Were there really #sfriots?

The night of the Giants’ World Series win, you either thought San Francisco “erupted into riots” (if you were watching the sometimes hysterical reactions streaming on Twitter with hashtags like #sfriots and #sfscanner), or you had no idea there was anything happening at all (if you were watching any of the traditional TV news stations or happened to be checking websites like CNN.com or SFGate.com, which took many, many hours to actually deliver any news at all of violence in The City).

Chances are most people didn’t hear anything about it until the next day, and even then they probably didn’t get a very accurate picture of what happened via a traditional media that arguably has an interest in down-playing bad news on such a day of regional pride.

Fortunately, today more than ever before, the well-rounded news junkie can collect and synthesize and make their own judgment calls much more quickly and easily. On the night in question, local-interest citizen journalism outlets like MissionMission and MissionLocal were crowd-source reporting on-the-spot news, pictures, and videos and uploading them minute-by-minute. More agnostic services like Twitter and FourSquare were being used to update people and disseminate alerts second-by-second, and people began quickly uploading their mobile videos and pictures to YFrog, YouTube, Flickr, UStream, and the like.

I happened to be posting something to Twitter at the time in question, completely unaware of any problems in SF, when I noticed #sfscanner was trending up in the tags. Curious, I checked it out and eventually realized people were talking about a livestream of the SFPD channel on a police scanner. Some people were joining #sfscanner with #sfriots and that led me to posts which were jokingly referring to trouble at Happy Donuts (only they weren’t joking entirely!) and wondering who would make people’s coffee in the morning if the hipsters in the Mission were rioting. Eventually it became evident that there really was something happening, as more accurate and less sarcastic tweets continued to stream in. All the while, many declared the death of old media, accurately or not.

So what happened? It wasn’t full-scale rioting like some of the hysterical reactions made it seem. There were several hotspots of drunken post-game celebrating/rowdiness that turned violent. Near the ballpark, Civic Center, and in the Haight, it was mostly fans getting out of hand. There were some crowd issues and perhaps one street bonfire. But more of the real damage seemed to have happened in the Mission.

I should note that this is not atypical in this part of the city. This has happened before, for example when you might have a large mass of people — revelers or protesters — (e.g. halloween in the Castro or the many anti-Bush protests surrounding the 2004 and 2006 elections) in which a small percentage will use the cover of large numbers to do things they ordinarily can’t when they’re outnumbered by police. These are the same sort of people who would tag a wall, break a window of someone they hate, throw a bottle into a crowd, get excessively drunk in public, or generally do anything that only requires a marginal IQ, a six-pack, or a raging personality disorder. While the Twitter posts may have led some people to think rioting was happening all over San Francisco and the city was burning, the violence perpetrated in small pockets like that which centered around 22nd Street and Mission occurs because of a small but stupid contingent of anarchistic idiots who are more interested in acting out their psychopathic tendencies than being good citizens, and San Francisco’s Mission probably houses more than its fair share of these sorts of individuals. Having lived there for five years, and having witnessed similar violence erupt after anti-war protests (yes, the irony can be as thick as the fog in SF), I can attest to this.

This time around, there ere a couple bonfires set in intersections. The Sketchers store on Mission got the shit kicked out of it, as usual. Bank windows got smashed. Lots of stuff got tagged, torn down, knocked over, and otherwise vandalized. A few dumpsters and trash cans were set on fire, and at least one mattress. People stood on top of fire engines, paramedics, and Muni busses, and a bus got heavily vandalized, including arson. A cab got stomped. There was a report of a stabbing (not sure if true). A brawl erupted in a McDonalds. A car plowed through a crowd of people gathered around one of the street fires and the driver nearly got the shit beat out of him, or worse (his car was trashed, needless to say). This video says a great deal.

And that’s just the stuff I saw getting posted as it happened.

I listened to the SF police scanner on UStream and watched the running commentary on Twitter until about 1:30am and kept checking SFGate.com and the websites of the local TV stations, hoping traditional media would get their shit together and actually post something, anything at all, on their website about what was happening. Nary a word for hours and hours. Most bizarre was refreshing SFGate’s homepage to only see the entire thing splattered with joyful reports of the Giants win, joyful fan reactions, etc., while I was watching violence unfold in my old neighborhood and wondering how far it was going to go. Watching tweets saying things like “old media is dead,” I reacted with resentment on behalf of my beloved journalism and yet had to both mourn and agree at the same time.

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