Ten days into a hunger strike led by local musicians, teachers and a politician, the group of starving activists told their supporters at a rally on Saturday that they will meet with the mayor in person on Tuesday.
“We told Ed Lee that we are meeting with him,” said Edwin Lindo, a Mission supervisorial candidate who has been camping in front of the Mission Police station at 17th and Valencia streets since April 21. “We are showing up to City Hall on Tuesday.”
It’s unclear if the mayor has agreed to Tuesday’s meeting, but regardless, the hunger strikers, recently dubbed the “Frisco Five,” said that unless the mayor complies with their demands on Tuesday – including the firing of Police Chief Greg Suhr – they are prepared to continue the protest.
“They want something that will make this [strike] stop,” said Lindo calling on the 70 or so supporters to join them for a march from the striker’s Mission Station camp to the mayor’s office for the 2 p.m. meeting on May 3. “But we don’t have a compromise.”
That insistence came despite the reality of their deteriorating health. One striker Raeleen Valle-Brenes dropped out on Friday after eight days while another, 66-year-old Maria Cristina Gutierrez, said that doctors were alarmed by her health condition following check-up on Saturday morning.
“The doctor said everything was great but that I need a chest X-ray because I’m not breathing good enough. It could be pneumonia or something like that,” said Maria Cristina Gutierrez, the oldest of a core group of five strikers.
The group was examined by UCSF medical professionals who “volunteered their time and care,” said activist Yayne Abeba, the strikers’ appointed spokesperson.
“They are all in good spirits, which is amazing after ten days of not eating,” said Abeba. “But we are concerned about mama [Gutierrez], she’s got a few things that need to be checked up on.”
Gutierrez, who initially called for the drastic action along with her son, local rapper Equipto [Ilych Sato], said that she has not been camping in tents outside of the police station with the other protesters, but has opted to sleep in a van instead. She believes that her health has been adversely impacted by the stress of the strike.
“I haven’t been sleeping outside except for the first night and have really been caring for myself,” said Gutierrez. “But I am not worried. Even if I’m sick, I won’t stop. They can give me medicine and antibiotics and I will continue to sit here.”
Both Lee and Police Chief Greg Suhr have said that they will not meet the striker’s demands and have otherwise remained largely mum about the strike.
“Each day counts. We don’t want to see our people suffer, we want to get them off the strike and to have Ed Lee really say something,” said Gina Madrid, an artist and activist who organized the strike with the backing of Black Lives Matter, an international activist movement that organizes around the deaths of Black people due to encounters with law enforcement.
“They are suffering for a reason and this guy hasn’t said a word. It’s just freaking upsetting,” said Madrid.
Raeleen Valle-Brenes, a housing activist who joined Lindo, Gutierrez, Equipto, local rapper Sellassie Blackwell, preschool teacher Ike Pinkston, said that after eight days of fasting she decided against going forward with the strike on Friday.
“I was feeling really bad yesterday,” said Valle-Brenes on Saturday, adding that she became concerned after feeling symptoms of low blood pressure the day before. “I was feeling dizzy and weak. After I [saw a doctor] I decided to stop fasting.”
Valle-Brenes described her participation in the strike as a “magical journey,” and said that she plans to continue to support the other protesters for as long as the strike continues.
Amidst the health scares, the remaining strikers told the rallying crowd that they intend to starve themselves until their demands are met.
Each of the strikers has signed a “refusal of treatment” form to shield them from forcible treatment should their health conditions worsen.
“There is nothing heroic about me signing off medical attention,” said Gutierrez. “If we want liberation, we have to be willing to give our lives for it.”
Gutierrez and the other strikers were have gained support in their struggle from the families and supporters of Alex Nieto, Mario Woods, Amilcar Perez Lopez and Luis Gongora — four men who lost their lives in police shootings since August 2014.
“Please stay encouraged, it does matter,” said Gwendolyn Woods, the mother of 26-year-old Mario Woods, who was shot and killed by six officers in the Bayview in December. “There’s higher justice than us.”
As Woods and other grieving parents addressed the crowd in front of the police station, some of the strikers, overwhelmed with emotion and the tribulations of the hunger strike, broke down in tears.
“Seeing Mario Woods’ mom show up, I totally lost it,” said Pinkston. “Her son was just trying to get home that day.”
Pinkston added that like Gongora, he too has experienced homelessness, and denounced “the disregard for human life” that was shown by officers towards the homeless man’s life. Gongora, who was allegedly holding a knife, was shot and killed by police within seconds of encountering him at a Mission homeless encampment on April 7.
“At one point I was living in a car, which got repossessed. I was struggling that much,” said Pinkston. “[Gongora] could be any of us, and I would hope someone would stand up for my rights even when I’m gone.”