Hunger strikers and police prepared Tuesday for community meeting and rally at the Mission Station that is expected to attract a large turnout. The six-day old hunger strike was called to demand Police Chief’ Greg Suhr’s resignation for a succession of police shootings and what strikers say is a culture of racism within the San Francisco Police Department.
On Tuesday, their strike picked up more support as details of racist text messages comparing minorities to animals sent by San Francisco police officers were released to the public by Public Defender Jeff Adachi. It was the third trove of racist text messages.
The hunger strikers say such incidents are representative of discrimination within the police department that translates into violence and death at the hands of the police force within black and brown communities.
“The text messages, the shootings, the way the homeless are treated in this city all ties together,” said Ilych Sato, a local rapper known as Equipto.
Just after 3 p.m. on Tuesday, a line of some 10 police officers on motorcycles drove onto the sidewalk separating the camp of hunger strikers and supporters from the station. The motorcycles blocked strikers from officers erecting metal barriers for what Captain Daniel Perea said was crowd control in anticipation the Tuesday night community meeting.
But some strikers were furious that the police gathered en masse and described it as a show of force. Edwin Lindo, a candidate for District 9 supervisor and one of the hunger strikers, wondered why he had been threatened with arrest for obstructing the sidewalk on Monday while officers on motorcycles could do so freely on Tuesday.
“Does the municipal code not apply to you?” Lindo asked Perea. Perea said officers were creating a cue for the large crowd expected at tonight’s community meeting, saying “we have to have a place for people to line up.”
After a brief moment when Lindo squared off against the motorcycle officer at the head of the column, the bike officers drove off the sidewalk as the barriers were secured in place around the station.
“That was a nice intimidation tactic,” said one crowd member as officers began filtering back into the station.
“I hope you’re not proud of what you just did, gentlemen,” Lindo told officers walking past him.
That confrontation came after protesters rallied inside the station on Monday night after some were threatened with arrest for obstructing the sidewalk.
Throughout the day on Tuesday, supporters visited the hunger strikers.
A group of high school students visited the hunger strikers to probe the protestors’ reasoning.
Mission High School students support hunger strike and pose questions to protesters pic.twitter.com/K4v09w1VB1
— Mission Local (@MLNow) April 26, 2016
Ronny Juarez, age 15, asked the group if they had ever experienced racism.
Sellassie Blackwell, a local political hip hop artist who joined the strike on Friday, said that racism shaped his childhood in the Fillmore.
“I grew up black in San Francisco,” said Blackwell. “The police were more brutal back then. To get harassed and beaten up by the police was very normal.”
When the student’s teacher, Fakhra Shaw, asked the protesters to elaborate on why they are demanding for San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr to be fired, her students immediately fired back in unison,”Because he is corrupt,” drawing laughter from the protesters.
Then Lindo turned the questioning around on the students. He wanted to know what they thought about the protester’s decision to strike.
“It’s a way to help us help ourselves,” said 17-year-old Ivor Uscool. “We are witnessing a modern day colonization in our city. What are we doing in the classroom when we should be out here helping you?”
Later on Tuesday, Aztec dancers blocked Valencia Street in a show of support, beating drums and burning incense around the hunger strikers.
— Mission Local (@MLNow) April 26, 2016
The group of hunger strikers, which started out with four activists and community members who swore to stop eating until they see San Francisco’s mayor or chief of police unseated, totaled nine on Tuesday. Participants are seeking reform of the San Francisco police department after a spate of controversies has rocked the department. Most recently, 45-year-old homeless man Luis Gongora was shot and killed in the Mission District, the fourth controversial police in the city in two years.
Equipto and his 66-year-old mother, Maria Cristina Gutierrez, initially called for the strike last week and were immediately joined by Lindo and Pinkston. While the latter have faced some health scares from the lack of solid food, all four continue to fast, drinking only broth, and water on day six.
On Sunday, the group gained support from outside of the community. A hitchhiker from Texas, Nick Dozier, said he joined the strike after randomly walking by the Mission police station, although he said he had heard about the issues that the group is rallying behind before coming to San Francisco.
Excessive use of force by police and discrimination, said Dozier, is a “consistent, national, and universal issue.” He was inspired to partake in the radical action after seeing the “diverse group [of protesters] coming together out of genuine concern for their community.”
“I decided to stand with them because they are standing up for what is right,” he said. “You don’t see much action like this. It’s very drastic and it should not have to come to this in the first place.”
Lindo’s partner, Estell Williams, has also been fasting in solidarity with the cause for the past two days, though she’s not spending the nights at the campsite.
“At first I was worried [about the group], but they are much better prepared now, mentally and spiritually,” said Williams.
Others who joined the strike and have been fasting for a majority of the week are local hip hop artist Sellassie Blackwell and community members and activists Mary Mendoza and Raeleen Valle-Brenes.
Though media coverage has increased in recent days, city leaders have been slow to react to the strike.
Mayor Ed Lee told the San Francisco Examiner today that he has no plans of firing Suhr and that he will continue to focus on reforms of to the department that are already underway. Suhr also told the Examiner he has no plans to resign.