On the road to Sacramento, former hunger strikers encounter hostility, solidarity

Maria Christina Gutierrez at the Compañeros del Barrio preschool in the Mission. Photo by Laura Wenus

At 67, great-grandmother Christina Gutierrez is far from giving up on racial justice.

Last year, she participated in a 17-day hunger strike with the Frisco Five, protesting the shooting of men of color by San Francisco Police officers and calling for the resignation of then Police Chief Greg Suhr. Pressure built, and after the next fatal police shooting, Suhr resigned.

Recently, Gutierrez, who runs a preschool in the Mission, told the Police Commission she opposes arming San Francisco police officers with Tasers. 

Scant weeks earlier, she had embarked on another physical challenge to protest police shootings. She, three others from the Frisco Five and another six activists, plus an entourage of supporters, set out on Oct. 6 to march to Sacramento.

The group covered at least 100 miles on foot over the course of 13 days.

In Sacramento, Gutierrez wanted to meet with State Attorney General Xavier Becerra, but Becerra was unavailable. And Gutierrez took that, if not personally, then as a message.

“For him to have a [67]-year-old woman walk 95 miles and not to say, ‘I’m gonna open the doors’ … shows me where he’s at,” she said. “Now we know that we have no ally there.”

The marchers. Photo courtesy Rafael Picazo.

The original group marching to Sacramento. Photo courtesy Rafael Picazo.

In an eerie echo of the last days of the hunger strike, Gutierrez, who had fallen and injured her foot, used a wheelchair to go the last mile into Sacramento.

At the hospital, she said, the police were called when she and her son (local rapper Equipto) complained that she was in pain and not being treated. At some point, Gutierrez said, she was told by an irritated staff member that she should simply crawl if she couldn’t walk.

On the road, it wasn’t much better. Ike Pinkston, a teacher at the preschool Gutierrez runs and also one of the hunger strikers, recalled an incident in which the driver of a large truck pulled up in the dirt next to the march, turned the car and revved his engine and then took off, engulfing the group in a cloud of dirt and exhaust.

Gutierrez remembered telling the other marchers that they should not be on the road at night, fearing that someone would use the cover of darkness to run them over.

She feels certain that the hostility their group faced was racially motivated.

“We are in a crisis. That walk helped me to see that,” Gutierrez said.

Other activists in the cities where the march stopped, however, were welcoming. After rerouting because of massive, devastating fires that had broken out in northern California, the group arrived in Sacramento and met with a rally organized by supporters.

“That felt good, because we were making a connection, and the fact that they organized,” Gutierrez said.

“The community support, the love that we got, erased all the hate that we got,” said Victor Picazo, a Mission activist and one of the marchers.

Having found no ally in Becerra, Gutierrez and her supporters are setting their sights on unseating another high-ranking San Francisco official: District Attorney George Gascón.

Gascón has never filed criminal charges against any San Francisco Police officer for a police shooting. He did file charges against Alameda County Sheriff’s deputies for the beating of Stanislav Petrov in a Mission District alley in November 2015.

Police accountability activists like Gutierrez are frustrated with the pace of Gascon’s investigations and the lack of charges against officers who have shot and killed civilians. They also mistrust him, in part, because of his past roles as a police officer and chief of police.

“If he ain’t gonna charge them, he should step out,” Gutierrez said.

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One Comment

  1. Magick Altman

    Great Article! Important event that needed to be covered, Appreciated!

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