May 31, 2020

In 1992 when the LA cops who beat Rodney King were acquitted, all hell broke out on the West Coast. That weekend a protest turned into riots in downtown San Francisco where I lived in the Castro with my friend Shane Kelly.

We lived across from the 7–11 on 18th at Sanchez in Armando’s Victorian and were watching the news that was telling us a protest downtown was turning violent and there had been some looting so we turned to each other and said, “Let’s go!”

We grabbed our bikes and pedaled down Market in record time to people chanting “No justice No peace” but it had moved beyond that. They we’re in mob mode at that point.

We’d fly down a street where those old school metal newspaper machines you’d drop your quarters in and pull just right to get the SF Examiner or the Chron or the free Guardian were strewn across the road, busted and on fire, avoiding colliding with a protestor in the road, then climbing up the next block where windows were shattered and stores were emptied with the smell of tear gas wafting all around.

We’d cut across Montgomery then down towards Market where walls were tagged and people ran back and forth, no longer a protest but an opportunity to destroy shit. We’d find ourselves taking a corner and seeing an empty street, slowing down then stopping, standing straddling our bikes as we realized a phalanx of SFPD with riot shields and helmets and all that gear were moving sinister down towards us so we’d bounce back on our bikes and turn around to cruise back towards Market Street.

This little cat and mouse thing happened a few times. The burning detached detritus in the road, the looters smashing, the cops in lines in front moving along streets where people would just find another street to rage upon.

Shane and I were back at Market and we stopped as a huge window, at least feet ten feet tall was destroyed with a massive crash cascading down to the sidewalk by some guy who’d been working on it for a while. We were there when the last smash took it down and sent crystals tumbling and shards shattering on the sidewalk and looters flooded into the building.

Shane and I just stared at each other standing over our bikes, amazed at being saturated in the steep of mob mentality as person after person ran into the space where that huge window once stood then ran out, arms full of merchandise. This must have been a jewelry store or something.

Then we saw the cops once again, moving around the corner and we stood back up on our bikes ready to flee. I started step pedal slow to get going, up high off the seat, we began to move, just as a guy ran out of the store right in front of me, close enough to barely hit my front tire with his leg, turn it and make me step back down and take footing on the street again. The guy’s arms were holding a baby sized bundle of watches and one of them fell to the street as he ran past me.

The watch was a Timex, not expensive, but black band and functional looking and it would have been ruined just laying there in the middle of the street so i picked it up. Shane was looking at me as I put it on my wrist. He smiled and I said, “Hey, I just looted”, and we rode our bikes up Market back to the Castro.

Tom Van de Sande
I suppose the liquor store was already empty 🙂

Sande Kelley
I heard from an anonymous source (with a chuckle) there’s more to this story when years later said watch was then stolen from you!

John Mosbaugh
Ohh right! I forgot about that. Bookend to the story.

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