Five days following the end of a hunger strike calling for reform of the San Francisco Police Department and the firing of its chief, four of five strikers who went 17 days without food said at a press conference Thursday morning they are still determined to see their demands met and criticized city leaders for showing a lack of concern for their deteriorating health.
“They let us go 17 days without food. It took them 12 days to even have communication with us. [The mayor did not decide] to check on our health,” said Edwin Lindo, a supervisorial candidate for the Mission District and one of five hunger strikers dubbed the “Frisco Five.”
“The mayor, the police chief, they would have let us die on these streets, right here on this corner,” said Lindo. The strike was called off on May 7 after community organizers and doctors urged the strikers to lead the movement for reform without further compromising their health.
Thursday’s press conference was held in front of Mission Police Station at 17th and Valencia streets, where the group had fasted and camped for over two weeks, to address the next steps in a movement that has garnered international attention but slow response from city leaders.
The group announced that they will be holding a community meeting on May 14, at 1 p.m. at 474 Valencia St., to plan the next steps in the movement to shed light on what they say is a police department plagued by racism, impunity, and excessive use of force.
“We will continue to fight,” said Lindo to a group of some 30 people that included supporters and media, as police officers on motorcycles surrounded the station and kept watch.
Meanwhile, four city supervisors including David Campos, Jane Kim John Avalos and Eric Mar have called for Suhr’s removal. But the strikers say that more action is needed, and have previously urged the board to draft an emergency ordinance to pressure Lee into removing Suhr, who can only be fired by the mayor or the Police Commission. Instead of removing him from office, Lee has promised to invest $17.5 million into police reforms.
“We did not starve ourselves so that the mayor can throw more money at the police,” said Lindo. “We need all 11 supervisors to stand up take a stance and say that Chief Suhr is failing this city.”
— Mission Local (@MLNow) May 12, 2016
The hunger strike was prompted by four controversial police shootings since 2014. Following the end of the strike on Saturday, community organizers separate from the hunger strikers called for 17 days of action that included a general strike on Monday, but have not disclosed details about future actions.
Though supporting these other events, the Frisco Five said they were still weakened by their own strike and have not planned any further actions at this time, but that they will decide on Saturday how to continue leading the movement.
“They just needed some time to heal,” said Yayne Abeba, the strikers’ spokesperson, adding that the group will be “announcing actions soon.”
“Just because we are chilling out a little bit doesn’t mean that we are done,” she said.
Mayor Ed Lee has responded minimally to the strikers, and has said repeatedly that he has no plans of removing Suhr from office, maintaining this position even as concerns for the strikers’ well-being grew serious.
Hunger striker Maria Cristina Gutierrez, the 66-year-old director of a local preschool who initially called for the drastic action, was absent from the conference because she is still suffering health complications caused by the strike.
“She can’t stand long at all and she’s having troubles going to the bathroom,” said hunger striker and rapper Equipto (Ilych Sato), who is Gutierrez’s son.
Slowly reverting back to a regular diet, the other strikers also spoke of a slow recovery from their prolonged outdoor stay and from starving themselves.
“We thought it would be easier or something that wouldn’t affect us like it has, but it’s definitely affecting me every day,” said rapper and hunger striker Sellassie Blackwell. “We [put our lives on the line] to make a bold point that we will not stand for a racist police department, chief, and a mayor that doesn’t do anything for the poor people of this city.”
Ike Pinkston, who also went on strike, said that it has taken him a few days to come to terms with the physical and emotional stresses of the strike, and expressed anger at the mayor’s lack of concern for the lives of San Francisco’s citizens.
“[Lee] feels that Suhr is doing a good job as police chief, but Stevie Wonder can see that this man is not doing a good job,” said Pinkston. “But we are grateful that community has woken up and saw what’s going on in San Francisco.”