OccupySF: Riot cops don’t like hugs

November 17th, 2011

I don’t know what it is. When Twitter explodes with crisis at OccupySF I just have to head down there. Today around a hundred Occupants deviated from their regularly scheduled march and took over a Bank of American branch in the Financial District. Bank employees asked them to leave, but instead they pitched a tent in the lobby. That was at 1pm. 

Riot police blocked off the street and filled the bank, while Occupants held a sit in. There were 10 in the tent, while the rest sat on the floor, or on desks in meditative positions. The whole scene was visible through the large bank windows, where other Occupants from the march gathered.

One by one the police removed the Occupants to wild cheers as they walked them out. Around 6:30pm it was time to bust up the tent, but before they did that they pushed all the Occupants outside away from the windows. At the time I was pressed right up against the glass, when an officer came and said, “I’m going to have to ask you to back up.” Now, thanks to Barry Cooper I know that, “I’m going to have to ask you” is a phrase cops are trained to use when they want something to sound like an order when it’s not. So I asked him, “Is that a request or an order?” His eyes got wide. He wasn’t angry, more like bewildered. You’d think no one had ever questioned his authority before. It confused him, but he came around. “Back up sir. That’s an order!” Ok, small victory. At least he called me, “sir.”

I took one step back and allowed him to position himself between me and the window. He kept ordering me to back up, but I only moved as far back as he pushed me with his baton. About 10 feet. Once they’d successfully set up their perimeter and the crowd was all away from the window I tried to strike up a conversation. I asked him how many of the Occupy protests he’d been to. I’d been to a few, but this was my first bank Occupation, unless you count the Federal Reserve. Dead silence. You’d think he didn’t even know I was talking to him, but he was staring straight at me. So I asked if he enjoyed making the over time, what he thought of the occupation, if he liked his job. Stone face.

I asked him if he’d seen the photo of the Wall Street Occupant hugging the riot cop. It turns out I was wrong, the photo was actually from Bogota, Columbia. But it didn’t matter. I had broken through. He didn’t say anything. And his facial expression didn’t change. But he shook his head “no” ever so slightly. So I pushed. “What would you do if I hugged you?” and he spoke! 

“You don’t want to do that.”

“Yes I do,” I replied. “But what would the consequences be?”

He said, “I would arrest you.”

“For what?” I persisted.


That’s right. Hugging a cop could get you charged with assault in San Francisco. At that point the woman next to me chimed in, “Would that be sexual assault or would he have to grab your ass for that?” A look crossed his face that told me instantly he was the type of guy who got uncomfortable whenever anything even vaguely homosexual was mentioned. So I added, “Don’t worry. I’d never do anything the TSA wouldn’t do.”

And then the strangest thing happened. The cop almost but not quite half smiled. VICTORY!

It kind of makes sense if you think about it. If you went around hugging people after they asked you not to it could easily be construed as some kind of sexual assault or sexual harassment. But that’s not the point. The point is I broke through the greyface and got him to give up the silent treatment.

If you ever want to hug a cop… it’s a good idea to ask first. But even if you don’t, it’s still a good idea to know your rights when interacting with them. Check out this pocket guide from Berkeley Cop Watch.
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