This post is part of our special coverage on the #hungerforjusticesf. Five San Francisco residents are on hunger strike outside Mission Police Station, demanding that Mayor Ed Lee fire San Francisco Police Chief Gregory P. Suhr. Over the past three years the SFPD has shot and killed four men of color; the protestors feel that the hunger strike is the only remaining option to demand an end to police impunity. Read our full coverage here.
It’s been more than 120 hours since Blackwell, Pinkston, Sato & Guiterrez last had their meals. For Lindo its been over 144 hours — yet when Captain Daniel Perea warned them with citation and arrest they vowed to continue the hunger strike even when imprisoned. The protestors are yet to receive a response from the Mayor’s Office; we contacted the office several times and did not receive a response.
On Monday, Day 5 of the hunger strike, there were two confrontations between the San Francisco Police Department and the hunger strikers. At 8pm, Captain Daniel Perea, along with a lieutenant, threatened to arrest the five hunger strikers for sleeping in tents on a public street. He cited section 647(e) of the Penal Code and Section 22(a) of the Municipal Police Code. Section 22(a) is a citation for blocking sidewalks. Section 647(3) penalizes “lodging”. It’s a state law to prohibit lodging in a building without the consent of the owner (it is a law against “squatters”) but it has been used in the past to convict protesters. In 2012 homeless advocate Linda Lemaster was convicted of “unlawful lodging” and sentenced to community service and probation.
Parea first approached Lindo, Blackwell and Sato. “Does anyone of you need an ambulance,” he asked. Parea then proceeded to cite laws that could lead to arrest. The hunger strikers have been outside the Mission police station for five days, and this evening was the first warning of possible arrest. In response to the threat from the police officers, Edwin Lindo, organizer and one of the hunger strikers, vowed to continue the hunger strike even if arrested.
News of the arrest warning spread quickly, within minutes several supporters showed up at the scene. “I just want to know from you if you guys will be willing to take our place if we get arrested,” Lindo asked a crowd of supporters who responded with a resounding “yes.”
“Do you guys have a lawyer?” someone from the crowd asked, “No, but we’d love some support” Lindo replied. Public defender, Jeff Adachi said his office would be happy to represent the hunger strikers should they be arrested. Adachi has visited several times to support the hunger strikers and to inquire about their health.
CloseGitmo hunger striker Cynthia Papermaster, 70, came to show her support for the hunger strikers and offer her advice “In 2013, I started a hunger strike which I continued in solidarity with the hunger strikers in Guantanamo Bay who were being forced fed, which is torture. I went for 84 days on three hundred calories, which is starvation” she said. Papermaster continued her open-ended hunger strike until three more prisoners were released from Guantanamo in September 2013. “But I came here today to show my support for the hunger strikers and I came here today to give them some nutritional information because they needed it. I wanted to help them survive this for as long as possible if they needed to” she said.
Later in the evening, the police locked the public bathrooms in the police station that protesters had been using for the past five days. When one of the protestors went inside to use the toilet they were told that toilets were out of service. Already frustrated with the police, Lindo, Blackwell, Sato and Gutierrez confronted the officer in charge.
“A woman here used the toilet five minutes ago and you are telling me it’s out of order now? What about this pregnant woman, can she not use the toilet? Are you telling me all four toilets are suddenly out of service now?” Lindo asked “Yes, it is because I said so” the officer responded. Supporters gathered inside the police station and began chanting “We need the bathroom, we need the bathroom, we need the bathroom.”
Gutierrez, 66, who earlier confronted Parea for saying they can not lie down in the tents, was visibly agitated “That’s how you see us, like we are animals. You treat us like animals and this is the proof of that. We can’t even use the bathroom because you decided we can’t use it. Shame on you” she said.
Sato, better known as Equipto, joined Lindo and Gutierrez at the counter “We’ve been using the toilets for five days, five days we have been here making sure everything is clean. Come on, man don’t lie” he said.
Overwhelmed by the confrontation, Lindo broke down. In an emotionally charged speech, Blackwell addressed a crowd of supporters “Enough is enough, San Francisco I tell you is about to explode with the political power we got with the people. Ed Lee, I am challenging you to come down here, come down from your penthouse and come get with the people, now!” he said “Chief Suhr, where you at? we all want him to be fired, the new chant is ‘where’s Chief Suhr, where’s Chief Suhr” Blackwell chanted as supporters joined in.
Meanwhile, District 9 Supervisor David Campos texted Chief Suhr urging him to come down. Campos told reporters that he had received assurances from Chief Suhr that no one would be arrested tonight. Minutes later, Lindo was asked if he would like to come inside the police station to discuss the issue. “No way, no way is he going in alone. No way!” one of the protestors shouted, while others rushed to be on Lindo’s side. Gutierrez accompanied Lindo inside the station. Minutes later, Lindo came outside and addressed the crowd “They’ve told us that the toilets are not out of service, they will be opened. Only if everyone leaves the reception right now, they closed the toilets because they said it was unsanitary,” he said.
“Unsanitary? we’ve even been bringing our own toilet paper,” a protestor remarked as everyone made their way to the footpath outside. Emotions were running high outside the police station as people hugged the hunger strikers, Gutierrez broke down too momentarily, only to bounce back “We will win this, we will. We are doing this for our children so that they can have a better future. There’s love and change is coming, it’s coming,” she said.
As things seem to slow down outside the police station, people kept trickling in with pillows and blankets as they plan to stay the night in support of the protestors “Just in case the police decide to come back later tonight,” one of them remarked.