cop-out in san francisco

Posted on April 10, 2008

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It was the biggest cop-out ever.

The city of San Francisco, the sole US stop for the global Olympic torch relay, decided to chicken out rather than face the protesters.

Reuters photo

The city claimed that in the interest of public safety, it had to pull a bait and switch on both pro- and anti-China protesters who had lined the Embarcadero route that the torch relay was expected to go through. After delaying the start of the event, the route was changed at the last minute. The closing ceremony was also canceled, with the torch hurriedly leaving the city through the airport like a thief.

“We assessed the situation and felt that we could not secure the torch and protect the protesters and supporters to the degree that we wished,” San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom told the media. “As a consequence we engaged in subsequent contingency planning that we felt would keep people safe.”

Some people might argue that Newsom faced a damned if you do, damned if you don’t dilemma. But the option he took was the least satisfying.

If it was seriously that much of a problem, why not just scrap the whole thing and save public funds instead of taking the easy way out and playing hide-and-seek?

Since they decided to let the show go on, Newsom and the city’s police should have been brave enough and prepared to allow the dissent and protest that would have greeted the torch relay as it passed through the original route. Don’t they have confidence in their police forces’ ability to keep the peace?

This is San Francisco we are talking about here, not downtown Beijing. Free speech and dissent are part of the constitutional rights of this country, and San Francisco has always been known as a bastion of democracy in speech and action, so why the need for trickery and secrecy? If France and Britain could allow it, why not San Francisco?

Moreover, there were people and tourists who genuinely wanted to see the torch run. They were waiting all day and left disappointed. The torch relay was meant as a public event. What good is it if hardly anybody saw it?

What Newsom did was lame. It was the worst compromise and provided the Chinese government with the public relations, faux protest-free torch relay photo-op they would gladly use to show its poor folks back home who don’t know better. Newsom should not have dragged San Francisco into being an accomplice for propaganda.

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