Hungry for justice in San Francisco

April 27, 2016

Fen Liano and Ares Geovanos report from San Francisco on the latest protest in the struggle to hold the SFPD accountable for racism and violence.

ON SATURDAY night in San Francisco, residents and tourists alike flock to the city's Mission District, where the many clubs and restaurants make the neighborhood a bustling hub of nightlife. But for the five protesters participating in a hunger strike outside the Mission District police station, last Saturday night in the Mission meant something entirely different.

Since Thursday, April 21, five fed-up citizens have been on a hunger strike. Together with their many supporters, they make one demand: "Fire Chief Suhr." The protesters won't eat or drink anything but water or coconut juice until SFPD Chief of Police Greg Suhr is either fired by Mayor Ed Lee or resigns.

As a flyer handed out by supporters to people passing by the hunger strike demonstration explained: "We can no longer watch our community be targeted and murdered by a police department wrought with criminal behavior and racism. We can no longer support a Chief who is content to keep his head in the sand!"

SUHR, WHO has been under scrutiny since his tenure began in 2011, has allowed violence and racism to go unchecked in the SFPD.

The site of a hunger strike against police violence in San Francisco's Mission District
The site of a hunger strike against police violence in San Francisco's Mission District (Ares Geovanos | SW)

Demands for his termination began during the "Textgate" scandal, which implicated more than 15 officers in sending homophobic and racist messages via department cell phones. Racist officers were discovered to be texting support for white supremacy, including such vile statements as "[a]ll niggers must fucking hang." Several officers responsible for these messages remain on paid leave.

The calls for Suhr to go grew louder after San Francisco police shot Mario Woods, a Black resident from the Bayview neighborhood, last December. The killing was caught on video footage that shows Woods--surrounded by at least six officers, and posing no threat to them or anyone else--being shot in broad daylight.

Despite the public outcry following the Woods murder, police shot another person of color just four months later. On April 7, Luis Gongora was killed by police in the tent encampment where he lived. The Mexican immigrant had recently been displaced from his apartment in the Mission.

The killing showed blatant disregard for the 2013 Community Policing General Order to establish "time and space" with people, as well as Suhr's recent mandate to "observe, maintain a safe distance and attempt to stabilize the scene." The two officers involved in Gongora's murder can be seen on surveillance video rushing from their cruisers toward their victim as he sat on the ground. The cops were out of the frame of the video when the shooting happened, but audio reveals that they shot Gongora within 30 seconds of exiting their cruisers.

What you can do

To support the protesters and learn more about their cause, visit them at the Mission Police Station at 630 Valencia Street, at Valencia and 17th.

Tell Mayor Ed Lee to fire Chief Suhr. Call him at 415-554-6141, tweet him @mayoredlee and Instagram him @mayoredlee.

Protesters see a commonality among these killings--Suhr has justified the killing of Black and Brown men as self-defense, despite the bulk of eyewitness and documentary evidence to the contrary.

The murder of Gongora was a breaking point for protesters, who had previously been involved in organizing with the Justice 4 Mario Woods Coalition.

"[San Franciscans] can no longer watch SFPD serve only the wealthy and privileged of this community as they murder unarmed Black, Brown, poor and disabled citizens," said local rap artist and hunger striker Ilych "Equipto" Sato, one of the hunger strikers. "Of course, I think about what not eating is doing to my health. But I'm not suffering in the same way, and I don't have the same pain compared to the people who have lost someone they loved on these streets."

The sidewalk in front of the police station has become an encampment for the protesters, drawing attention from the media and residents alike. A large stack of bottled water and blankets lies under the awning of the station, growing as supporters bring supplies to show their solidarity. Parents have been bringing their kids to meet the protesters, inspired by their commitment and referring to them as "heroes." There are many honks from cars as they pass.

Edwin Lindo, who is running for supervisor of San Francisco District 9, has been participating in the protest and appeared defiant despite a brief hospitalization on Friday night. "Power concedes nothing without demands, and sometimes that takes people going hungry."

Further Reading

From the archives