Hearing on event security as SFPD pushes police state

If we outlaw backpacks, only criminals will have backpacks.

Just a few weeks ago, Sup. Scott Wiener, civil libertarians, and I were raising concerns here about the SFPD unilaterally expanding its video surveillance reach. Then came the bombings at the Boston Marathon, which the SFPD used to seriously up the ante in the police state pot, asking for real time video surveillance up and down Market Street and banning backpacks at Bay to Breakers.

Now, I'm not one to stand in the way of reasonable security precautions. But we shouldn't just defer to the SFPD on whatever it says it wants because then we'll have cameras on every corner, spy drones overhead, stop-and-frisk, and an ever-greater portion of our tax dollars going to expand the police state. Because the cops will always want more tools to police us, tools they will always say they need to protect us – it's just in their nature. But it's up to the rest of us to strike the right balance and not lose our heads every time some whack-job resorts to violence.

That's why it's good to see that Sup. Eric Mar has called a Neighborhood Service and Safety Committee hearing for this Thursday at 2pm on security measures for large events, to which he's invited the SFPD, Planning Department, Recreation and Parks Department, and Entertainment Commission. Let's talk about this before acting too rashly.

For example, is it really reasonable to ban backpacks at Bay to Breakers just because the Tsarnaev brothers allegedly carried their homemade bombs in backpacks? Is it possible for police to ensure that nobody in or around an event that draws more than 100,000 people has a backpack? Is it even legal to prevent me from riding my bike near a race that bisects San Francisco if I happen to be wearing a backpack?

I'm always amazed at Americans' capacity for fear and overreaction. One nut decides to put a crude explosive in his shoe and suddenly we all have to remove our shoes every time we board an airplane (a silly measure most other countries don't require). Even as horrible as the 9-11 attacks were, the 2,977 people they killed that day is a small fraction of the death toll that we inflicted in response (6,693 US troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq, and at least hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghanis killed), and I don't think anyone can credibly claim that we're any safer today as a result.

Fearful people will accept anything police say will make them safer, and that's how the slide into police states throughout history always begin, pushed by tyrants of all ideological stripes. But isn't that just giving in to terrorism? After all, we're all far more likely to be killed by a distracted motorist than we are a terrorist, but I'm not hearing calls for big crackdowns on drivers, even in the face of good evidence this would keep us safer than banning backpacks.

Our country was founded by people who were more wary of soldiers and cops than they were random kooks, and I think we'd do well to remember what people like Benjamin Franklin had to say about irrational fears: “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”


On this issue - the issue of overreaction - you're right.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Apr. 30, 2013 @ 4:58 pm

While so called progressives like Steve want to jamb the government down our throats at every turn.

As citizens we should all be left alone, until Steve Jones and others like him feel otherwise.

Posted by Matlock on Apr. 30, 2013 @ 8:58 pm

Steven is pro-government when it comes to government controlled by progressives doing things he likes. But he hates government when it's doing things with which he disagrees.

There's a big mistake in his article too. He says "no one can credibly claim we're safer now than we were then." I am not a supporter of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan or in the security regimen which took root after 9/11, but there is no doubt the US IS safer then than now, which is why so many attacks have been stopped before they were operational. Part of it has been luck but a lot of it has been because of good intelligence and analysis - both of which have improved since 9/11.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Apr. 30, 2013 @ 9:40 pm

The irony is that they hate the only public sector workers whom we need.

Posted by Anon on Apr. 30, 2013 @ 9:59 pm

How do you KNOW what was stopped?

Posted by marcos on Apr. 30, 2013 @ 9:59 pm

the invasive and unneeded parking proposal.

Steve attacked people for getting involved in government around that issue, while he often spends his blog time complaining about government not being responsive to the citizens.

When the citizens get involved he attacks them, when the government does its best to ignore them the government is doing a good job.

What a obvious propagandist Steve is. Progressives like other true believers often have a very interesting streak of wanting to give and take orders. They want strong leadership to tell them what to do and think, while wanting to be the agent of those orders as well.

The city wants to harass drivers with some PC non sense, Steve sees it as his duty as a government worshiper and PC flunky to go into weird hysterics over it all, while claiming to be afraid of government run wild.

Posted by Matlock on May. 01, 2013 @ 8:30 pm

Matlock, perhaps your lack of ideological grounding leaves you confused about the values of those who do have a clear and consistent worldview, so let me explain it to you. Government's role is to do those things that we collectively need but that we can't do for ourselves. Creating and maintaining a transportation system that balances people's mobility desires with environmental and fiscal constraints is one of those necessary functions of government. So is regulating markets and some redistribution of wealth to offset the greed and exploitation that is inherent in the capitalist sytem. So is having police and a criminal justice system. Now, after meeting these basic functions, I would like government to be as limited as possible. Police can't prevent every potential threat to us and they shouldn't try. Transportation planners can't make everyone happy and they should try to strike the best balance possible, with input from the public. As much as you've repeatedly accused me supporting governmental overreach -- such as banning happy meals and smoking in public -- I don't actually support those things. Does that help?

