San Francisco, May 1.
Five hunger strikers – angered by new police murders of Black and brown people – have been occupying half the sidewalk in front of Mission Police Station since April 21. It’s Day 11 of their liquid-only fast and they’re losing weight, but they vow to keep it up until SF Police Chief Greg Suhr resigns or is fired.
“We see so many execution-style police murders of young Black and Latino men – it just doesn’t stop,” said Cristina Gutierrez, 66, a teacher and hunger striker. “Since the killings of Alex Nieto (in 2014), then Amilcar Perez-Lopez, then Mario Woods, the community has been on the move, with weekly meetings, town halls, marches, and protests at City Hall. But it hasn’t moved the chief or the mayor one bit. Now the police gunned down Luis Gongora, only a few blocks from where we’re sitting. For us, that was the last straw.”
Witnesses say Gongora, 45, a Yucatecan Mayan man from Mexico, was the target of 11 shots from police weapons on April 6 while sitting on the ground near his blue tent in a small homeless encampment on Shotwell Street in the Mission District. Apparently he did not understand the “orders” barked by the officers.
The ‘Frisco Five’ hunger strikers include Cristina’s son Ilyich (Equipto) Sato and Ike Pinkston, both 42, who work with her at the Companeros del Barrio preschool in the Mission. The others are Selassie Blackwell, 39, and Edwin Lindo, 29. Equipto and Selassie are active as hip hop artists. Pinkston, a father of two, is a soon-to-be-published poet. Lindo is running for a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. They say their hunger strike “is organized with the guidance of the Black and Brown Social Club, which works to unite and empower the Black and Brown communities.”
Hundreds of people come by every day to offer support and encouragement to the fasters, preparing their drinks (a secret recipe rumored to include coconut water, broth and miso), or joining them in a 60-minute, raucous occupation of the nearby intersection at 17th and Valencia streets, or for a Saturday afternoon of drums and dancing outside the police station. “High school students come by. So many who say there’s no time to wait any more, to stop these police killings,” said Gutierrez. “People coming by who were active in the movements of the ‘60s and ‘70s: it’s an outpouring of love from the community.”
One supporter, Ruthie Sakheim who runs a weekly discussion series called Occupy Forum, tied the police killings to the rent-gouging, gentrification and displacement that is plaguing Black and brown neighborhoods . “This is not normal,” she said. “Nowadays when the police come in, they shoot people in the heart or in the head. Why is this? We know some of the officers are Army veterans who’ve been trained to shoot to kill. It’s happened so many times, this cannot be just an accident. I think they are intending to kill people in these neighborhoods. The big developers, do they have a hand in this? Are police getting orders from somewhere to terrorize these targeted areas? I don’t know for sure, but there is more to this than meets the eye.”
For more on San Francisco’s struggle against police murder and gentrification, see “Black & Brown Unity against Police Impunity” by the same author, CounterPunch, March 2016