People gathered Friday night on 3rd Street, main thoroughfare of the Bayview district, to honor and mourn Jessica (Nelson) Williams, another Black person gunned down by police.
“The city authorities have this twisted notion of white supremacy, so devious,” said one woman. “We need to take our community back. Everyone needs to find their place in this movement, and step into it.”
“Don’t be afraid of the police,” said another woman. “Speak up, take your stand, hold your ground.” Marla, young poet, delivered fiery, rapid-fire words of defiance. This is a young, caring, self-confident new movement we’re seeing, blossoming before our very eyes.
Oscar Salinas, from the Amor for Alex coalition [formed after police fired 59 shots killing Alex Nieto while he was eating a burrito], gave a strong message of solidarity from the Black and Brown alliance that is fighting police impunity.
Jeremy Miller, from Idriss Stelley Foundation, scathingly exposed the proposed police “reforms” being put forward by the city’s toothless Police Commission. “They’re trying to hoodwink us,” he said. He warned of the current proposal to give every cop a taser, supposedly as a way to curb officer-involved killings. [Cops have killed an estimated 1,000 people with tasers nationally since they were introduced.]
“This is the place where they train officers to kill our children”
Soon the vigil became a march. As the hundred-plus marchers proceeded down 3rd Street in this historically African American neighborhood, a woman chant-leader’s voice exploded in song from the mobile sound system: “I am my sister’s keeper. I am my brother’s keeper. I am my family’s keeper. I am, I am, I am.” The marchers chanted along with her irresistible music, in call and response: “We’re taking back our stolen land (you can’t have it, no you can’t).”
When they reached Bayview police station, they spread out into a circle. One woman said, “This is the place where they train officers to kill our children.” While marchers held the intersection – saying, “This is MY land, this is OUR land” – community elder Mama Ayanna led powerful ceremonies of healing and resistance, as people recited the unending list of Black and Latino people killed by the police. A youthful Black activist, pain visible in his face, walked around the circle, burning sage. It was a spiritual moment, thinking of Jessica and the stilled possibilities of her young life, and binding the participants to each other in common purpose.
According to SFGate, the SF Chronicle website, when Jessica Nelson moved to the Bay Area from Sacramento she fell in with a homeless community “and met Jennifer Williams, who became her street ‘mom’. Their bond was so strong that she changed her last name. ‘We were her street family,’ Jennifer Williams said. ‘We took care of Jessica, and we loved her so much. She was a strong and talented woman, and a little bit bossy. There’s no reason for her to die the way she did. It’s senseless.’ ” The online site 48 Hills quoted her street mother as saying that Jessica and her fiancé “were camped nearby. They had to keep moving as the police came, but they were always into people, always helping.” Jessica, mother of five, was apparently four months pregnant at the time of her death.
The vigil/march was initiated by The Last 3% of SF and Anti-Police-Terror Project, at the request of Jessica’s family, joined by Black Lives Matter Bay Area, Frisco Five hunger strikers, #Frisco500, as well as justice coalitions for Mario Woods, Alex Nieto, Amilcar Perez Lopez and Luis Gongora (all killed by SFPD in the last two years).