Poisoned Bayview Hunters Point residents ready to demand justice from City Hall for Lennar’s poison dust
by Sam Drew, PNN staff writer
San Francisco – “They have stirred up a sleeping giant. This issue has awakened the community,” said Minister Christopher Muhammad as he looked intently at his audience in the Grace Tabernacle Community Church. He was talking about the continual poisoning of the Bayview Hunters Point district caused by the redevelopment project at the Hunters Point Shipyard headed by the Lennar Corp.
The sleeping giant is the organized and unified community that is confronting negligent city and county officials. The sleeping giant has had his peaceful sleep disturbed and is now seeking retribution from those who committed this dastardly deed.
In previous townhall meetings that I have attended, olive branches have been extended to the mayor, Board of Supervisors, the Health Department and the Redevelopment Agency to come and test the community’s land and people to see if the claims are true. But those fair gestures were met with indifference, and the community is moving on to the next phase – as Muhammad calls it, the “direct action” phase.
“They have ignored the poor. Now the poor are coming to their door,” he stated defiantly. “Next Tuesday we need to visit Mayor Newsom in his office. Tuesday is our D-day; D stands for decision,” Muhammad continued. “We call for the resignation of the Director of Public Health Mitchell Katz, and if he doesn’t resign, the mayor should fire him,” Muhammad firmly stated.
He went on to speak about how Katz never sounded the alarms when known health violations occurred in the Bayview. Minister Muhammad was referring to the four months from April to August that the Lennar Corp. had no monitors on site to check the levels of toxicity being put into the air. Muhammad smiled as he told the engrossed audience how haphazard the monitoring system was. “Half the time they put the monitors out they didn’t work,” he stated forcefully.
The sleeping giant has a few more doors to knock on, besides just the mayor’s office since his rude awakening. “Arc Ecology needs to be terminated. Arc Ecology is a nonprofit entity that is supposed to inform the community when they have been exposed to health issues. It is funded by the Redevelopment Agency to the tune of $600,000. Why do you need $600,000 to do nothing!” exclaimed Muhammad.
In the audience was support from Supervisor Chris Daly, who received special kudos from Muhammad: “Anyone who stands up for this community needs to have the support of this community, but anyone who doesn’t stand up for this community should be recalled. All it takes is 10 percent [of the registered voters in the district to sign a petition to initiate a recall election]. No one should be comfortable in a seat when the community is dying,” he added.
To show the strength and diversity of this giant, various clergymen spoke on behalf of this successful effort for environmental justice. Pastor Joe Niumalelega, who has been with the cause from day one, spoke of the joy he felt seeing all of God’s people coming together as one. “God, I want us to come together one time. Let all nations know. Let’s do this thing for our young, for our community,” Pastor Niumalelega said.
Rev. Victor Santana told of his problems attempting to explain to the Supervisors the importance of this issue. “The last time I went to the civic center to explain to the Supervisors, the Supervisors didn’t understand,” he said.
To reiterate the simplicity of what the community is asking for, Minister Muhammad once again explained the reasonable demands the community is making. “We’re asking for a temporary shut down of the construction at the shipyard, so we can access the levels of exposure from arsenic and lead. And we can’t trust the Health Department under Mitchell Katz to do it. We want an independent party” to perform the testing, he said.
To put a human face to this story of toxic nightmares, I spoke to local resident Pat Thomas who lives close to the Shipyard. She told me how her life has changed since Lennar began digging and showering the community with toxic dust.
“For the last six months, my eyes are red and itching. I have headaches and I’m short of breath. I’ve been breaking out in rashes. Where I live at we had green stuff on the carpet. My husband had to wash it off,” she said, exasperated.
Host Pastor Ernest Jackson compared the movement for environmental justice to another famous and successful movement. “In the ‘60s I was too young to be involved in the civil rights movement. I’ve always regretted that, [but] this movement has allowed me to be in a cause for humanity. At least I can say I was with them,” he said.
The pastor added the final words to the evening’s powerful meeting, as a call to all community members and anyone with principles willing to stand up for what’s right: “The doors will remain open at Grace Tabernacle Community Church.”
For the latest information on town hall meetings and other events and for news bulletins, call the hotline, 1(866) 475-6907, where you can also leave a message. This is the third in a series of stories on Bayview Hunters Point’s grassroots movement for justice by Sam Drew, who is a staff writer at Poor Magazine and Poor News Network, www.poormagazine.org, (415) 863-6306.