By Charlene Muhammad CHARLENEM
SAN FRANCISCO–They had not eaten in over a week and police have threatened to arrest them, but five San Franciscans vowed to continue to deny themselves food until city officials fire Police Chief Gregory Suhr or he resigns.
Maria Cristina Gutierrez, her son Ilych Sato (aka Equipto), Ike Pinkston, Sellassie Blackwell, and Edwin Lindo, the “Frisco 5” camped out in front of the Mission Police Station and began their strike on April 21 after police killed 45-year-old Luis Gongora on April 7. Police claimed the homeless man was brandishing a knife, and shot him.
That was the last straw in a recent spate of police violence, 66-year-old Ms. Guiterrez, affectionately referred to as “Mama” by her community said. The shooting moved her to act, she stated.
“I am glad we decided to do this so we could try to accomplish some justice by having this racist chief of police, not only racist, but also he is covered in murders and protecting killer cops in the police department,” Ms. Guiterrez said.
On April 21 she went on the hunger strike, and Equipto, a rapper, and his friends joined her.
“I’m a little weak in the flesh, but happy in the spirit. My mind is working very well, and I feel pretty good. I’m a little tired, but that’s all,” said Ms. Guiterrez. She said she worries at times when she sees her son losing weight, but she’s happy they are fighting for justice.
Though weak and tired, existing on coconut water, they are determined to make the sacrifice.
“It’s a very bold statement I stand on two ends of, because I’m doing this to seek justice first and foremost, but I must take care of my mother, too, to make sure she’s okay in these conditions and this environment,” Equipto stated.
“It’s life-changing … After eight days now, it’s definitely become more of a spiritual experience and awakening,” he said.
According to Equipto, law enforcement has tried to cause problems by driving motorcycle brigades onto the sidewalk, flashing their badges, and threatening to take them to jail. “We have our lawyers with us so, they’re not going to be able to lie to us or get away with the things they think they can get away with,” he said.
“I’m feeling good. I’m feeling really good,” said Mr. Pinkston. He said he has never been on a hunger strike before, but took part because something drastic needed to be done. He wanted to help call attention to the SFPD corruption.
“We were already outraged that it happened, but video footage shows SFPD showing up to the scene, and within 30 seconds, they’re shooting this man, and I don’t understand how you can assess any scene within 30 seconds and feel the need to shoot someone,” Mr. Pinkston said. “That was the point where we just said enough is enough!”Mr. Blackwell, also a Bay-Area rapper, appeared upbeat, despite having gone eight days without food. “I’m very weak, but I’m very high in spirits,” he said.
“It’s a state of emergency with Black and Brown people, all over the country, but especially here in San Francisco. I mean, we’ve had 12 police killings since 2014. It’s totally ridiculous.”
Three days into the strike, he collapsed in the police station he said, but it is all necessary. It is time to take an ultimate stand for police accountability, he said.
Though a candidate for District 9 supervisor, Mr. Lindo also remains in front of the police station day and night. “My body is weary, fragile. My mind is clear and full, and I’ve never felt this strong before in my life, spiritually … My purpose and focus have become much more clear,” he said.
“We need to have justice immediately. The rampant corruption, the rampant, indiscriminate killing of people of color here in San Francisco by the police is just too much. We decided we will not allow it anymore and we’re willing to go hungry for it,” Mr. Lindo added.
The outpouring of support has been overwhelming, unconditional love, the demonstrators said. Some 40-100 people have joined them on various days in taking up the sidewalk and the police station lobby, they said.
On day six, members of Danza Azteca, a Native American cultural dance troupe, danced in support of the strikers in front of the police station. Spiritual leaders have held prayer with and for them, and supporters have brought coconut water.
Three others have joined the strikers, all members of the Justice for Mario Woods Coalition, said Nation of Islam student Minister Christopher Muhammad.
“Black and Brown brothers and sisters are out there putting their lives on the line, standing on the principle of justice and leading a moment to demand that the chief be fired,” he said.
Activists and demonstrators also demand the names of officers who shot Mr. Woods, an independent federal investigation of the shooting and the police department, a public apology for killing Mr. Woods, and for the officers involved to be fired and charged with murder.
The strikers also want justice for other victims, including Alex Nieto (killed in 2014 after four officers fired 48 shots, saying they thought a stun gun he was pointing at them was a gun), 20-year-old Amilcar Perez-Lopez, killed in 2015 by two plainclothes officers. Police claimed he chased someone down the street with a knife, attempting to steal a bike. Reportedly, witnesses, including the bicyclist, said he was unarmed.
“This department has a history, and there’s agreement with the business community and the political leadership to allow for the heavy handed, rogue tactics of SFPD to continue under a wink-nod agreement,” Min. Muhammad said.
He added that recent revelations of a second set of text messages prove the DNA of the San Francisco Police Department is rooted in rogue, racist, vigilante justice.
In an April 26 press release, the SFPD revealed excerpts of racist and homophobic text messages were discovered in the fall of 2015 during a criminal investigation into sexual assault charges against former Officer Jason Lai and an Internal Affairs investigation of four others. There are also text messages involving two former officers.
According to the Associated Press, Chief Suhr has ordered all officers to attend an anti-harassment class “effective immediately.”
“The newly provided transcripts denigrate minority suspects with racial slurs and they insult colleagues they perceive to be gay. They ridicule Blacks in Ferguson, Mo., where police shot and killed an unarmed Black man, calling a picture of a burnt turkey a ‘Ferguson turkey,’ ” the AP reported.
“We’re not really shocked … We know that this is a Democratic Party town, with Democratic mayors and board of supervisors … The question becomes, why are we crying out for justice with all these Democrats and people that look like us in positions of power?” Min. Muhammad asked.
According to the San Francisco Examiner, Mayor Lee pledged six days into the strike to stand behind the chief and proceed with police reforms already underway.