Ah, San Francisco! William Howard Taft’s “city that knows how,” George Sterling’s “cool gray city of love,” the late columnist Herb Caen’s “Baghdad by the Bay.” If the first two references seem inappropriate in light of recent events, doesn’t the latter seem uncomfortably accurate?

Caen wrote a “three dot” column about the city, with items separated by ellipses. I did something like it for several years in Sacramento, and the following will show that the idea lives on.

Yours truly walked in a few peace marches back in 1966, leaving the Cal campus in comfortable anonymity with thousands of like-minded peaceniks. At the risk of sounding like an old fogy, I have to say those pre-1968 demonstrations had a lot more class than the current editions.

For one thing, Martin Luther King Jr. was alive, and the non-violence he embodied was practiced by marchers as an article of faith. Non-violence, alas, died with the good reverend.

Now, we have anti-war marchers constantly apologizing that the violence accompanying their demonstrations has been due to “a few” renegades. “A few” apparently means several thousand.

I can recall just one marcher getting out of line in ’66. As we trudged off campus to protest the Vietnam war, a skinny punk began to chant, “Kill cops! Kill cops!”

“Hey!” said a demonstrator. “This is a peaceful march.” But the punk responded, “I’m an anarchist! I think people should be able to say anything they want.”

To this the other man – a rather burly chap – replied, “Then how about this: Shut up!” And the anarchist did.


Anti-war demonstrators have said taking a stand against the government requires courage. Maybe so. But how much courage does it take to carry a toddler into a street melee, then use the kid as shield against arrest? This is not a hypothetical question. Just such behavior was among the outrages caught on tape by San Francisco Bay Area TV news crews, who showed once again that coverage of this kind of breaking news is the one area in which the video journalists outperform the best of print.

Poor San Francisco! Not only must it endure repeated disruptions, it also must endure the whining of the arrestees. Dr. King taught his followers to accept arrest as a price to be paid. And let it be noted, the freedom riders and lunch-counter demonstrators were seeking their rights as Americans, not to inconvenience others.

In San Francisco, many of those detained for refusing to disperse, damaging property or assaulting police, wept and moaned. They were cuffed too tightly, didn’t like jailhouse food or – we’re not making this up – found officers’ behavior rude.

I’m reminded of the passage in the “Autobiography of Lincoln Steffens” in which the great journalist – and great “liberal” – recalls a visit to a garment workers’ strike in New York City. There he found one demonstrator’s behavior so provoking, he wished a cop “would crack him one.”

Insta-poll No. 2:

How many believe demonstrators who intentionally block a business or government-office doorway, linking arms and refusing to let employees pass, can reasonably be called “non-violent”? How many think you would be justified in smacking a “non-violent” demonstrator in order to gain entry to your place of business and earn a day’s pay?

Our candidate for “Best Whine in the Category of Unconscious Irony” came from a demonstrator who couldn’t get past police lines to a rally in the city’s financial district.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, she said: “I feel really angry. This is illegal for the police to keep us from being able to get to the assembly.” This from a woman who likely would have spent the day delaying or preventing people from getting to the jobs where they earned their daily bread, or frightening patrons away from the many small downtown shops and restaurants that employ sales clerks and waiters.

Wouldn’t-You-Know-It department: The source of the prize-winning whine was identified as a resident of Marin County, home of John Walker Lindh, the “American Taliban.”

Among the weapons police collected at or after the San Francisco demonstrations was a backpack containing a dozen Molotov cocktails. Conjures images of Hungarians battling Russian tanks in the streets of Budapest, doesn’t it?

Other confiscated items included cans of spray paint – useful for drawing attention to a righteous cause by defacing public or private property; cloth slings loaded with stones – useful for drawing attention to a righteous cause by bombarding police lines; heavy pipe wrenches – useful for drawing attention to a righteous cause by smashing windows or bopping cops.

Another use of spray paint was demonstrated by a woman who spritzed a TV camera lens.

Final insta-poll:

Is a gasoline bomb appropriate peacenik equipment?

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