Editorial by Bay View publisher Dr. Willie Ratcliff
Now, as the San Francisco Bay View newspaper’s 40th birthday year comes to a close, is the time to bring up to date the historical sketch of our paper that I began with Part 1 in the January paper. Piles of old papers rest on my desk, waiting to be read once again – a banquet of stories and pictures of our lives, our hopes, our goals. Let me let you taste the flavor of the freedom we continue to fight for in the age of Trump.
Picking up where Part 1 left off, the banner headline in the Oct. 16, 2002, Bay View blared, “POLICE ATTACK STUDENTS,” followed by the subhead, “60 baton-wielding police hit, traumatize Thurgood Marshall students.” A small dust-up over a girl between a couple of boys separated by a petite woman teacher was escalated into a police riot when 60 officers invaded the school without warning, blocking the entrances at both ends of the school, bottling over a thousand students in the main hall after someone had pulled the fire alarm that sent them out of their classrooms into the hallway.
There they were all terrorized, and the darker skinned Black, Samoan and Latino students selectively beaten with batons. “They called hella officers and they started hemming everybody up that was around. They started hitting people with billy clubs (even though) we didn’t do nothing. … (I)t was about 60 officers, and the whole school started fighting back,” said a student quoted by JR.
One teacher tried to protect the students. Police “told Mr. Peebles to leave or they’ll take him to jail. He said that he didn’t care, left, went upstairs, got a camera, and started videotaping all the police beating up the kids. … After that, the cops took the videotape, handcuffed (Mr. Peebles) and took him to jail. He was the only teacher arrested.” A dozen students, all Black, were also arrested.
Reportedly, during a showdown in the mayor’s office months later, Mayor Willie Brown, SFPD Chief Earl Sanders and SFUSD Superintendent Arlene Ackerman – all of them Black – told those arrested the charges would be dropped only if they promised not to sue. Ironically, Thurgood Marshall is a college prep school then sending 92 percent of its graduates to college, a treasured resource in resource-starved Bayview Hunters Point, yet what are Black students being taught?
“67% of SF homeless are from BVHP” is the banner headline on Oct. 30, 2002. “While 20,000 Black folks lost their homes and left the City,” I wrote in an editorial, “another nearly 10,000 – from Bayview Hunters Point alone – lost their homes yet stayed in the City, homeless. … In the last handful of years, in a dramatic transformation, the complexion of San Francisco’s homeless population has turned Black.” Previously, unhoused Black folks were taken in by someone and never seen on the streets, but HUD rules threatening to evict families if they sheltered anyone not on the lease put an end to that compassionate tradition.
Another symptom of Black loss can be seen in comparing the Bay View’s Black Pockets Business Directory in 2002, when it took two thirds of a page, listing 57 Black businesses and professionals, with the 2016 directory, which has shrunk to less than half that, with only 24 businesses listed. Today, from all sides of the Black community, comes the prescription for our way forward: “Keep your money circulating in your community. Patronize Black businesses. Keep your money in Black pockets,” the message we publish in every paper.
To thrive, the Black economy requires – and fosters – Black unity, and so does Black culture. The main photo on Nov. 20, 2002, is of a drummer at San Francisco’s Ocean Beach summoning “hundreds of men, women and children to honor the ancestors and express the pain of a continuing Black Holocaust”: Maafa is the annual commemoration of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, the Middle Passage and their legacy, founded by Bay View arts editor Wanda Sabir and now in its 21st year.
“It was still dark,” she wrote about Maafa 2002, “so after we’d parked, unloaded and greeted other arrivals nearby, we all walked down the stairs onto the sand, where candlelight and roaring fires danced to drum voices. It was, as usual, a beautifully welcoming sight – Black people gliding along the terrain, spirits mingling with the ghosts of ancestors present that morning, the guests of honor.”
“350,000 march against war and racism” declared the banner headline on Jan. 22, 2003, when JR reported I told the multitude from the steps of City Hall: “The Black community has been engaged in war ever since we left the shores of Africa in chains over four centuries ago. So if the country is going to start a true anti-war movement, then this anti-war movement needs to begin by addressing the war that the American government and big business via the police are waging on Black communities right here. Then we can span the world.” It was the largest demonstration in San Francisco history.
“Locked out of 3rd St. rail work” headlined my editorial on June 18, 2003, when Muni, having locked out the people of Bayview Hunters Point from the $600 million T-train light rail project except for an occasional flagger, reneged on a promise to set aside construction of the $125 million light rail maintenance barn. Muni had promised that they “would work with Black contractors, truckers and workers on a plan that would feature on-the-job training in all trades for our youth and for everyone who wants to work hard and earn a good living.”
Muni had lied to the community at meetings that drew crowds as large as a thousand BVHP residents, and I wanted to encourage people not to give up. “We have been quiet too long,” I concluded. “From this day forward, we will organize and demand our right to work and to contract, to have our votes counted, to live in a clean environment, to have a Black bank and a thriving Black shopping corridor and to end the police occupation of our community.” Those remain our goals.
A new feature, “Behind Enemy Lines” with its familiar gunshot-pocked masthead designed by brilliant young graphic artist Terone Ward, appears in the Aug. 6, 2003, Bay View over a story headlined, “Here, a dreadlock Rasta must be punished.” Ras Mario Canody writes: “A Rasta’s faith does not allow the cutting of our hair, so therefore I get only 10 hours of yard per week, no phone calls, no dayroom and no jobs or school,” all for being out of compliance with grooming regulations.
