#Frisco500 shut down City Hall to stop police murders

During the Frisco 500 occupation of City Hall on May 6, a protestor prays for an end to police violence. – Photo: Sana Saleem
During the Frisco 500 occupation of City Hall on May 6, a protestor prays for an end to police violence. – Photo: Sana Saleem

by Dave Welsh

San Francisco, May 8 – Inspired by the stamina of the “Frisco 5” hunger strikers, hundreds of chanting supporters occupied the rotunda and grand staircase inside City Hall for seven hours on May 6. Their demand: “We won’t leave City Hall until the mayor fires Greg Suhr,” the top cop complicit in a string of police murders of Black and Brown people in the city.

Thirty-three were arrested, many brutally, during the Frisco 500 occupation of City Hall from 4 p.m. to nearly 11 p.m. on Friday, May 6. Their aim was to hold City Hall until Police Chief Greg Suhr is fired. – Photo: KGO-TV
Thirty-three were arrested, many brutally, during the Frisco 500 occupation of City Hall from 4 p.m. to nearly 11 p.m. on Friday, May 6. Their aim was to hold City Hall until Police Chief Greg Suhr is fired. – Photo: KGO-TV

Dubbed the #Frisco500, the protesters held their ground after the 8 o’clock building closing time. Then, in a two-hour struggle, baton-wielding sheriff’s deputies finally succeeded in shoving, hitting, poking, pepper-spraying and dragging them all from the City Hall by 10:30 p.m. There were 33 arrests and many injuries.

Protesters cited Chief Suhr’s long record of justifying the police killing spree, even in circumstances – as in the case of Luis Gongora, Mario Woods, Alex Nieto, Kenneth Harding and Amilcar Perez-Lopez – where there was absolutely no justification for the use of lethal force.

Protesters cited Chief Suhr’s long record of justifying the police killing spree, even in circumstances – as in the case of Luis Gongora, Mario Woods, Alex Nieto, Kenneth Harding and Amilcar Perez-Lopez – where there was absolutely no justification for the use of lethal force.

Meanwhile, the Frisco 5 – Maria Cristina Gutierrez, 66, her son Ilyich “Equipto” Sato, 42, Ike Pinkston, 42, Sellassie Blackwell, 39, and Edwin Lindo, 29 – had been hospitalized after two weeks with no solid food. And 24 hours after the battle at City Hall, they decided to end their 17-day hunger strike, at the urging of their supporters, with a call to step up the struggle to end police impunity.

“It started with five of us fasting outside the Mission Police Station. Now it’s the #Frisco500,” they said. “Up next is the #Frisco5000.”

On May 3, Day 13 of their hunger strike, the Frisco 5, gathered outside City Hall after they had gone inside to meet with Mayor Lee, who was a no show, then protested at the Board of Supervisors meeting, were clearly exhausted. After being hospitalized, they finally called a halt to their strike on Day 17.
On May 3, Day 13 of their hunger strike, the Frisco 5, gathered outside City Hall after they had gone inside to meet with Mayor Lee, who was a no show, then protested at the Board of Supervisors meeting, were clearly exhausted. After being hospitalized, they finally called a halt to their strike on Day 17.

Earlier in the week on May 3, 300 marched from Mission Station, led by the Frisco 5 in wheelchairs, pushed by medical students in white coats who’d been monitoring the fasters’ condition. The marchers briefly took over the major intersection at Market and Van Ness, where a young Black singer gave her slow, moving interpretation of Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come.”

By the time they reached City Hall, the crowd had swelled to nearly a thousand. A huge banner stretched across City Hall steps: “No Consequence, No Confidence. Stop Police Impunity.” People chanted: “Back up, back up, we want our freedom, freedom. Racist-ass cops we don’t need ‘em, need ‘em.” Also “How do you spell murder? SFPD” and “SFPD-KKK.”

While the hunger strikers were upstairs in their wheelchairs, challenging the Board of Supervisors to take police murders seriously, people outside had a speakout. One said, “We stand up for our neighbors, no matter what race or color they are.”

Ilych Sato, the rapper known as Equipto, speaking on Day 5 of the hunger strike, is the son of KPFA jazz host Art Sato and teacher Maria Cristina Gutierrez, who initiated the hunger strike. – Photo: Lola M. Chavez, Mission Local
Ilych Sato, the rapper known as Equipto, speaking on Day 5 of the hunger strike, is the son of KPFA jazz host Art Sato and teacher Maria Cristina Gutierrez, who initiated the hunger strike. – Photo: Lola M. Chavez, Mission Local

Another said, “This has a long history. When the Black Panther Party was formed in Oakland, what were they doing? – trying to stop racist policing in the Bay Area.” One person gave a possible reason for Democratic Mayor Ed Lee’s inaction on the police – that he’s under consideration to be ambassador to China if Hillary Clinton wins the election!

