“There’s been this kind of waiting game going on, let’s just wait this out and see if people lose interest and go away. Well look at us here today! We are all still here and we are not going away.”
John Avalos, District 11 supervisor, spoke to a crowd of people gathered on the steps of City Hall to rally against police brutality. The gathering was hosted by the Justice 4 Mario Woods Coalition, Justice for Alex Nieto, and Justice for Amilcar Perez Lopez, as the black and brown communities of San Francisco vowed to come and work together to fight systemic racism within the San Francisco Police Departmentx`.
As Avalos spoke, life-sized posters of Amilcar Perez Lopez, Mario Woods and Alex Nieto flanked him on each side. Activists on his right flanked a banner that demanded to “Fire Chief Suhr” and “Stop Police Terror.” In front of the podium sat a woman whose placard defined the entire movement “Children what do you want to be when you wake up? ALIVE” it read. It was truly a coming together of communities of all colors demanding an end to police brutality.
“People want to make this into a Black thing or a Brown thing, well it is a Black and Brown thing and it’s about our working-class community,” Avalos said. “We see all too often that when the police don’t treat us with respect, when they treat us with violence, that they have complete impunity, over and over again.
The Facebook post of Officer Morse, one of the police officers who shot Nieto, kept coming up during the rally, with demands to fire him or take strong disciplinary action.
District 9 Supervisor David Campos spoke next. “So long as any Black person or Brown person feels targeted in San Francisco, it doesn’t matter what color we are, we are individually targeted as well, because what happens to one of us happens to all of us” he said.
Campos spoke of the Nieto trial and how the testimony of witnesses (like Evan Snow, read our piece here) revealed how inherent racism “literally colored the way they saw the incident” he said. Since the killing of Alex Nieto, there has been a lot of discussion about Nieto being seen as a gang member because of the way he was dressed, in particular his red 49ers leather jacket.
“It’s human nature to make assumptions, but we expect better of our police department, we don’t want our police department to be driven to action by the prejudices of other people. We want them to be objective, we want to think ‘is this really was this is about’ when someone calls and sees a gang member, is it really what’s happening here? Is it a gang member or is it just a brown or black man who happens to be strolling on a neighborhood, ” Campos said.
“We have the right to walk in any part of San Francisco without anyone assuming that we are criminals, just because of what we look like” he said.
Singers Xiomara and Saul took the podium next with a beautiful rendition of “A Change is Gonna Come” and as they sang the words “It’s been too hard living, but I’m afraid to die ‘Cause I don’t know what’s up there beyond the sky” protesters broke down in tears, “It’s been a long, a long time coming But I know a change gon’ come, oh yes it will” she sang, Phelicia Jones, SEIU 1021 activist and spokesperson for the Justice for Mario Woods Coalition chimed in “Oh yea, that’s why we are here because, change is gonna come to San Francisco”
Minister Christopher Muhammad, from the Nation of Islam, rallied the crowd over the killing of Mario Woods: “You have a chief now that can lie and keep his job, you have a police department that can lie and keep their jobs.” He said. Muhammad said that use of force against Woods, Nieto and Perez Lopez warranted criminal charges against the police officers.
Alex Nieto’s parents, Elvira and Refugio, took the podium briefly as Elvira thanked the crowd for rallying in support of their son and other young men shot by the SFPD. “I want to thank everyone, I want to tell you that I think we have won because all of you are here with us” she said.
Muhammad and the rally then went inside the city hall to knock on the doors of Mayor Lee and the supervisors to demand answers on why the officers who shot Mario Woods were back on the job, why no action had been taken against Officer Morse for his Facebook comment — but more importantly what the Mayor office is doing about substantial police reforms.
Outside Mayor Lee’s office, two police officers stood guard and asked the members of the coalition to wait outside. Chants of “Justice for Mario Woods” echoed at City Hall, but no one from Lee’s office stepped out.
“Fire Chief Suhr” chants grew stronger. “Is someone from Mayor Lee’s office going to come out to speak to the coalition? Mohammed asked.
“Someone will come out to speak to you, hopefully shortly” the officer replied. Yet, no one came.
Ben Bac-Sierra, accompanied by Elvira and Refugio Nieto, also demanded answers regarding Officer Morse’s facebook comments, as people joined in to chant “Fire, Officer Morse!” No response.
Coalition members then walked down to the office of Sup. Malia Cohe, who represents District 10, office but were greeted by a staff members instead who said Cohen was in a meeting and would not be available. Mawuli Tugbenyoh, legislative aide to Cohen, was asked to elaborate on Cohen’s stance on Mario Woods killing and why there was no outrage from her office after the officers involved in Woods shooting returned to work.
“Mario Woods was a constituent of Bayview Hunters point, and last time I checked he was dead” Muhammad said, “What do you want to tell us from our supervisor?” Muhammad asked Tugbenyoh, but before he could answer Bac-Sierra raised the issue of Officer Morse’s Facebook comment: “He is an officer from your constituency.” Tugbenyoh said he hadn’t read about the comment.
Next up was the office of District 5 Supervisor London Breed, where coalition leaders were met with a staff member who identified himself as an “intern” but angered an already passionate crowd when he pointed at Muhammad and said “The only violence in here is being done by you people” while referring to Muhammad and others speaking in a raised voice.
“We just want to sound the alarm that the officers that shot Mario Woods are back on their job and there’s no outrage from the supervisors’ offices, secondly we want to raise the issue of Officer Morse’s Facebook comment,” Muhammad said.
On the way back to Mayor Lee’s office, the crowd stopped by at District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim’s office to thank her for her consistent support. There was still no response from Mayor Lee’s office, except that in place of three white officer, a black female officer now stood guarding the door. “So it seems they are not interested in speaking to us,” Muhammad said. “It would seem so” the female officer responded.
As everyone walked out, Jones words rang back “We are angry, we are enraged and we are going to fight back.”