Violence breaks out at Occupy's second attempt on SF Church building

San Francisco Police with riot helmets walk along as protestors heckle them during the May Day protests May 1 2012 Credit Lily Rothrock CC BY 20 CNA US Catholic News 5 3 12 San Francisco Police are heckled by protestors during the May 1, 2012 protests. | Lily Rothrock (CC BY 2.0)

Bricks and other projectiles were thrown at police and bystanders during the Occupy San Francisco movement's second attempt to take over property owned by the Catholic Church on May 1.

“One of the protesters threw bricks, and some metal objects – like metal bars – down on the crowd gathered there, at the police and others. I think he was aiming at the police,” said George Wesolek, director of communications for the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

“He missed a policeman, who ducked, and it hit one of the Occupy protesters who fell to the ground, was injured, and was bleeding,” Wesolek told CNA on May 3.

Police arrested the suspect, who is expected to be charged with felony aggravated assault. Another man, who threw pipes from a rooftop adjacent to the Church property, remains at large according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Tuesday's violence took place during the celebration of International Workers' Day, or “May Day.” As Wesolek explained, a group of agitators associated with the “Occupy SF” movement spent the labor holiday breaking into a Church-owned building they had previously attempted to seize on April 1.

During the previous incident, Occupy SF participants caused extensive damage to a building that the Church had set aside for charitable purposes. Formerly used for high school classes, the property was intended to be leased to tenants as a revenue source to provide low-income children with scholarships.

The April and May incidents were both defended by activists who said the property should be turned into an impromptu homeless shelter. In both cases, police cleared the property and arrested the intruders on the following day.

Wesolek said Tuesday's attempt to seize the property was “very similar” to the April occupation, “except I think this was more of a spontaneous kind of thing.”

“They were roaming the streets, and according to some of the protesters, just decided spontaneously to break in. They cut the fence that we had put up around the property, and jimmied some of the doors, broke some of the windows, and got into the building.”

“Last time it seemed very planned. This time it did not seem that way, (but) more a part of the general mayhem of the May 1 event.”

Wesolek said incidents like the initial break-in, as well as Tuesday's attempted re-occupation and the resulting violence, were exposing serious problems within the loose international movement that began with the 2011 “Occupy Wall Street” protests.

“I'm presuming that there are some people within the movement who are not anarchists, who are not prone to violence, but who want some kind of social change,” the archdiocesan spokesman said.

But in San Francisco, he said, “they are not the dominant ones at all, and they certainly didn't show themselves at all during these last couple of days.”

He said the movement appeared to lack focus, and seemed to be “controlled by a violent anarchist element. I think people are aware of that now, and they're quickly losing credibility.”

On the evening before the May Day celebrations, Wesolek said Occupiers marched through the Mission district, “where they attacked the Mission police station, rampaged on the streets, and (were) vandalizing cars. “

“Both of these incidents are against people who are definitely not in the 'One Percent,'” Wesolek said, referring to Occupy's claim that it represents 99 percent of the population. “The Mission district is very poor. Those are small businesspeople whose businesses are being attacked and destroyed.”

He also noted that the Church in San Francisco “provides about one third of all the social services to the poor,” both through direct assistance and projects like the scholarships that would have been provided by means of the now-vandalized property.

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Leasing the building now, Wesolek said, would be “very difficult.”

“There probably is about $25,000 to $30,000 worth of damage in there,” he said, estimating the damage from Occupy's two break-ins. “To bring it up to the level it would need to be to lease out to some group, would take even more than that.”

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