Mayor Ed Lee came unannounced to the Mission District police station on Monday just after noon where a group of hunger strikers — known as the Frisco Five — declined to meet with him, saying they would wait until Tuesday at 2 pm. when they are scheduled to march to city hall.
The strikers are on day 12 of a protest demanding the firing of Police Chief Greg Suhr or the resignation of the mayor over a series of police shootings and racist text message scandals. It is unclear if Tuesday’s meeting will take place.
Christine Falvey, a spokesperson for the mayor, said after the visit that Lee has been monitoring the hunger strike since it was announced. He came to the station on Monday because he heard the strikers wanted to arrange a meeting.
“The mayor went out there, he rearranged his schedule today, wanted to make himself available, and they refused to meet with him,” she said. “He really wanted to go out and offer to meet with them one-on-one or as group with no conditions, to hear them out, and to tell them about [police] reform efforts.”
The strikers said they would not meet with the mayor “on his terms” and were planning on meeting with him tomorrow at city hall. Falvey did not say Lee would refuse a meeting tomorrow, but said he already rearranged his schedule for a meeting today and did not have any meeting planned for Tuesday.
“There’s nothing scheduled that the mayor is meeting with them tomorrow,” she said.
As the mayor sat inside the police station for some 30 minutes waiting to see whether the hunger strikers would come in for a meeting, the strikers lambasted Lee for waiting 12 days to make an appearance and coming without warning.
“We’re 12 days into starvation. You know what that says to us? You didn’t care,” said Edwin Lindo, one of the hunger strikers and a candidate for District 9 Supervisor, through a bullhorn. “So tomorrow we are happy to meet with you at city hall. Leave your doors open, we will walk in, we will meet with you.”
“But just know we have one demand,” Lindo continued. “That Chief Suhr be fired. Because that man has been operating this police department with impunity.”
— Mission Local (@MLNow) May 2, 2016
The mayor entered the police station through a side entrance and was spotted inside by Maria Cristina Gutierrez, a 66-year-old hunger striker who was leaving the bathroom when Lee walked into a community meeting room within the station.
“It was a miracle, I went to the bathroom and I saw the mayor went in and I went out there [to the hunger strikers] and said ‘Hey, he’s there in that room! He’s sneaking on us,’” she said.
While the mayor sat inside the station, his aides went outside and spoke to hunger strikers, asking that they meet with the mayor.
The strikers instead took a megaphone and called for the resignation of Chief Suhr.
“We are more than happy to speak to you if you’re going to tell us Chief Suhr will be fired,” shouted Sellassie Blackwell, one of the hunger strikers.
Gutierrez was inside the station throughout, seated in a lawn chair where she often stays for warmth, and spoke to the mayor when he left the room.
“I did not let him talk because I need the five together in order to meet with him,” she said. Gutierrez said she felt disrespected that he entered the station without informing the hunger strikers ahead of time.
She also said the mayor should work harder to root out racism within the police department given his Asian background.
“I told him he should be ashamed of himself,” she said. “He’s an Asian man, and he’s allowing for racism to grow in the police force.”
“I also told him that he’s hiding a criminal, protecting a criminal, because the chief of police is a criminal,” she added.
As the mayor, surrounded by his aides and more than a dozen police officers, left the station into the parking lot, protesters squared off against officers near the parking lot exit. They repeated their demands that the police chief be fired and criticized the mayor for waiting almost two weeks to visit the hunger strikers.
“You let us starve out here for 12 days. How dare you, blood?” screamed Blackwell.
— Mission Local (@MLNow) May 2, 2016
Ike Pinkston, another hunger striker, said it was disrespectful to show up unannounced. He said he predicted that the mayor would pay the strikers a visit but did not think he would use a side entrance.
“That dude’s such a coward,” said Pinkston. “Man, in the hood that’s what we call a bitch move.”
“You’re trying to tell me the mayor couldn’t walk past us into the police station, he had to sneak through?” he added.
Lindo said the visit was an attempt to defuse tomorrow’s march and was adamant that the strike would be successful in dethroning the police chief.
“We’re playing chess, we’re not playing checkers,” he said. “And we’re going to get a checkmate. Chief Suhr will be fired.”