In the shadow of the Embarcadero Center towers, a crowd of protesters gathered on the evening of Feb. 3, to condemn San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and other city officials for their treatment of the city’s homeless in the weeks leading up to Super Bowl 50.
The protest, organized by Broke-Ass Stuart and the Coalition on Homelessness, started as a rally outside Pier 2, and after speeches by community leaders and members, turned into a march down the Embarcadero and around the blocked-off area at Justin Herman Plaza, called Super Bowl City.
“The city is in pain and it has gotten worse in the past three years,” said Kristen Korkos, who moved to San Francisco at age 18. “If we aren’t careful we’ll end up homeless ourselves. This city is about greed.”
Ron Johnson, 67, a homeless Vietnam veteran, came to the protest to support his homeless friends.
“My friends have constantly been harassed in the Haight for the last two months,” he said. “Give them a place to camp, then they can make progress.”
The protest highlights other related issues as well, including soaring rent prices, the city’s housing crisis, gentrification and police brutality.
Barry Eisenberg attended the protest, calling for justice for Mario Woods. Eisenberg said he is worried about the police—or at least what he called the “bad apples” of the SFPD.
“I was once homeless back in the ‘70s,” Eisenberg said. “I lived on Ocean Beach. The homeless shouldn’t be pushed around and criminalized like they are now.”
Irene Andrada, 23, who heard about the protest from a friend, feels the same way.
“It is unnecessary to treat humans this way,” said Andrada.
A number of the speakers also noted the heavy police presence, which grew as the protest did, spreading out in lines in the street. Behind the ranks, their commanding officers leaned over to speak quietly to each other, their eyes hidden behind sunglasses despite the increasing twilight. At their belts were zip ties and batons, some nearly three feet long and two inches in diameter.
One of the protest’s goals was to draw more scrutiny to the actions of elected city officials, such as Mayor Lee. Their decisions to “clean up” the city for the benefit of tourists, especially Super Bowl attendees, attracted widespread criticism.
“‘Cleaning up’ for tourists is just wrong,” said Ocean Capewell, 33, who has been a guidance counselor for the homeless for three years, and has many friends who are homeless.
“Homelessness has always been an issue here,” said Yakira Teitel, 34. “We have so much money, we should have a solution.”
David Gemigniani, 73, is angry that the homeless were removed to benefit the National Football League (NFL), which up until 2015 operated as a nonprofit.
“For Ed Lee to chase the homeless out, he must be making a lot of money,” said Gemigniani. “The police are making overtime here and the money that is spent on their overtime could have gone elsewhere.”
As the crowd grew, passersby became impatient. Bikes, backpacks, pedicabs and tourists made their way past the protesters.
“I don’t have time for this,” one woman yelled. Another man muttered under his breath, “Come on, seriously?”
Capewell had words for them:
“I don’t know why the commuters are being such a**holes. They’re trying to get home while we’re fighting for people who have no homes.”
After speeches, chants, and rallying cries, the protest went on the move, accompanied by the familiar flicker of red and blue police lights from a small fleet of vans. Their signs, aloft against the lights of the Super Bowl City stage, drew the eyes of sightseers and bystanders, who watched the long column of marchers pass. Their shouts echoed off the tall buildings around them and rang through the darkness.
Story by: Emily Wilburn