Five San Franciscans protesting Police brutality and institutional racism against the city’s Black and Brown youths ended their hunger strike after 17 days, despite City Hall rejecting their key demand to fire Police Chief Greg Suhr.
“As the health of #Frisco5 grows uncertain, the whole San Francisco community took the step to demand the hunger strikers suspend their hunger strike so they can return to the front lines and help shape this movement and the pursuit of justice for the black and brown citizens of San Francisco,” the protesters’ Facebook page said. “They have decided to listen to the community that they love. Considering the strength of the movement that has been galvanized through the last 17 days of the hunger strike, the community has made their voice heard.”
The protesters, who captured local, national and international media attention, had camped outside a police station in the city’s gentrifying Mission District, which, for decades, was the center of its Latino immigrant community. They were protesting a racist police culture that they said led to the killing of several young men, racist text messages among police comparing Black and Brown youths to animals and other trends, such as the city’s disproportionately high rates of arrest of young Black women compared to whites.
The strikers demanded the firing of the police chief, who refused to step down and was supported by Mayor Ed Lee. Lee went to the Mission Police Station to meet with the strikers early last week, but they would not come inside to talk with him. The protesters, then in wheelchairs, led a march on City Hall. They were taken on Friday to a hospital, where they were given nutrients to make up for the loss of solid foods.
“The end of the strike is in no way a concession – it's a victory of monumental proportions,” their Facebook statement said. “They have been told in no uncertain terms by the community that they are needed here to help fight a corrupt administration and a racist and violent police department. They have been asked to help build opportunity for the very community that they were willing to lay down their lives for. They still hold true to their demands.”
The protesters are calling for a general strike and rally on Monday in front of City Hall at 8:30 a.m. The five strikers—Sellassie Blackwell, Ilyich Sato, Edwin Lindo, Maria Cristina Gutierrez and Ike Pinkston—stopped eating in April to protest about the deaths of Mario Woods, Alex Nieto and Amilcar Lopez – all of whom had been shot dead by the city’s police.
The strikers’ have shone a spotlight on the city’s police culture, which locally elected progressives said was positive, even though many did not agree that firing the police chief would lead to institutional reforms.
“They are creating space for people like me to step in to make sure that City Hall is responding in some way,” Supervisor John Avalos told the San Francisco Examiner. “City Hall’s not gonna act on its own. It’s gonna be pressure from the outside…to drive change.”
But Supervisor Eric Mar told the newspaper that activists want more than politicians can deliver. “There is always that disconnect where the demands are much more radical than the effort that comes from those of us inside City Hall,” he said, adding he supports the strikers.
The Mayor has told Suhr and the city’s Police Commission to reform the department’s use of force rules to reduce the number of fatal police shootings, but he also supports the police chief—who refuses to quit.
The strikers’ agenda is broader than ending police racism, Edwin Lindo told AlterNet a week into the hunger strike.
“They need to pay attention to everything,” he said. “We have issues of the over-criminalization of the black and brown communities. We have issues of the under-education of students of color and the reality that if you grow up here, your chances are slim to none that you can get a job to stay here. The city has been turned sideways, and we are doing our part to take the city back and give it to the people.”
Lindo said San Francisco’s police force has a worse reputation than many departments across America.
“They’re worse,” he said. “Have you read the text messages? The texts that the monkey deserved to die, referring to an African-American person who was killed? That they wish they could burn crosses on people’s lawns like the KKK?”
“It starts with getting rid of the leader of that culture, who has allowed it all to take place without accountability,” Lindo said. “We won’t allow it to take place anymore.”
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