Frisco 5 hunger strikers march to City Hall with hundreds of supporters, mayor a no show

The Frisco 5 hunger strikers (from left in wheelchairs) Ilych “Equipto” Sato, Sellassie Blackwell, Maria Cristina Gutierrez, age 66, Edwin Lindo and Ike Pinkston, clasping hands in solidarity, take a moment at City Hall before demanding to meet with Mayor Ed Lee in protest against police brutality. – Photo: Santiago Mejia, The Guardsman
The Frisco 5 hunger strikers (from left in wheelchairs) Ilych “Equipto” Sato, Sellassie Blackwell, Maria Cristina Gutierrez, age 66, Edwin Lindo and Ike Pinkston, clasping hands in solidarity, take a moment at City Hall before demanding to meet with Mayor Ed Lee in protest against police brutality. – Photo: Santiago Mejia, The Guardsman

by Marco Siler-Gonzales

The San Francisco hunger strikers dubbed the Frisco 5 rolled to the doorstep of City Hall in wheelchairs on May 3, demanding the mayor fire San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr, but the mayor was not there.

The Frisco 5 – Edwin Lindo, 29; Cristina Gutierrez, 66; Sellassie Blackwell, 39; Ike Pinkston, 42; and llych “Equipto” Sato, 42 – had not eaten for 13 days while camped out in front of the Mission Police Station. From there, they led some 300 protesters on a two-mile march to City Hall in civil unrest protesting the San Francisco police force, which they have called unaccountable and racist. At City Hall, the crowd grew to about 1,000, witnesses say.

Frisco 5 striker Sellassie rises from his wheelchair to demand the Board of Supervisors take action on police brutality and insist on the firing of Chief Suhr. The Frisco 5 and their supporters interrupted the weekly meeting of the supervisors in their City Hall legislative chambers on Tuesday, May 3, after being rebuffed by the mayor. – Photo: Natasha Dangond, special to The Guardsman
Frisco 5 striker Sellassie rises from his wheelchair to demand the Board of Supervisors take action on police brutality and insist on the firing of Chief Suhr. The Frisco 5 and their supporters interrupted the weekly meeting of the supervisors in their City Hall legislative chambers on Tuesday, May 3, after being rebuffed by the mayor. – Photo: Natasha Dangond, special to The Guardsman

The five hunger strikers arrived in front of Mayor Lee’s office in City Hall around 3:00 p.m. accompanied by supporters and family members, where a representative of the mayor’s office told the activists that Mayor Lee was in the Bayview.

The protesters demanded that the mayor return to meet with the Frisco 5 immediately but were told by the Mayor’s representative that they could instead speak with the mayor’s advisers in room 201.

The demonstrators did not accept the invitation and instead walked into the Board of the Supervisors’ legislative chamber meeting while chanting, “Fire Chief Suhr!”

The Frisco 5 were wheeled into the chamber shortly after, demanding the Board of Supervisors pass an emergency resolution to fire the police chief, who they hold responsible for the controversial deaths of Alex Nieto, Mario Woods, Amilcar Perez-Lopez and Luis Gongora, all people of color shot by police since 2014.

“The Board of Supervisors don’t have the authority to fire Suhr,” District 5 supervisor and president of the board London Breed told the activists. “That power lies with the police commission and the mayor.”

Hunger striker Sellassie Blackwell rose from his wheelchair. “People need to see a moral decision from this chamber. You can either be with the people or you can sell out!” he said.

Supervisor David Campos responds angrily to the Frisco 5, according to Mission Local: “’The idea that you fire Chief Suhr and that solves things, I’m sorry, that’s not what I believe,’ said Campos to loud jeers from the crowd. ‘We need to change the entire system. It’s not just about who the chief of police is; it’s about how this department sees itself.’” The exchange between the Frisco 5 and the supervisors went on for 30 minutes. – Photo: Natasha Dangond, special to The Guardsman
Supervisor David Campos responds angrily to the Frisco 5, according to Mission Local: “’The idea that you fire Chief Suhr and that solves things, I’m sorry, that’s not what I believe,’ said Campos to loud jeers from the crowd. ‘We need to change the entire system. It’s not just about who the chief of police is; it’s about how this department sees itself.’” The exchange between the Frisco 5 and the supervisors went on for 30 minutes. – Photo: Natasha Dangond, special to The Guardsman

“It’s not just the police chief; it’s about the whole department. I am here to tell you that we want to work with you,” District 9 Supervisor David Campos said.

