This is the official statement of what took place in the Castro in San Francisco on Friday, November 14, 2008.
November 18, 2008
Last Friday night (11.14.08) our team of thirteen people, mostly ranging from eighteen to twenty-two years old, left the house around 5:30pm to head to the Castro District as we have done for the majority of Friday nights for the past three years. Over the course of the week we had actually been out in the Castro every night, singing and worshiping in the neighborhood. This night we arrived at Castro and 18th Street, with one guitar to simply worship and bring the presence of God to the Castro District. We understood that since Proposition 8 had passed it would seem instigating to talk with people, so we decided to only play the guitar and sing rather than to engage with anyone on the streets.
Our intention was not to stir up anger, but to worship Jesus on the streets the way we had worshipped there for the past three years. As we were worshiping a man approached us and began yelling “You are haters! Get out of here!” A girl on our team simply told him “We are only here to worship God. We love you.” This man became angrier and was screaming at her using profanity and obscene language. When he noticed that we were standing in front of a memorial that had been dedicated to an AIDS/HIV activist he became even more enraged. We had stood on that particular street corner numerous times when there had been a memorial and it had never been an issue before this night. She continued to answer him “We are only here to worship God. We love you and Jesus loves you,” and eventually he left the street corner. A police officer then came and asked us how long we would be out there. We told him until nine o clock and he said “ok” and left.
Our team continued to sing as a young man approached us. He stood near by until another man joined him. He was wearing a headdress, which led us to believe that he was affiliated with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. This man in the headdress began to surround us with a cloth and shoving us to encircle us fully with the cloth. He wanted to do this so that people on the outside could not see us. While this was happening the other man instigated to people walking by that we were the “Yes on 8 people”. When in reality, we were only doing what we had always done at the Castro since before proposition 8 was even in sight. This was not a proposition 8 event.
At this point our team was standing in a circle holding hands singing “Amazing Grace.”
While they were holding the cloth around us someone from the crowd threw hot coffee over the cloth and it hit our team, including splashing two of our girls in the face and one on her head going down her back. At first the girls thought it was boiling water until they smelled that it was coffee.
During the event people lunging through the crowd to get at us hit a couple of our girls in the face.
Then a man picked up one of our Bibles and started to walk away with it. A girl from our team walked out of the circle after him and said, “Excuse me that is our Bible. Could I have that back please?” He turned to her and said “no” then hit her on the head with the Bible knocking her to the ground, then began kicking her legs. A man from the crowd pulled him off of her. A police officer then came and detained the man who hit her. One officer asked the girl on our team if she would like to press charges. She said “No. Tell him I forgive him.”
A couple of the people who were holding the cloth around our team walk up to her and said “We are sorry that happened to you.” and “He is not with us.” referring to the man that hit her. Then the man who had been responsible for making the crowd think we were there concerning Proposition 8 said to her “I’m glad to see that you’re feeling better, but let that be a lesson to you not to come here.”
At different points throughout the night one girl on our team had her camera and was able to film some of what was happening.
The crowd around began to grow as people started to scream “Shame on you! Shame on you!” over and over. They were yelling all kinds of obscenities and cursing us. That is when one of the young men who was with us called the police department to let them know what was happening. It was difficult to say how many people were surrounding us due to the chaos of the situation. We were trying to focus on worshiping rather than the masses, but we would guess anywhere from 200 to 500 people. One of the girls then stepped out to see how the girl who got hit was doing. And as she rejoined the team singing, she overheard a few men saying things like “we should grab them.” As well as “yeah we should grab their butts.” At that point we realized that it was climaxing into a really hostile situation.
Then it seemed like out of nowhere hundreds of whistles were being blown in our ears. Around that time someone removed the cloth which enabled the crowd to enclose around us turning the situation into what resembled a mob frenzy. The people in the crowd were shoving us against the wall blowing the whistles in our ears so close that we could feel the spit from the whistles hitting our faces. Around that time we began to sing “Oh the Blood of Jesus.” Things grew more intense and the crowd came in closer around us shoving and pushing us. Some men from the crowd began grabbing a few of the young men on our team inappropriately, sexually assaulting them and trying to take down the pants of one of them. When that began the young men with us quickly pulled all the girls into the middle so that no one could get to them.
The intensity of the mob around us grew until finally the police had to shove the crowd off of us and they made a wall between the crowd and our group. There was one moment when a man from the crowd around us pointed out Roger, the leader of our team, and said, “I’m going to kill you!” An officer overheard and said to him “What did you say!?” The man said “nothing.” And the officer replied, “I heard what you said.”
Then one officer said to Roger “Do you want to leave?” and he replied, “We would like to stay” because we knew we had the freedom to be there. A few minutes later as the crowd was growing quickly the officer said to Roger “I am sorry, but we need to get you out of here because we fear for your life, you no longer have a choice.” Roger turned to our team and explained that we were going to honor the police and follow them. The officer came back, asked us where we were parked and told us we would be moving out in five minutes. At that point there was somewhere between 15 and 25 police officers. They surrounded our team and escorted us to 20th and Eureka Street where our van was parked. As they were escorting us to our van the crowd followed our team and continued to scream and threaten us. They even threatened to follow us all the way home. As we were being escorted out a man with a news camera showed up and began filming us. (Later we found the footage on KTVU, a local news station in the Bay Area) They had reported that we were doing a religious march regarding Proposition 8, when in all actuality we were being escorted out of the Castro. Realizing the hostility of the people who were still following us, and their threats to “follow us all the way home” we covered our license plate with post-it notes that a guy on our team had in his wallet. We did this so that they could not identify our vehicle later. We then loaded our entire team into the van and drove home. The time when we left was 8:30.
In closing, though this event was one of the scariest moments in our individual lives, because of those who have died in America to purchase freedom, we felt in this situation we were to stand firm and not be intimidated out of our rights. Furthermore our faith in Christ calls us to be willing to die for the sake of the gospel, and we are not to sacrifice for the sake of comfort or a false peace. Though the American church has not often been tested in this, these days seem to be upon us. We love the LGBT community and we do not believe that everyone in this community is filled with hate or anger. What happened on Friday night was different than what we have ever encountered. We forgive those who assaulted us physically and sexually. We forgive the anger and threats of violence against us. Our desire has always been to be a bridge to bring the love of Jesus.