Tensions are high all over America regarding race and ethnic relations, and we know Marin is not immune. In just the past two months, I’ve written articles about the Tiburon police department being accused of racial profiling and about anti-Semitic social media posts targeting students at Redwood High School in Greenbrae. Then, on Oct. 18, dozens of people gathered on Swede’s Beach in Sausalito to protest a homeowner caught on video ordering a Black man off the beach a week earlier.
The brouhaha began on Oct. 8 when Marcus Hall, 29, sat on the beach near a retaining wall behind Mohamed Karah’s house. In a cell phone video filmed by Hall, Karah, 86, informs Hall that he is on private property. Hall maintains that the area is public and refuses to go.
“I was just sitting on the beach,” Hall told the Pacific Sun. “The man came and harassed me. I feel I was racially profiled.”
In Hall’s two-and-a-half-minute video, the interaction starts off civilly enough; however, Karah seemingly grows frustrated, yells twice and curses a couple of times. Hall keeps his cool.
“This is my property,” Karah says on the video. “People don’t like you here.”
The video also reveals Karah accusing Hall of going inside the house. Hall said he never did.
Karah said he demanded Hall leave the beach on behalf of a neighbor, a single mother with a 16-year-old daughter who phoned to say a man was invading their privacy. Karah doesn’t know the name of the woman who called, nor has he spoken with her before or since.
“I kept shouting and shouting, because I thought someone was going to come help me,” Karah told the Pacific Sun in an interview.
He claimed the confrontation started before the video began, when Hall raised his middle finger at him. Hall denied motioning in this manner.
The video, which made the rounds on Facebook, does not show either man making untoward gestures or spouting racial epithets. It ends when Karah threatens to call 911.
Karah said he didn’t initiate contact with the police that day; however, the following week, Hall did. Captain Bill Fraass of the Sausalito police department said Hall filed a police report regarding the disagreement with Karah, and the police spoke to both parties.
Karah insists he is not racist and said he’s experienced discrimination, because he is of Libyan descent and Muslim, his name is Arabic and he speaks with a strong accent.
But the clash with Karah isn’t the only unpleasantness Hall endured on Swede’s Beach. The week before Hall’s interaction with Karah, a white woman who lives in a neighboring house got Hall wet as she watered her garden with a hose. (She requested her name be withheld.)
It happened accidentally, she said, because she didn’t realize Hall was nearby. After seeing him, she apologized.
Hall thinks the woman may have sprayed him intentionally, because he said it happened on two occasions.
“Marcus was not visible and may have inadvertently gotten wet,” the woman’s husband Steve, said in an email. “She absolutely did not spray Marcus.”
In another unusual episode, the same woman called the Sausalito police on Oct. 7. She said it had nothing to do with Hall.
“I phoned the police because his [Karah’s] door was open,” she said. “The house was abandoned with the door open and the gate broken.”
Hall was on the beach that day, too, the day before his skirmish with Karah. He said he didn’t know about the open door, nor was he aware the neighbor called the police. When he left the beach, he saw police driving up.
“I was scared,” he said. “I thought they were coming for me. As a Black man, you think about it.”
According to Karah, the police contacted him and said his back door was open and they closed it. Karah found no forced entry and nothing inside was disturbed.
Fraass confirmed police responded to a call for service at Karah’s house. He said there’s no indication the open door incident is related to Hall. It’s atypical for the police to receive these types of complaints at Swede’s Beach.
“The vast majority of calls are for city ordinances,” Fraass said. “Dogs off leash or violating the public health order for not wearing masks or being too close together. I can’t think of anything else in the last year and half.”
Hall, a fitness trainer at a health center near Swede’s Beach, likes to spend his breaks relaxing on the beach. If you’ve never heard of the place, you’re not alone. It’s a tiny beach on San Francisco Bay at the south end of Sausalito, located down a steep, rickety set of stairs at the foot of Valley Street. A few homes border it on the west side.
Karah says he welcomes people to use the beach.
“I have lived here for 37 years and never had a single issue,” Karah said. “People on the beach come and ask to use my bathroom. I say ‘go ahead.’ Or I let them use my phone, give them a glass of water.”
Nonetheless, when activists arrived at the beach on Oct. 18, they noticed barricades placed perpendicular to the Bay, on Karah’s property line.
Laminated signs on the barricades stated: “Private Property. No public access beyond this point. Public access only along waterline for walking.”
After the demonstration, people castigated Karah on Nextdoor about the signage. Karah denied putting out the barricades and signs. Some didn’t believe him, but, in an interview with the Pacific Sun, the police confirmed that the city installed the signs, which were removed after the protest.
“The police department requested the barricades [from the Public Works department],” Fraass said. “The police department posted the [laminated] signs, so people knew the outline of the public area.”
That clears up one misunderstanding. More differences probably need resolution before this saga concludes, such as verifying public and private land boundaries.
“People can use the beach below the mean high tide line, even if that area is on private property,” said Brad McCrea, regulatory director of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC), a state agency. “That’s true all around the Bay, because of the Public Trust Doctrine.”
The doctrine holds tidelands, among other lands and waterways, in trust by California for the benefit of the people. Imagine the high tide coming in and getting the sand wet. Draw a line along the edge of the wet sand across the beach, parallel to the water. The public is permitted anywhere on the beach below that line, regardless of whether the tideland is behind someone’s home.
“The BCDC is in the process of determining the public access area for the entire stretch of Swede’s Beach,” McCrea said.
Fortunately, they should know this week. To ensure the governing bodies agree, the BCDC is coordinating with the City of Sausalito.
In the meantime, three new “Private Property” signs now sit on the beach behind Steve and his wife’s home.