One person gave a possible reason for Democratic Mayor Ed Lee’s inaction on the police – that he’s under consideration to be ambassador to China if Hillary Clinton wins the election!

Art Sato, longtime jazz programmer at KPFA radio and father of one of the hunger strikers, said: “As a Japanese American born in a U.S. concentration camp, I want to say to my son, I’m proud of you. I’m proud of Asians for Black Lives. We cannot be quiet any longer about these police killings.”

San Francisco-born, Filipino American poet Tony Robles read a poem he wrote for the Frisco 5: “It took a hunger strike to make me feel alive in a city that feels dead … It took a hunger strike to fill my belly with feelings of Frisco, songs of Frisco, the Frisco that is soaked in my bones and blood. It took a hunger strike to bring back that down home feeling and Black laughter and fire and tears that flow so deep. It took a hunger strike to clear my veins of digital cholesterol. It took a hunger strike to show we can be tender without legal tender. It took a hunger strike to bring back my city on one piece, one corner of a city block. It took a hunger strike to see the Frisco I know – once again.”

The Frisco 500 returned to City Hall Monday morning, May 9, to rally outside most of the day. – Photo: Jessica Christian, SF Examiner
The Frisco 500 returned to City Hall Monday morning, May 9, to rally outside most of the day. – Photo: Jessica Christian, SF Examiner

“It took a hunger strike to bring back that down home feeling and Black laughter and fire and tears that flow so deep. … It took a hunger strike to see the Frisco I know – once again.” – Tony Robles

Nanci Armstrong-Temple, from the Oakland-based Anti-Police-Terror Project, said: “This movement is about freedom, being able to walk the streets without being murdered … When the machine is not working for us, we need to shut it down.”

The APTP issued a statement: “Now it is time to take action with courage and sacrifice … Join us Monday to peacefully picket City Hall … Strike as those before us have done, strategically at key moments to bring the momentum of the movement and push forward. We will win! We are the #Frisco500!”

The movement to fire Chief Suhr, stubbornly resisted by the city’s political establishment, is nevertheless gaining momentum. The California Federation of Teachers executive council has just called for his firing and for the indictment of the police who killed Mario Woods. San Francisco Jobs with Justice has called for “new leadership” in the police department.

The movement to fire Chief Suhr, stubbornly resisted by the city’s political establishment, is nevertheless gaining momentum.

And there is outrage over revelations of a second barrage of racist and homophobic text messages by the city’s police, showing that Chief Suhr has been unable or unwilling to exert leadership in this area since the earlier racist “text-gate” scandal.

Protesters gathered outside City Hall on Monday, May 9, continuing to demand the firing of Chief Suhr. – Photo: Benjamin Bac Sierra
Protesters gathered outside City Hall on Monday, May 9, continuing to demand the firing of Chief Suhr. – Photo: Benjamin Bac Sierra

Mayor Ed Lee has been touting alleged “investigations” of police behavior, which have been going on for years without producing any visible reduction of police killings, or improvement in police-community relations.

Currently a three-person Justice Department delegation is in town, and came to a recent meeting of the Justice 4 Mario Woods Coalition. Community members raked them over the coals for being “fake investigators” whose purpose was to whitewash the police murders and cool out the community.

Minister Christopher Muhammad, of the Nation of Islam, sharply questioned the DOJ emissaries, forcing them to admit they had no investigatory powers and were only in San Francisco to “do an assessment” of the situation.

Minister Christopher Muhammad, of the Nation of Islam, sharply questioned the DOJ emissaries, forcing them to admit they had no investigatory powers and were only in San Francisco to “do an assessment” of the situation.

Meanwhile the community is not placing much faith in paper investigations. Their focus is now on direct action to force a change. As Alyssa, champion tweet journalist from the days of Occupy Oakland, tweeted from inside City Hall during the May 6 occupation: “I’ve been to a lot of protests… but never seen people hold so strong as tonight, nonviolent but strong and serious. So much respect for the #Frisco500.”

Dave Welsh, a retired letter carrier and delegate to the San Francisco Labor Council, is an organizer with the Community-Labor Coalition to Save the People’s Post Office and writes on many issues. He can be reached at sub@sonic.net. This story also appears in Workers World.