Chess Players Relocated but War Rages On

Flickr/Walter Kalata
We just received word over the transom -- via a blog post in SFist, and an ebullient tweet from Supervisor Jane Kim -- that the recently displaced chess players have been moved from their post on Market Street to an area in Yerba Buena Gardens.

That said, this weekend's Occupy Chess protest will continue as planned. According to activist Mesha Irizarry, who helped organize Occupy Chess with members of the Coalition on Homelessness, the new refuge is rather inauspicious because it's not a public commons. "Supposedly that's the area allocated to them, but they're not going," she argues, despite assurances from Kim's office that the chess players are not only happier, but better protected from loiterers and drug peddlers who caused the crackdown in the first place.

"It's the officials making decisions for them," Irizarry says. "It doesn't account for what the chess players want to do."

Southern Police Station Captain Michael Redmond banned chess on the block of Market between 5th and 6th Streets after receiving more than a hundred calls for service from local businesses during the month of August. He told SF Weekly that some chess players were actually a front for drug dealing and hustling, and that such elements weren't just a public irritant, but also a danger to the chess players themselves.

At present, city beautifiers are soliciting donations to give the chess players a permanent home at UN Plaza, another area that Redmond cited for "quality of life issues" -- most of them more innocuous than drug-dealing. Organizers of the SF Plays Chess campaign estimate it will cost about $10,000 for everything from permits to tables and chairs.

Hopefully, that will be checkmate for what's become a snarly match.

My Voice Nation Help

Hey Rachel Swan, couldn't you have done just *slightly* more legwork and actually talked to a couple of the chess players themselves?  In any case, I have, and their opinions generally break down like this:

- players that want to play ball with the city/SFPD/SFBeautiful/etc and move somewhere else and play chess in peace

- players who want to stay on Market because "that's where the tourists are" and they want people to know that SF is a chess playing town, and even attract chess players from around the world to come play with them.  One of these guys told me that they used to play in Union Square until the cops chased them out of there too. 

And please, could some journalist start asking some questions about mid-market redevelopment,  "community betterment districts," possible policing strategies to allow the games and keep the thugs away (like, uh, active beat-walking in that area of Market), the first amendment, etc, etc.    

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