We stand with Kevin Clark

Clayton Plake reports from San Francisco on a mobilization against police brutality.

Kevin Clark (second from left) marches with activists against police brutality in the Mission (Steve Rhodes)Kevin Clark (second from left) marches with activists against police brutality in the Mission (Steve Rhodes)

SUPPORTERS OF 18-year-old African American community college student Kevin Clark rallied, along with Clark and his family, on February 7 at the 24th Street BART station in San Francisco's Mission District, three days after police inflicted a vicious, unprovoked assault on Clark.

More than 150 people participated in the action, the first to have taken place since video footage of the police officers brutalizing him made its way around the Internet. Despite the short period of time since the assault on Clark, Mission community members and activists from around the Bay Area have rapidly joined Kevin and his family in demanding that the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) stop victimizing innocent youth of color.

The identities of the officers involved remains undisclosed. Whether or not either officer will face disciplinary action is also unclear, although it appears unlikely. Department spokesperson Sgt. Mike Andrychak maintains that the two officers witnessed Clark attempting to assault another pedestrian when they approached him. "Nothing from what I've seen in this video shows anything unreasonable in what the officers did," Andrychak told local news station KTVU. "Anyone who commits a violent crime in the presence of two police officers, that person needs to be stopped and the incident investigated."

Local media outlets have not questioned the accuracy of Andrychak's statement. Despite the allegations of attempted assault, police are only charging Kevin with one count of resisting arrest and another of delaying arrest. Footage of the incident does not suggest the youth was in the process of assaulting anyone--or otherwise committing a "violent crime"--when one cop threw him to the ground and the other shoved his face into a sewer grate.

The nearly 200 people present in solidarity with Clark--a number of them close friends and longstanding Mission community members--demanded an end to the SFPD's dishonesty. Having courageously returned to the site of his brutal assault, Clark's humble but strong words gave the lie to his portrayal by police as a violent criminal.

"I didn't think this would have this big an effect on the community, but it looks like it's made a huge impact so I just want to thank everyone for coming out and supporting me," he said, adding that he hoped "we can fix this problem of police brutality and make the streets safer, so people won't have to worry about the police harassing them."

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DURING THE speakout in front of the Mission police station where Kevin was taken after he was attacked, Marcela San Miguel, one of Clark's former professors at City College of San Francisco, explained that "Kevin was always very respectful of me," adding that, "we had a really great professional, teacher-student relationship." San Miguel then described at length Kevin's dedication to his education, his intelligence and his kindness towards others.

Along with those who know Clark personally, activists and members of grassroots organizations from around the Bay Area helped build the event, including the ANSWER Coalition, Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth, Onyx Organizing Committee, the Idriss Stelley Foundation, the International Socialist Organization, the Kenneth Harding Foundation and others. Many speakers connected what happened to Kevin Clark with larger struggles related to the racism that motivated the assault.

Gloria Esteva, an organizer with People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER)--a Bay Area group committed to immigrant's rights that recently led a successful campaign granting free public transportation access to city youth--stated: "What happened to this young man is unfortunate, but it needs to be said this is something that happens all the time. We see teens harassed for not being able to pay a $2 bus fare, or for just minding their own business. And not just teens, but men and women too."

Speakers also made the connection between police brutality directed at the city's Black and Brown communities with the ongoing gentrification slowly tearing the heart out of the Mission, one of San Francisco's most vibrantly diverse areas.

Debray "Fly Benzo" Carpenter, a longtime activist from the Bayview Hunter's Point area where gentrification has pushed out a large percentage of San Francisco's African American community, was a victim of targeted police harassment himself. Kevin's physical assault, he explained, is one consequence of the economic assault on the ability of Black families and individuals to support themselves through ready access to work in their own communities.

Cephus "Uncle Bobby" Johnson is the uncle of Oscar Grant, who was killed by police in 2009, and a founding member of the Oscar Grant Foundation. Johnson emphasized the importance of an immediate community response to acts of police terror. "If you see something happening, take a moment out of your life, stop what you're doing, stand at a safe distance, and film it," he said. "These cops will lie, and they will stick to their story. We have to make sure we can prove they're liars."

The march itself stopped two lanes of traffic along Valencia Street, one of the Mission's busiest thoroughfares and a focus for much of the gentrification in the community. Chants raised in English and Spanish by a diverse and multiracial crowd of all ages reverberated through the streets and were met with supportive honks, shouts, waves and raised fists from passersby, some of whom joined the march.

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THE FORMAL demands being made on Kevin's behalf--that the SFPD drop the bogus charges, fire his assailants and charge them with assault and release the police report documenting the incident--fueled cries of "Justice for Kevin Clark!" and "No justice, no peace, no racist police!"

San Francisco's "finest" were of course out in large numbers. While nearly 50 police officers--some on foot, some on bicycles--flanked the march, no less than 60 additional police (many in partial riot gear) surrounded the police station where the march peacefully concluded. A police helicopter watched from the air, and photos captured by independent journalists revealed additional reinforcements parked and waiting a few blocks away from the event.

The cops barricading the station did indeed bristle at the sight of every camera they saw, but such an excessive threat of force by police also grimly supported an observation made by Jack Bryson, a longtime activist against police violence who works closely with the Justice for Alan Blueford Campaign. "It is a blessing that he [Kevin Clark] is alive, because at any moment that could have turned the other way and he could have been murdered," said Bryson. He followed up this sobering thought with a call to action, saying, "That's why we've got to stop these police from doing what they do."

The SFPD's excessive display of power reminded all present of the pervasive problem of police terror locally and nationally. We are indeed fortunate that we may stand behind Kevin Clark, and not merely in memory of him. Other victims--Alan Blueford and Raheim Brown in Oakland, Derrick Gaines in South San Francisco, and so many others around the country--have lost their lives to racist police violence. We will continue to stand with Kevin Clark, and against police terror and racial injustice, in San Francisco, the Bay Area, and everywhere. Hands off Kevin Clark, and justice for all victims of police terror!