Family and advocates seeking criminal penalties for the officers who shot Luis Gongora Pat – a 45-year-old homeless man living in the Mission District – gathered at the site of his shooting Wednesday morning to mark the five-month anniversary of his death.
“I miss him very much, and I wish that he was still here,” said John Visor, a homeless man who earlier this year came forth as a direct eyewitness to the officer-involved shooting that claimed Gongora Pat’s life within 30 seconds.
Visor said that whenever he passes the intersection of 19th and Shotwell streets, where Gongora Pat was killed in April, he sits against a nearby wall – just as his friend and camp mate had done in his final moments – and replays the incident in his head.
“I can’t sleep, I hear the gunshots all the time,” he said.
The two men had been living in the same homeless encampment for several months, and Visor said he still suffers from seeing his friend, who was armed with a knife, gunned down just steps away from his tent.
Police have said that Gongora Pat was challenging them with a 13-inch kitchen knife moments before they shot Gongora first with non-lethal beanbag rounds and then seven bullets, but that account is disputed by Visor and several other eyewitnesses.
The small group of friends and social justice advocates hoped to keep Gongora Pat’s death from being forgotten.
“Whether we are five people or 5,000 people, we cannot let this happen – the police killings have to stop,” said Kezia Martinis, a Mission District resident who remembers hearing the shots that killed Gongora Pat. “I’m a black woman in the Bay Area and I have a black 14-year-old son. I cannot keep calm. This affects me.”
Martinis said she took the day off from work to participate in the memorial and to show solidarity for the struggle of a group of advocates who are demanding punishment of the officers involved Gongora Pat’s death and a string of other controversial shootings that have rocked the San Francisco Police Department in recent years.
“It is our duty to recognize that Luis died because there is complete police impunity,” said community organizer Adriana Camarena.
Gongora Pat died just a month after officers involved in the 2014 shooting of Alex Nieto at Bernal Heights Park were found not to have used excessive force by a jury in a civil trial in March. The officers, who fired at least 48 shots at Nieto, a security guard armed with a taser, never faced criminal charges.
In May, a police shooting in the Bayview that claimed the life of an unarmed black woman, Jessica Williams, ultimately led to the removal of then-police-chief Greg Suhr. Before that, in December 2015, a video recording of officers fatally shooting Bayview resident Mario Woods, who was armed with a knife, went viral and sparked citywide protests that challenged the police department’s use of force policies.
“From what evidence there is, we know that he was just sitting against that doorway when he was approached, which means he was not a threat at all to the police,” said Camarena, referring to Gongora Pat. “For us, that is criminal.”
Camarena and other advocates behind the Justice for Luis Gongora Pat Coalition said that interim Police Chief Toney Chaplin has failed to follow through on his promise for timely updates on the ongoing criminal investigation.
“Through the office of [Mission Supervisor] David Campos, we are trying to follow up on that promise,” said Camarena.
Artists are planning to paint a mural honoring Gongora Pat in Clarion Alley, and intend to involve members of Gongora Pat’s family in the design process, said Megan Wilson, director of the Clarion Alley Mural Project.
In addition, this year’s Day of the Dead exhibit at SoMarts will feature a commemorative altar to Gongora Pat.
Advocates say that these tributes are important steps in pressing the police department and city leaders to serve justice.
“These actions, the memorials – it’s important for the city not to forget us,” said Camarena.