Rainy weather failed to deter some 200 people from gathering on Valencia Street Tuesday evening to peacefully protest what they allege was an incident of police brutality that began last Friday when police asked a 20-year-old riding his bike on the sidewalk at Valencia Gardens to stop.
Early Tuesday morning, officials released the young man, D’Paris “D.J.” Williams, from jail without pressing charges, according to his cousin.
The dropped charges could not be independently confirmed. However, KTVU reported Tuesday that the Office of Citizen Complaints, which investigates charges against SFPD officers, is looking into the incident.
“The public’s trust is everything to us, and so we are going to have to have a fully transparent investigation,” Police Chief Greg Suhr told KTVU.
Officer Gordon Shyy told Mission Local earlier that officers attempted to detain Williams, but he was resistant and combative. Other Valencia Gardens residents became combative as well, Shyy said.
Cell phone videos that have surfaced of Friday’s events show a bleeding and moaning Williams being taken away by police and officers throwing two other men to the ground. Four men, including Williams, were arrested, and according to KGO-TV, no charges are being filed, pending a further investigation.
Dressed in a bright pink hooded jacket, Selina Rodriguez, whose brother Orlando Rodriguez was among those arrested, led the crowd of protesters with a bullhorn, shouting chants of “What do we want? Justice! When do we need it? Now!”
“My brother put on Facebook that he never felt so disrespected in his life and felt like garbage,” Selina told the crowd.
When Mission Local spoke with Orlando earlier in the day on Tuesday, he said all the attention was a little “overwhelming and embarrassing.” He said that he had been detained by police for a few hours on Friday before being let go. Antoine Bradford, who was also arrested, attended the march, but declined to speak. “I’m hurt,” he said.
The protest kicked off at the Mission Police Station at 17th and Valencia streets as police officers stood guard in front of the building and on the roof of the station house. Others sat ready on their motorcycles on Valencia.
Selina asked how many of the protesters had seen one of the cell phone videos of Friday’s events. Hands went up. “We need the names of the police officers who did this,” she told the protesters. “If we don’t get their names, we’re not going to get justice.”
Another protester took a turn with the bullhorn, asking why police officers aren’t trained to use “psychology” over force. “Twenty or thirty years ago…they would have said, ‘Can you please ride your bike on the street?’ like somebody else,” said Jesse Ponce, 48, who grew up in the Mission. “A humane thing. A human thing. A suggestion that would have worked.”
Norm Mattox, who taught Williams at James Lick Middle School, said that when he heard about the events involving Williams, he was “incredulous.” He remembered Williams fondly and showed up to demonstrate that he cared about his former student.
“I am appalled by the short leash on the use of force when it isn’t necessary, especially when it seems that police power and authority is being questioned or challenged by a brown or black male individual,” Mattox wrote in an email to Mission Local before the protest. “It’s almost getting to be a non-event when I hear that another black or brown boy or man was ‘kept in check’ by the same agency that is supposed to ‘protect and serve.’”
Ahkeel Mestayer, 18, who went to middle school with Williams, called the situation “messed up.” Mestayer said, “It just further proves that we have not come as far as we like to believe we have in terms of our views on race, class and how safe we are here in the U.S. as people of color.”
Juana Ramirez, who lives in Valencia Gardens, joined the protest because her son went through something similar, she said. About two years ago, she said, police pushed her son to the ground and then arrested him. He was released without charges two days later, Ramirez said. “I want this to stop.”
The families of all the men involved are meeting with attorneys and threatening to sue, Selina said. A candlelight vigil will be held at 15th and Guerrero on Friday at 5 p.m. to mark the one-week anniversary of the incident.