by Josh Wolf
After spending two weeks without food, the bodies of the five people camped outside of the Mission Police Station are growing weak, but their commitment to seeing San Francisco’s police chief step down remains strong.
They are known as the #frisco5 and have been on a hunger strike since April 21, and they are calling for Mayor Ed Lee to fire Police Chief Greg Suhr or for him to resign on his own. So far, both the mayor and the chief have refused to consider their demand.
The most recent person killed by the San Francisco Police Department was Jose Luis Gongora-Pat, who was shot on April 7.
Gongora-Pat had been living in a tent on the 400 block of Shotwell Street when the police were called regarding a man with a knife. Although multiple witnesses have said that Gongora-Pat was neither holding the knife nor posed any threat to the responding officers, he was shot repeatedly within 30-seconds after the police arrived.
Gongora-Pat’s death follows that of Mario Woods who was killed by the SFPD in December of last year, and Amilcar Pérez-López who was killed in February of that same year. Last month, a civil jury ruled that the police department wouldn’t be held responsible for the killing of Alex Nieto who was shot by police on March 21, 2014.
These numerous deaths under the command of Chief Suhr have ignited a broad community coalition that have been advocating for the chief to step down for months.
On April 15, at a celebration in Dolores Park to commemorate 4/15 day — the area code for San Francisco — Ilyich Sato, who is more widely known as the rapper Equipto, announced that he would be starting a hunger strike with his mother Maria Cristina Gutiérrez. The two pledged to refuse food until Chief Suhr stepped down or was fired by the mayor.
By the time that they began fasting, three additional activists agreed to join the hunger strike and the #Frisco5 was born. The additional strikers include Edwin Lindo, a lawyer and community activist who is a candidate for Supervisor in District 9; Averi Selassie Blackwell, a rapper, community activist and father to a young child who he has said helped catalyze his decision to take part in the hunger strike, and Ike Ali Pinkston who runs the Companeros Del Barrio Preschool with Gutiérrez.
On Tuesday, May 3, hundreds of people filled the block of Valencia street between 17th and 18th street to show their support for the hunger strikers. The large contingent planned to march to City Hall to meet with the Mayor, but it remained uncertain if the mayor would agree to meet with them.
Without any advanced notice, Mayor Lee had stopped by to visit the hunger strikers the day before their planned rally, but they said they were frustrated and angry by the mayor’s approach. They said they already had plans to meet with the mayor the following day and would only participate in a conversation if he was willing to fire the chief. After thirty minutes, the mayor quietly exited through a side door to the police station, the same way that he had arrived earlier in the day.
Severely weakened from nearly two weeks without food, the hunger strikers were helped into wheel chairs for the mile-long march and by volunteers from UCSF who pushed them along as they led the march to City Hall.
When the crowd arrived at City Hall, supporters flanked both sides along Civic Center Plaza and ushered the #frisco5 up the wheelchair ramp and into the building. As they entered the building and headed to the Mayor’s Office the crowd rallied outside and waited for updates.
“It took a hunger strike to make me feel alive in a city that feels dead,” said poet Tony Robles during the rally. “It took a hunger strike to clear my veins of all that digital cholesterol. It took a hunger strike to show that we could be tender without legal tender.”
Meanwhile, according the mayor’s twitter feed, the mayor was meeting with “merchants on 3rd St in the Bayview to discuss how City can support small business.”
About an hour later, Lee posted that he was “Touring Pier 80 shelter as #SF receives $4.5m from @HUDgov to house & support our homeless residents.”
“The Mayor’s a coward,” said Yayne Abeba, the media liaison for the #Frisco5. “He won’t even come back to City Hall.”
With the mayor absent from his office in room 200, the contingent of folks inside City Hall moved into the chamber for the Board of Supervisors during their regular weekly meeting.
During that meeting, supporters and participants in the strike spoke out and addressed the supervisors, but the city broadcaster SFGovTV cut off the broadcast and instead broadcast a static graphic that said, “Please stand by, this meeting is in recess.”
About two hours after they entered city hall, the #frisco5 came out to address their supporters.
“Now we’re powerful because we have shown the world that we were trying to reach out to those who said that they are representing our people in there and they did not respond. So there will be no more negotiations. There will be no more talking to any of these people,” said Gutiérrez, one of the #frisco5. “There will be only a constant struggle, not only by us that are not going to eat, but each one of you that are going to follow the mayor everywhere that he is, and you tell him that he has to save our life and that he has to fire the chief of police.”