Posted by steven on May. 02, 2013 @ 12:49 pm

The reality with the 9/11 bomber is that it made every person look like a possible airplane hijacker; the reality of the Newtown tragedy, is it made every person with a gun look like a possible psycho-shooter--in fact it made every one look like a potential psycho shooter--thanks to the NRA mentality that more guns means safer society; with the Boston Marathon bomber--it made every one look like a possible mad bomber. That's a sad reality of every one of these incidents--even though clearly that is an absurdist conclusion. So too is the SFPD engaging in absurdist response. Where are people going to put their clothing if they want to run naked, their lunches for picnics, their water bottles, etc.? Thanks to the NRA, the psycho school shooters and mad bombers--the police state becomes more and more a reality (and necessity). Police State--never in a good sense but in the sense the Nazi's perpetrated upon Germany. People spying on each other, wiretaps at the slightest provocation, electronic surveillance. George Orwell's 1984 is alive and well. Regrettably--all this surveillance doesn't prevent evil doers--it only makes it easier to find them after the dastardly deed is done.

Posted by StevenTorrey on Apr. 30, 2013 @ 5:42 pm

were stationed at the bridges, San Carlos Airport was shut down, and whole swaths of the Bay were made off-limits to pleasure boats for *no* other reason than to make people *feel* safer.

All those measures were dropped so it seems clear that they were only window dressing.

The idea of banning backpacks is absurd. What about Zo bags? What about backpack-style guitar bags? What if a backpack has one strap removed and is worn like a shoulder bag? What about shoulder bags which are thrown over one's back? What of burlap sacks? Infantile.

Posted by lillipublicans on Apr. 30, 2013 @ 6:52 pm

The pols make themselves safe from bombs and guns by expensively searching everyone who enters City Hall.

But the rest of us are not as important as politicians, clearly.

Posted by Anon on Apr. 30, 2013 @ 10:00 pm

Yes, I think they should. It's such cursory search anyway that I think it's more symbolic than real.

Posted by steven on May. 02, 2013 @ 12:37 pm

Then we'd be sure no one is carrying a bomb.

Mandatory public nudity! As a security measure, natch. If you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear.

Posted by Greg on Apr. 30, 2013 @ 10:07 pm

Lets not diminish what those 6,693 soldiers that sacrificed all, to make us safer. Fearful people have a reason to fear in the wake of some events. Without living in that fear, god forbid the sfpd is trying to prevent another such occurrence. Lets not forget you Steven, have the luxury of sitting back and criticizing, without having the responsibility of actually doing anything to prevent such attacks. Lets not forget you'd be the first to condemn, should anything happen in SF. You have no clue what it takes to protect a community against people who don't play by the rules. You have something to criticize about this....then stand a post at the next event, and see if you don't start to figure how tondo it best. Steven, for everyone on here, show them what qualifications you have to make such judgements.....

Posted by Guest normal on May. 01, 2013 @ 1:48 am

I hate to break it to you, but war doesn't cause peace, it usually just sows the seeds for more war. We've been fighting in Afghanistan for twice as long as we fought World War II, and the Taliban and other anti-American actors still control much of the country. Iraq has become a close ally of Iran and it stands of the brink of descending into civil war. So how exactly have those 6,693 deaths made us safer? Can you really say they're defending our freedom when we're steadily losing our basic civil liberties and corporations exert ever-more control over our lives? I'm sorry, because I know we all want to wrap combat deaths in noble trappings, but I just see a needless waste of human life in attitudes like yours that equate violence with security and control with freedom.

Posted by steven on May. 01, 2013 @ 1:42 pm

I am thankful that they would put themselves on the line to do what they think would make me safer. But it turns out that what they are being ordered to do makes us less safe. I would be more thankful if these folks would realize that they're being used and disengage themselves from a military machine that is clearly committing war crimes and crimes against humanity as a matter of course, crimes which only instigate more and vigorous backlash against American civilians.

The perpetual war machine keeps "us" safer if by "us" you mean those profiting off of the military operations in the first instance and the domestic security state that is a side effect of that unified foreign and military policy.

At a certain point, thankfulness that people would die to defend us has to be reconciled with the opposition to the fact that they're exposing us to greater danger.

Posted by marcos on May. 01, 2013 @ 1:54 pm

Noam Chomsky has an insightful take on this issue in today's TruthOut: http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/16138-boston-and-beyond

Posted by steven on May. 02, 2013 @ 12:35 pm

"There was no direct way to prevent the Boston murders. There are some easy ways to prevent likely future ones: by not inciting them."


Posted by Ana on May. 02, 2013 @ 2:29 pm

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