Despite a few setbacks, a group of protesters occupying the sidewalk in front of the Mission police station at 17th and Valencia streets say that the support they are receiving from the community is keeping them determined to continue fasting on day four of a hunger strike.
That support includes the addition of one more hunger striker, Raeleen Valle-Brenes, a former domestic violence counselor turned housing activist. Every few minutes, drivers of passing cars raise their fists and honk to encourage the increasingly frail protesters to go another day without food.
The group hasn’t eaten solids since Thursday, and they don’t plan to until San Francisco Chief of Police Greg Suhr loses his job or Mayor Ed Lee steps down.
But the hunger strikers are starting to feel the effects of the fast.
“I got up too fast and had a head rush. Next thing I know, I was sprawled out on all fours,” said Ike Pinkston, one of the strikers. Then, he said, he lost consciousness for some 30 seconds. Pinkston was alone in the station, though he said he was in view of security cameras and nobody came to help.
“I was laying there and looking at this old elevator from the 1930s and it felt surreal, like I was in a movie,” he said. Despite having fasted before, Pinkston admits that he is concerned about his health, and spoke softly while sitting on a chair inside of the police station, taking in a few minutes of shade.
“I was very concerned going into this, but we are in desperate times,” said Pinkston. “I believe that this will make a difference, because putting your health and life at risk and not getting anything out of it would be idiotic.”
Pinkston said he hopes to see “some serious initiatives as far as the police being reformed.”
“You can’t have people sworn in to protect communities out here shooting us,” said Pinkston, who was born and raised in San Francisco.
Exposure to the elements has presented additional challenges the strikers, who are insistent on claiming the space in front of the station to make their presence known, entering the station only to use the restrooms or to charge their phones.
“They will let us die out here,” said Edwin Lindo, candidate for District 9 Supervisor, who refused transport to a hospital after collapsing in front of Mission Station on Friday.
Rapper and activist Ilych Sato, better known by his rap name Equipto, called for the strike along with his mother, 66-year-old Maria Cristina Gutierrez. He reported having his cell phone stolen on Saturday while leaving it to charge inside the police station.
“I plugged it into the wall to charge it and thirty minutes later it was gone,” said Sato. “I blame myself, but I’m not worried about it anymore.”
Sato did say that he is worried about his health, but that the cause for which he stands takes precedence.
“Of course I think about what not eating is doing to my health,” he said. “But I’m not suffering in the same way and I don’t have the same pain compared to the people who have lost someone they loved on these streets.”
Others said they are aware that these drastic measures could include physical injury, arrest, and even death. Though not afraid to face arrest, Pinkston said he hopes he will be able to sit down with the children of his preschool to discuss the purpose of his involvement in the strike.
“I want to sit down with the kids and break down why I did what I did,” he said. “I hope that in the future they don’t ever have to do this, but if they do, I want them to think about it logically and do it for the right reasons. [Not eating is] no joke, but neither is the violence in our communities.”