Editorial by Willie Ratcliff
Minutes after the outrageous police killing of 19-year-old Kenneth Harding a stone’s throw from my home and office, I joined the crowd and for two hours listened to the witnesses, shared the anger and echoed the calls for unity. My initial report, “Why should you die for a transfer?” posted on sfbayview.com, your daily online Black newspaper, has been viewed 66,187 times.
People are not just reading my words; they’re watching the video – now restricted on YouTube – of Kenny fighting to live, blood pouring from his wounds as police who are trained and legally obligated to try and save him instead trained their guns on him and kept the crowd from offering aid and comfort. However Kenny was shot – and the latest of several conflicting police theories is that he shot himself – those police officers are responsible for allowing him, as Dr. Ahimsa Sumchai says, “to hemorrhage to death.”
Six days later, Department of Public Works Director Ed Reiskin pledged at the Bayview Library groundbreaking that Bayview Hunters Point residents would rebuild the library. In my construction career, starting in 1947 and increasingly in recent years, I’ve seen Black crews working only when a Black contractor is in charge. But it was Ed Reiskin who rescinded the contract awarded to my company, Liberty Builders, as low bidder on the contract to rebuild the library and who gave it instead to a white contractor whose bid was $310,000 higher.
Now that the community is unified as it was 45 years ago when, on Sept. 27, 1966, SFPD killed 17-year-old Matthew Johnson, inciting the Hunters Point rebellion that made headlines around the world, I know you will hold Reiskin to his word – or whoever takes his place at DPW now that he’s been transferred to head Muni. Now Reiskin is the man we’ll push to make Muni free for those who can’t afford the fare and to stop the use of armed police for fare enforcement.
The reason I pulled a team of top Black professionals together to bid to rebuild the library was to prevent another lockout on this, the next City-funded construction project in Bayview Hunters Point since the five years of agony City Hall put us through when $700 million in jobs and contracts to build the T-train line were given to anybody but Black contractors and workers. I’d expected to go to court last March to bring the City to the table to reconsider the library contract, but the lawyers want more money and I don’t have it.
Jobs and cops – we need far more of the first and far fewer of the latter in this occupied community that looks more like a police state every day. “We should own and operate and control the economy of our community,” Malcolm X said in his “The Ballot or the Bullet” speech on April 12, 1964, and that must be our goal.
Economic power is the key to freedom. We can stop our corporate-controlled government from stealing our jobs, our freedom, our land and our lives when we make the non-negotiable demand for economic equity.
We deserve the jobs and contracts that are created by our tax dollars – that could be putting food on our tables and keeping our youth out of prison and the graveyard. We deserve the fair, non-predatory business and home loans that would enable us to hire each other and stop the foreclosures that are ravaging our neighborhood like nowhere else in San Francisco. We deserve an equal opportunity to develop our neighborhood – equal to the big developers, from Lennar to Catholic Charities, that are given huge swaths of our land by City Hall for a dollar.
If a few prisoners in the torture chamber called the Pelican Bay SHU who can neither see nor talk to each other can find a way to unite and inspire 6,600 other California prisoners to starve themselves to raise the boot just a little way off their neck, is there anything we can’t do?
We in Bayview Hunters Point are blessed with the sunniest climate, the best views, thus the most valuable land in San Francisco, the city with the most valuable land on earth. I believe this community is worth fighting for; don’t you? I believe our children are worth fighting for; if we don’t, who will?
Let us stand together and put a stop to the stealing of our jobs, our freedom, our land and our lives. Let us demand the right to “own and operate and control the economy of our community,” as Brother Malcolm advised. Now – right now – is the time for us to prove that it’s not the police, it’s not the prison guards or the big developers who have the power to impoverish and enslave us and drive us off our land. The ultimate power belongs to the people, and we will use it.
Bay View publisher Willie Ratcliff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (415) 671-0789.