Friday marked the one-year anniversary of the encounter between Luis Gongora Pat and two San Francisco police officers that ended in less than 30 seconds with the Yucatec-Mayan immigrant shot dead.
Some 50 people gathered at the site of the shooting on Friday morning to commence an anti-police brutality protest in Gongora Pat’s honor.
That group swelled in size as protesters marched along the Mission’s main corridors towards City Hall and conducted flash theater and dance performances that held up traffic at busy intersections along the way.
The protesters demanded accountability – not only by police in the shooting of Gongora Pat, but by the city government and leaders whom they say have instituted a system that has failed Gongora Pat and continues to fail many others like him.
“We are not only advocating against police brutality and murders, but also this city that is promoting racist and ethnic cleansing in the Mission and throughout the city and houselessness,” said Laura Guzman, director of homelessness services at the Mission Neighborhood Health Center.
Gongora Pat, who was homeless, was armed with a knife and fatally shot at the intersection of 19th and Shotwell streets where he lived in an encampment community.
In life and death, Gongora Pat teetered on the intersection of San Francisco’s most pressing social injustices – police violence, the criminalization of the homeless and a housing crisis that has uprooted many lives, including that of Gongora Pat.
Gongora Pat immigrated to San Francisco from the Yucatan in 2004 to support his family, leaving behind his parents, a wife, and three children. Upon his arrival, the immigrant faced a language barrier that he was unable to overcome, and fell on hard times when he lost his job as a dishwasher and his Mission District home through an eviction.
“There’s such intersectionality [with this case], it’s incredible,” said Tommi Avicolli Mecca, an advocate with the Housing Rights Committee. “We have a person who gets evicted and can’t afford to stay in this city and to rent, and ends up homeless and then gets killed by a police officer. It shows that the whole system is against us.”
A memorial of flowers and candles was erected at the near the Shotwell Street intersection, where Gongora’s tent once stood.
Gongora Pat not only faced the struggles of an immigrant, but also injustices that come with poverty. In the current political climate, it is a struggle that is reflected in many communities throughout the nation, said Iswari Espana, a former candidate for District 9 Supervisor.
“This case is a microcosm of what is happening globally,” said Espana. “For people that come to this city, there’s all these promises for what they can do but for us, there are threats, and those threats seem to be stronger than anything else.”
“We are feeling attack and we don’t have a floor for our voices,” he added.
Holding signs that read “Stop Police Murder,” the chanting group marched some six blocks towards Mission Police Station, where the officers who shot Gongora Pat – Sergeant Nate Steger and Officer Michael Mellone – were deployed at the time.
While crossing 18th and Mission streets, the protesters came to a sudden stop as Aztec dancers flooded the intersection, holding up traffic while dancing to the beat of drums.
A woman standing on the sidewalk had observed the group approach, and as the dancers passed, she broke out in tears. The woman, who gave her name as Anisa, said that her family immigrated from Mexico and that she grew up in the Mission.
“I’m fearful of doing something like this because I’m afraid that the cops will kill me,” said Anisa, pointing at the protesters. “But this is what we need. It’s so sickening what they are doing to us day after day.”
Upon arriving at the police station at 17th and Mission streets, the protesters were met by a line of officers who created a human shield between them and the police station.
One protester confronted an officer, yelling “murderer” to his face – but the officer did not budge.
Mission Station Captain William Griffin, who took office last month, said that the anger was not completely misdirected.
“It’s part of the communication process,” said Griffin. “Part of this is allowing the opportunity to express themselves and express their concerns. As representatives of the community, we need to listen to these people.”
In the two years leading up to Gongora Pat’s death, 10 people have died at the hands of police in San Francisco including five in the Mission District. Jessica Williams, shot by police officer in the Bayview almost a month after Gongora Pat’s death, brings that number to 11.
All but one of those cases remain open, and in none have the officers involved been charged by District Attorney George Gascon.
Family members of the victims who protested on Friday said they are fed up with what they described as blatant misconduct during and after police shootings.
“No San Francisco authority has ever bothered to notified us about [Gongora Pat’s] death,” said Luis Poot Pat, the slain man’s cousin, addressing protesters and police officers who had come to oversee the gathering.
“A year later, neither the chief of police, nor [District Attorney] Gascon, nor any other authority has had the courtesy to tell us the state of progress in my cousin’s case,” he said, adding: “Gascon, grow a pair!.”
Anti-police brutality activists who addressed the protesters at the station said that without their voices, Gongora Pat’s family would likely never see retribution while police impunity in San Francisco would remain the status quo.
“I want to thank Luis Gongora Pat – he brought me here,” said Christina Gutierrez, a member of the Frisco Five, a group of activists who went on a hunger strike in front of Mission station weeks of Gongora Pat’s death to protest police brutality and racial bias. Their effort resulted in the resignation of then Police Chief Greg Suhr.
The group continued en route to City Hall, stopping at McCoppin Hub, a parklet at the edge of the Mission that was recently fenced off by the city in an effort to discourage its use by the homeless.
“This park ties it in. It was a refuge for the homeless in this community, a place for them to come and rest,” said Ali. “They can’t do it on the street because San Francisco has laws that make [resting] on the street criminal.”
Next to McCoppin Hub, Ali pointed to the residential hotel from which Gongora Pat and his brother had been evicted a few years prior.
“They declare this city a sanctuary city but it’s a goddamn lie,” said Ali. “If you are homeless in San Francisco, and if you are an immigrant, there is no fucking sanctuary in this city.”
Accompanied by motorcycle and foot patrols, the protesters continued their march for justice along Market Street. Bringing their message to the steps of City Hall, the protesters formed a human chain on the street in front of the government building by linking hands.
There, they were met by civil rights attorney Adante Pointer, who will be representing Gongora Pat’s family in a civil trial scheduled for October 2018.
“I don’t want you to grow weary or disillusioned,” said Pointer in regard to the long road ahead. “We must keep focused on the prize, which is justice.”