Stephanie Porcell, a reader, sent in this account of Monday night’s town hall with with a short video of Diego, the young student who spoke out at the meeting, confronting Police Chief Greg Suhr. Porcell is a freelance journalist, and a former teacher, advocating for the voices and stories of marginalized communities. She lives in San Francisco’s Mission District. The video was done by Lisa Ganser, a neighbor who is also a part of the volunteer justice group created on FB and a volunteer with the Idriss Stelley Foundation.
Diego, a young resident of the Mission, heard the shots that killed 21-year-old Amilcar Pérez-López, right outside of his home on Folsom Street. He stood and spoke passionately to SFPD Police Chief, Greg Suhr, Monday night at the Town Hall Meeting at Cesar Chavez Elementary.
Among the audience were more young folks of the community, one a middle schooler, who spoke of his class writing a school play about a police officer shooting and killing a person of color. “Kids should look to you as a symbol of hope. Instead we wrote this play.”
A teacher spoke of how her students ask questions, suggesting simply, and quite beautifully, that police take more time to ask what people need instead of jumping to conclusions (“because that’s what you’d do, Miss Melisa”).
Another older woman who was not an English speaker, asked Suhr in Spanish, “Is it because I don’t know English that you won’t listen, that you’d look down upon me?”
The officers in attendance and sitting at the front table simply stated the facts (which have yet to be proven) in response, encouraging the community to submit a complaint to the Office of Citizen Complaints, and ask for “Maria”.
Amilcar did not speak English. And the two plainclothes officers did not know Spanish.
On the night of his death last week, he was alleged to have threatened police with a kitchen knife, after being accused of stealing a bike, fifteen feet away from his home. Neighbors and friends spoke for Amilcar, stating that he was a kind man, a hard worker, saving money for his family in Guatemala, that he did not attempt to steal any bike, and that he had dropped the knife.
Regardless of any story, San Francisco’s Mission District wonders why police aggression, and the killing and disparaging of Latinos, has become a normalized solution.
Six shots were fired quickly on the scene, some hitting homes across the street from the incident. Not a full year before, 28 year old Alex Nieto, another young Latino man of the Mission, was shot and killed on Bernal Heights after being reported suspicious. He was a security guard off of a shift of work, eating his dinner. Police mistook a tazer on his belt for a gun. They shot him fourteen times.
This community knows the police narrative all too well. There’s a fear, an anger, that the empathy has long left the spaces between their hearts and the badge–that law enforcement no longer cares to connect with residents of color.
Voices like Diego’s, and the attendants of the town hall, will work to change that.