by Lars Svalbard

I was out of town for a long weekend when America's 2003 war with Iraq began, so I missed the massive demonstrations in San Francisco March 20-22. But I was back in town March 24, so I headed for the city with a camera to witness the action.

Now, I don't want to understate the importance of ANY political protest. But let me put it this way: Unlike several other days over the last six months, March 24 will not be remembered as a day of massive anti-war protests in San Francisco.

At the Transamerica Pyramid, a couple hundred demonstrators protested the Carlyle Group, a defense contractor that employs (surprise!) George Bush Sr. as a consultant. Down at the Federal Building, another couple of hundred people were protesting against the war.

The people who showed up were great. A group of yoga practitioners provided New Age gravitas. One woman improvised hip-hop lyrics over a loudspeaker: "Let's talk about Bush ba-by, let's talk about Dick Che-ney. Let's talk about all the evil things that they do for mon-ey..." One man came decked out in red, white and blue carrying an eight-foot oil rig with a sign on it reading "Save Me." But to be honest, there weren't a lot of us there.

Except for the police, that is. There were LOTS of cops. Cops on foot; cops on motorcycles; cops in cars, vans, and big white paddy wagons. By 9:00 am it was clear that the demonstrations weren't going to be too big or get out of hand. And we were all very well behaved. Just over a hundred people quietly presented themselves for arrest--none of them resisted. Nobody pushed. Nobody shoved. I didn't even hear anyone shout an obscenity or flip off a cop. (Actually, one petty bureaucrat flipped off the demonstrators from a window of the Federal Building, but that's another story.)

So once it sunk in that not so many cops were needed, did they send them home for the day? Naw! Not as far as I could see. They stood around, sat around, or got something to eat. Cops have to eat too, you know. Sometimes they'd put on their helmets and walk purposefully-looking in a long line, or a bunch of them would get on their motorcycles and ride around.

Now don't get me wrong. We need police, and as numbers go it's better to be safe than sorry. But on March 24, there were WAY more cops than the situation called for, slacking off on the taxpayers' dime. And I think something needed to be said, so a made up a little joke:

Question: How many policemen does it take to arrest a peaceful protester?
Answer: Do we get overtime?

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