A monthly community meeting Tuesday night at the Mission Police Station, highly anticipated by a group of nine hunger strikers and their supporters demanding the police chief’s resignation, was abruptly called off after only a few minutes as strikers and police disagreed as to where the meeting should be held.
Upon arrival, Mission Station Captain Daniel Perea began to discuss neighborhood events and said he would leave time for questions toward the end of his presentation, but was interrupted by Edwin Lindo, a hunger striker also running for District 9 Supervisor. Lindo pointed out that only 49 people had been allowed inside the meeting room – the legal capacity of the room – and another 100 or so remained outside.
To accommodate everyone, Lindo asked Perea to hold the meeting outside. Perea asked Lindo to hold questions until the end of the discussion.
“This isn’t a question, this is a demand,” Lindo said.
When Perea declined, protesters interrupted with chants of “Fire Chief Suhr!” which prompted the station captain to announce that he could not run a community meeting that just consisted of shouting. He departed quickly and the meeting disbanded.
Outside, a rally ensued, eventually clearing two blocks of vehicle traffic.
Selassie Blackwell, a Bayview-based political rapper who joined the hunger strike on Friday, prompted the crowd outside to repeat the names of recent police shooting victims. He called for the same number of repetitions as shots fired at each of the men.
Hunger striker Maria Cristina Gutierrez, who directs a preschool nearby and is also the mother of rapper and fellow striker Ilych “Equipto” Sato, praised white allies in the crowd and the black and brown people who she said face oppression from the police.
“I love all of us black and brown people who are here. Look at us, we are fighting for our rights, we are fighting for our grandchildren,” she said, moving to stroke the head of a child standing next to her. “I never felt so much love in my life…If we talk about revolution, we have to start with love.”
“Mom’s here, 66 years old, putting her life on the line because she knows enough is enough,” said Phelicia Jones, an organizer with SEIU 1021 and the Mario Woods Coalition.
Jones pointed to what she called a cultural bias within the police department, referencing a series of racist and homophobic text messages exchanged among police officers that have been uncovered in recent court cases. More were released Tuesday, the third batch of email messages filled with racist and homophobic remarks.
“We are on the right side of history,” Lindo told the rally. He said he had received text messages from current police officers encouraging him to continue his strike.
Sato, better known as Equipto, told the crowd that he felt safe spending the cold nights outside the station because of youth and elder supporters who had stayed with the hunger strikers.
“This has grown into something unbelievable,” Sato said. “Celebrate these small victories, because it’s not going to happen overnight…You see, I get it from my mama: We are not going anywhere.”
Hunger strikers and activists alike repeated their pleas that supporters make themselves known to Mayor Ed Lee and be present at Board of Supervisors hearings.
Not quite satisfied with leaving the rally after concluding remarks, however, more than half of the protesters splintered off into the intersection of 17th and Valencia streets around 7:30 p.m. and blocked all vehicle traffic for some 40 minutes, chanting about police racism. Officers kept their distance, redirecting traffic at intersections a block a way in each directions, but letting the protest run its course.
By shortly after 8 p.m., minister Christopher Muhammad of the Nation of Islam, an outspoken activist against police brutality, arrived and addressed the crowd returning from the intersection.
“Justice is something that this city does not understand,” he said. “The next time we come out here, bring 10 people with you. Fill up this street, fill up the side streets, in fact, fill up this city.”
He called the hunger strike and the movement surrounding it “the new civil rights movement.”
Concerned with the possibility of a late-night or early-morning arrest, the hunger strikers called on their crowd of supporters for volunteers who might stay the night. Those fasting hoped to spend the exceptionally chilly night inside tents pitched in front of Mission Station, partly as a symbol representing the homeless man shot and killed by police officers in early April and partly for a brief reprieve from the cold as they headed into their seventh day on hunger strike.