use the bathroom or nothing,” Leya said.
There were also reports of minors urinating themselves because police refused to let them use the bathroom. Scott on July 19 said the Department of Police Accountability is investigating these complaints, but also said that he hasn’t seen evidence to corroborate those claims.
Alessandra ‘Ale’ Nieto has spent four years documenting the ‘Hill Bomb’. The CCSF photography student was the first adult to be arrested at this year’s ‘Hill Bomb.’
Nieto said that when the officers returned to Dolores Park, they showed up in riot gear with guns drawn, telling the crowd to disperse. “They came around the blockade and started marching towards us, pretty immediately actually, not really giving anyone a chance to disperse. So with their guns pointed, ready to aim and fire, they were marching in a full line on both sides of the streets. So there was really no way for anyone to be able to go around them or leave.”
Nieto said that a teenager attempted to retrieve his bike on the other side of the police blockade, and officers aggressively moved toward him, “because I had fear for his safety with his back turned, I interjected between the kid and the police officers, and put my arm up. And that’s when I was detained.”
Nieto was detained and taken to a holding cell for six hours and is being charged with failure to disperse, inciting a riot, and resisting arrest.
It is likely for charges to be dropped in instances like these: “I would say that the dismissal is pretty standard for these types of events/show of force by SFPD. In the past I do know that after an order to disperse was issued, and the cops charged, they chased people down and arrested them for unlawful assembly, but ultimately dropped the charges or did not file with the DA,” said District 9 Legislative Aide Santiago Lerma.
According to the San Francisco Latinx Democratic Club, charges against 79 of the minors arrested that day have been dropped. But some parents have said otherwise.
A parent, who identified herself as Lisa, said her son was one of the youths who was swept up and arrested at 8:45 p.m., and was detained until 3:30 a.m. Lisa was notified by the Juvenile Probation Department on July 16 that her son’s case has not been dismissed and that it is still under full investigation, and that that’s the case for “pretty much everybody.”
Rachel Lederman is a people’s lawyer who spoke on the steps of City Hall before the Police Commission Meeting on July 19. “We’re looking for Brooke Jenkins to make a definitive decision that all of these cases are actually dropped, that they’re not going to continue to investigate and bring charges up later, for either the kids and young adults, who were subjected to this unlawful arrest,” Lederman said.
This is not SFPD’s first controversy at the annual ‘Hill Bomb.’ At 2017’s event, an officer collided with a skateboarder causing them to fall at high speed into a squad car.
“They chose to keep the holding cell door open and I did see and hear many officers coming in and out, flaunting their riot gear, bragging about how many people they had shot. I want to add, you know, obviously, the majority of these people were teenagers, minors,” Nieto said.
Nieto followed by saying, “To be fair, I can say that I have witnessed destruction of city property, or houses you know, being tagged and stuff in the past year after a certain point in the night, but I don’t think that that necessarily prompted or made what they did this year acceptable. I understand that kids were tagging on Muni trains, blockading buses, things like that. But again, that was a clear and direct response to the police coming and threatening us.”
As to how the SFPD plans to stop the ‘Hill Bomb’ in the future, Lerma responded: “Don’t know that the cops will plan for next year. Seems like with a little careful planning by them this could have all been prevented though.”
Nieto echoed the sentiment of locals in The Mission. “There’s just been a lot more police presence like I go to many cruises and shoot. I’m Hispanic myself. So like, this is just part of — the Bay Area and the culture that I’m used to.”
Nieto continued: “They treat us like they’re there for safety, but it feels as though they’re looking at us like criminals for doing nothing but peacefully just riding cars up and down the streets and enjoying community.”