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Human Rights

San Francisco Hunger Strikers Enter Ninth Day to Protest Police Brutality Against Black and Brown Youths

Protesting police killings, gentrification and lack of opportunity.

Photo Credit: Steven Rosenfeld

A hunger strike protesting police violence and racial injustices against black and brown people has entered its ninth day in San Francisco.

Eight men and women—including a Board of Supervisor candidate, two pre-school teachers, local rappers and family members—are camped out on a sidewalk outside the police station in the city’s gentrifying Mission district, which has experienced an exodus of Latino residents and artists in recent years.

The hunger strikers, who are seated in chairs and not eating solid food, are surrounded by posters calling for the resignation of the police chief and filled with faces of young men who were killed by police in recent years.

“We have been here for eight days,” said supervisor candidate Edwin Lindo yesterday, as he played chess and sipped juice. “They need to pay attention to everything. 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 the police keep asking the strikers if they need medical help, and said that the mayor’s office and police chief are meeting daily to discuss the strikers. However, he said that the thing he was not hearing was a determination by police to address the culture inside their department that preys on his community.

If anything, he said San Francisco’s police force, which has shot and killed several  men of color in recent years, has a worse reputation than many departments across America.

“They’re worse,” Lindo 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?”

The hunger strikers say their top demand is the resignation of the police chief, Gregory P. Suhr. They allege Suhr has perpetuated a police culture that has allowed the killings of youths to continue, as well as other instances of racial profiling, such as arresting young black women at much higher rates than whites.

“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.”

Eva Kane, who lives nearby, said she has been checking on the hunger strikers daily and supporting them by bringing fresh juice to drink. Kane said she has lived in the city for 16 years and is dismayed by the gentrification and crackdown on minority youths under Mayor Ed Lee and Police Chief Suhr.

“I have seen such a drastic difference in the last two, two and a half years, with our new mayor,” she said. “It’s disheartening. It is not often you see a politician running for office out here with the activists. That’s something I respect.”    

The hunger strike is led by Lindo, the rapper Equipto and his mother Maria Cristina Gutierrez. Other media outlets have reported that as their health becomes an issue, the police and the mayor may arrest them and seek court orders to force-feed them. When asked, the strikers said they had not heard that rumor but vowed to resist.

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's democracy and voting rights. He is the author of several books on elections and the co-author of Who Controls Our Schools: How Billionaire-Sponsored Privatization Is Destroying Democracy and the Charter School Industry (AlterNet eBook, 2016).

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