The outcome of today's Olympic torch relay in San Francisco could determine whether the torch will continue along its planned route—the longest in Olympic history—or be cut short due to the boisterous, disruptive protests that have accompanied it in Athens, London, and Paris. International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said the Committee's executive board will discuss on Friday whether to end the relay after this afternoon's event, which is shaping up to be a tense stand-off between police and protesters.
The City of San Francisco has called in extra law enforcement officers from the California Highway patrol and nearby suburbs, banned flights above the city and boats near the waterfront where the torch will pass, and sequestered the the flame in an undisclosed location. During the relay the city plans to encase the torch in a three-layer babooshka doll of police officers: cops on foot, cops on bikes, and cops on motorcycles. If protesters still manage to block the relay, the city will load the torch onto a boat and sail around them.
Only once crowds begin to line the route this afternoon will anyone be able to tell whether San Francisco is in for the same experience as Paris. An activist with Save Darfur in Paris told me roughly 15,000 protesters showed up for the torch relay there. Organizers in San Francisco predict half as many. Some American activists, particularly on the left, are reluctant to protest China's human rights record while the U.S. government continues to occupy Iraq and operate Gitmo. Moreover, many leaders of San Francisco's Chinese-American community (Asians comprise 30 percent of the city), see the protests as a pall on what they'd hoped would be Chinese-American community's moment in the sun. Near the start of the route this morning, protesters exchanged shouts with supporters of the Chinese government as police stood between the two groups. San Francisco was chosen as the torch's only stop in North America because of its sizable Chinese-American community, but the strength of feeling on both sides could prove to be a powder keg of a kind not seen across the Atlantic.