Cristina Gutierrez, the eldest member of the Frisco 5, expressed complete dissatisfaction with the board’s efforts to place pressure on the mayor to fire Chief Suhr.

“I don’t think you (all) have any respect for this community. You needed to wait for us to put our lives on the line to have our voices heard,” Gutierrez said. “Campos, you have done nothing, but you can still do something for the children of this community.”

When the demonstrators asked Supervisor Breed whether she has, in any way, pushed the mayor to fire Chief Suhr, Breed said, “I’m not going to say whether I asked the mayor to fire the chief publicly.”

Hungry for justice

The Frisco 5 said Mayor Lee and the district supervisors are obligated to either fire Chief Suhr or put pressure on him to resign and root out what the activists deem a systemic and bigoted culture of police violence against Black and Brown members of the San Francisco community.

Many elected officials have said firing the police chief will not solve the department’s laundry list of problems – from racist texting scandals to the controversial shooting deaths of the aforementioned four men of color in the past two years – but the activists were adamant that firing the chief is the first step to making serious reform.

Sellassie and Gutierrez embrace while being pushed in wheelchairs on Day 13 of their hunger strike during a rally against police brutality at City Hall, where they went to meet with Mayor Lee to demand the firing of Chief Suhr. Lee was a no show. Maria Cristina Gutierrez, 66, mother of rapper and fellow hunger striker Equipto and “mama” to all the Frisco 5, is the one who first proposed the hunger strike. – Photo: Natasha Dangond, special to The Guardsman
Sellassie and Gutierrez embrace while being pushed in wheelchairs on Day 13 of their hunger strike during a rally against police brutality at City Hall, where they went to meet with Mayor Lee to demand the firing of Chief Suhr. Lee was a no show. Maria Cristina Gutierrez, 66, mother of rapper and fellow hunger striker Equipto and “mama” to all the Frisco 5, is the one who first proposed the hunger strike. – Photo: Natasha Dangond, special to The Guardsman

Chief Suhr told reporters on April 26, six days into the strike, that he has no plans to resign. On the same day, Mayor Lee said he respects the hunger strikers’ right to protest and cares about their health but will continue to support Chief Suhr.

Frisco 5

After a tense chamber meeting between protesters and supervisors, the Frisco 5 returned to the steps of City Hall to address their supporters.

“We’ll be here until Chief Suhr steps down, puts his badge in a box and sends it back to City Hall,” hunger striker and District 9 supervisor candidate Edwin Lindo said. “We’ll be here until our stomach starts to eat itself.”

“We’ll be here until Chief Suhr steps down, puts his badge in a box and sends it back to City Hall,” hunger striker and District 9 supervisor candidate Edwin Lindo said. “We’ll be here until our stomach starts to eat itself.”

While the hunger strikers’ community support and morale grows, so have their hollowed eyes, slow movements and gaunt cheekbones. A team of University of San Francisco medical students was alongside the activists the entire day, making sure the five stayed hydrated and responsive.

Sellassie, Equipto, Pinkston, Lindo and Gutierrez, the Frisco 5, lead a rally in front of City Hall after marching into the building with hundreds of protestors, on Tuesday, May 3, 2016. – Photo: Natasha Dangond, special to The Guardsman
Sellassie, Equipto, Pinkston, Lindo and Gutierrez, the Frisco 5, lead a rally in front of City Hall after marching into the building with hundreds of protestors, on Tuesday, May 3, 2016. – Photo: Natasha Dangond, special to The Guardsman

Gutierrez is Sato’s mother, though she has now become a mother figure for the rest of the Frisco 5. “You have given me the name ‘mama,’” Gutierrez told the supporters on the steps of City Hall. “A mother protects her children. You have given me a big responsibility. I am accepting that responsibility.”

Each striker has signed a “refusal of treatment,” opting out of forced treatment if their health worsens.

Contact Marco Siler-Gonzales at mgonzales@theguardsman.com or tweet mijo_marco. Bay View staff contributed to this story, which originally appeared on The Guardsman.


Sellassie posted this video on Feb. 16, 2016, saying: “Stop the slave catchers, stop the violence, stop the killings! Rest In Peace to all the Brothers and Sisters Killed By Police Violence. This is my homage to you!” Purchase the audio version directly from Sellassie at
https://sellassie.bandcamp.com/track/cops-keep-firing.