The day after a group of hunger strikers held a rally outside the Mission District police station that saw more than 100 people chant for the firing of the city’s police chief, the group of nine began the seventh day of their fast – tired but determined.
“We’re getting pretty weak,” said Edwin Lindo, a candidate for District 9 supervisor who has camped outside of Mission Station for a week to demand that Police Chief Greg Suhr be fired or resign. Lindo briefly fainted on the second day of the strike, and an ambulance pulled up to the strikers on Wednesday morning to monitor their vitals.
“We’re getting low on blood sugar,” Lindo said.
Mayor Ed Lee responded to the hunger strike for the first time on Tuesday, saying the strikers had a right to protest but that he would not fire the chief and that he intended to allow current departmental reform plans to proceed. Chief Suhr also responded and said he had no intention of resigning.
Lindo, however, was undeterred. Near the beginning of the strike he didn’t think he would last a week, Lindo said, but is now speaking of Gandhi’s weeks-long fasts. One woman who visited the strikers said she lasted 88 days, Lindo said, and he is adamant the group will fast till they fall.
“We will outlast them,” said Lindo. “I guarantee that.”
The group drinks liquids — including chocolate-flavored coconut water and chicken broth — alongside a daily dose of vitamins to sustain themselves.
“It’s brutal,” said Lindo. “My body is weak, I don’t think I can stand on my feet for more than 30 minutes in a day.”
“I hope [Mayor] Ed Lee is thinking about us while he’s eating his three-course meal,” interjected fellow hunger strike Ilych Sato, better known by his rapper name, Equipto.
“I hope [Chief Suhr] is thinking about us while he’s lying in his bed,” Lindo added.
Though the idea of a hunger strike was floated by members of the group after the 2009 killing of Oscar Grant by Bart police officers, it took the recent shooting of 45-year-old homeless man Luis Gongora by San Francisco police officers for the strikers to mobilize.
The killing of Gongora joins three other controversial police shootings and a spate of scandals — including a slew of racist text messages sent by police officers — as evidence for the strikers of systemic racism within the department and a shoot-first mentality among officers.
Ike Pinkston, another hunger striker, was upbeat on Wednesday. Watching the newest “Jurassic Park” on his phone while bundled up in a lawn chair outside, Pinkston said he felt the same as he did at the beginning.
“Day seven, it almost feels like day one to be honest,” said Pinkston. He doesn’t feel hunger pangs anymore, Pinkston said, but does get headaches when he stands up too quickly. When strong winds knocked over a canopy that almost hit Pinkston, he joked, “I’m supposed to die of starvation, not impalement.”
Outside the station on Wednesday, dozens of supporters beat drums and held signs reading “Protect Us, Don’t Shoot Us” as drivers passed by and honked in support. Others routinely offered water and other goods to the strikers, an effort coordinated by Max LeYoung, who is in charge of logistics and checks on the strikers’ health, asking them if they’ve had their daily vitamin intake.
Others are less supportive, including a truck driver who shouted “Get a fucking job!” while driving down Valencia Street, prompting a “Fuck you, bitch-ass motherfucker!” from a supporter on the sidewalk.
A Wednesday morning shower drenched the camp for about an hour and forced strikers to find shelter in their tents or inside the station, where they are now “occupying the space.”
“We’re slowly creeping in,” said Lindo of their presence within the station. “We might just creep into a cell back there.”
A group of juniors from Leadership High School visited the strikers on Wednesday and listened to Maria Cristina Gutierrez, Sato’s mother, as she spoke on the education of a new generation of activists.
“You need to organize every student in every school to organize and fight for justice, because you are the next generation,” said Gutierrez. The group of students then posed for a picture with her, left fists raised in the air. Some stayed behind and spoke to strikers about socialism and Karl Marx, and others said the issue of police shootings was more personal than ideological.
“I think of people in my community,” said Moses Ramos, a junior at Leadership High and Mission District resident. “What if that was my friend? What if that was me?”
Later in the afternoon, Hillary Ronen — another candidate for District 9 supervisor and the chief of staff to the current supervisor, David Campos — stopped by the camp for the first time and spoke to some supporters and strikers.
Lindo asked Ronen to relay to Supervisor Campos the demand that Suhr be fired — a demand Campos is well aware of, having visited the strikers twice — and Ronen said she would pass it on. She stopped short of calling for his firing herself, however, supporting the strike more generally.
“I think it’s a brave thing that’s having an impact all over the city,” Ronen said. Regarding the chief, Ronen said the demand for his firing was “fair” and that she would respond to it by Friday, when Mission Local has asked all candidates for District 9 to weigh in on the issue.
Weekly Vigil Joins Hunger Strikers
In the evening, advocates for Amilcar Perez-Lopez joined their weekly vigil outside of the police station to the hunger strikers, forming a line some 40-people strong along Valencia Street. Participants waved signs and wore black-and-white t-shirts with Perez-Lopez’s face underneath “Justice for Amilcar Perez-Lopez.”
Perez-Lopez was a 21-year-old Guatemalan immigrant killed by two police officers in the Mission District in February 2015 and is one of the four police shootings victims whose case galvanized the hunger strikers.
Father Richard Smith, the lead advocate for Perez-Lopez, has vowed to hold vigils every Wednesday until the District Attorney’s Office decides whether whether to file criminal charges against the officers involved in Perez-Lopez’s killing, a decision that is likely to come in the next week.
Standing next to the parents of Alex Nieto — who was shot and killed by police in 2014 — Smith spoke of other victims of police shootings and to the cause of the hunger strikers.
“We’re here to join our energy with some of the energy of the people who have been here the last seven days,” said Smith. “We remember all of [the police shooting victims], and we remember especially Amilcar.”