“But as I walk in the land of Babylon, I came across your paper and felt as if a wind of truth blew in and washed me in a bright light. I am sending you these stamps and hoping that you put me on your mailing list. I want to get your insight on a regular basis.”
In “Transition of Dr. Yusuf Bey,” Brother Jahahara Amen-Ra Alkebulan-Maat wrote: “Beginning in the late 1960s, his family built businesses like the Your Black Muslim Bakery chain of health-conscious restaurants and products throughout Oakland and the Bay Area, Your Black Muslim Cleaners, Your Black Muslim Grocery, Universal Security, E.M. (Elijah Muhammad) Health Services and other businesses that employ and provide opportunities to hundreds of poor, unemployed, recently released prisoners and drug-addicted men and women in our communities.”
Gracing the back page of the Nov. 5, 2003, Bay View are a flock of photos – no stories, just pictures and captions – a tradition ever since. One of the photos shows three tired Black firefighters trudging back to camp. “The unsung heroes – largely ignored by the major media – who saved California from the worst wildfires ever are prisoners. … ‘We save million-dollar homes for a dollar an hour,’ said prisoner firefighter Ricky Frank, 33, who’s serving a 10-year sentence.”
In the middle of the front page of the Dec. 17, 2003, Bay View is a big portrait of beloved journalist Chauncey Bailey, illustrating “KBLK: Media trailblazer Chauncey Bailey launches new Black television network” by JR. As he struggled to keep Soul Beat Television alive, he was also seizing an opportunity to found KBLK, pronounced K-Black. Black media must always fight for its place in the sun.
Black August was, as in years before and since, the theme of the page 1 panel on Aug. 18, 2004. It features “Soledad Brother: Memories of Comrade George” by revolutionary journalist and Black Panther veteran Kiilu Nyasha and “Special assignment: George Jackson’s funeral, August 1971” by Black Panther historian and archivist Billy X.
George Jackson’s name strikes terror in the hearts of prison officials in California. Many prisoners were tortured for decades in solitary confinement for possessing any mention of his name, including the many mentions in the Bay View. Nevertheless, prisoners have always asked us not to self-censor, vowing to defend the truth even in the face of torture.
The banner headline, “Cammerin Boyd murdered by SFPD in the Fillmore,” tops the May 12, 2004, Bay View. The reporter, Bay View intern and SF State journalism student Ebony Sinnamon-Johnson, had arrived on the scene shortly after Boyd’s horrendous murder. Boyd struggled to obey the police order to get out of his car, but he had two prosthetic legs and was murdered in front of a crowd for not obeying quickly enough. Media coverage of police murders was rarely seen in those days, except in the Bay View.
“Shipyard still unfit for human habitation” blares the banner headline on Oct. 20, 2004, on the eve of the “dirty” transfer of Parcel A of the Hunters Point Shipyard from the Navy to the City and then to mega-developer Lennar, City Hall’s chosen “master developer” of the Shipyard. The people of Bayview Hunters Point, under the leadership of Minister Christopher Muhammad, had already been meeting every week for years trying to stop development until the Navy had completely cleaned the Shipyard of radiation and chemical toxins, and the environmental justice movement was covered by extraordinary journalist, scientist, researcher and medical doctor Ahimsa Porter Sumchai, M.D., whose father had died from working at the Shipyard.
The Bay Views published in the spring and summer of 2005 cover vast reaches of the African Diaspora. “Police in Haiti continue the killing” and many more headlines tell of the bloodbath and heroic fightback following the 2004 coup that exiled the people’s president, Jean Bertrand Aristide. “Protest in Vieques: The Navy is ‘bombing’ again” updates the struggle of a small Puerto Rican island with one of the prettiest white sand beaches in the Caribbean to stop the Navy from using it as a bombing range, poisoning the small population.
In “Nigerians challenge big oil companies over gas emissions,” we learn that not only has Big Oil destroyed the environment and the economy of the Niger Delta, but the people’s health as well by allowing the toxic gas emitted during oil production to burn off, the flares lighting the sky like daylight all day and night. “Fallujah: an unnatural disaster” strays outside the African Diaspora to tell the story that involved many Blacks in uniform witnessing U.S. war crimes that are coming back to haunt us today.
The Aug. 31, 2005, Bay View carries our first story on Katrina, “Hurricane Katrina: Help the poor endure,” an appeal by Marc Morial for support for the thousands of New Orleanians packed into the Superdome. Soon we were to learn that the desperation in the Superdome was just the beginning of one of the worst deliberate disasters in history.
The Bay View, with the help of CC Campbell-Rock, a New Orleans journalist who came to the Bay and wrote and gathered stories every week, produced Katrina coverage so thorough it was judged second only to that of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. We called our coverage “New Orleans: Gentrification by Genocide.”
Just two days after the storm hit, my wife Mary was able to reach our old friend Malik Rahim, who had moved back home to New Orleans after organizing public housing tenants here in San Francisco for a decade. Malik dictated the terrifying story of the genocide, “This is criminal,” to Mary over the phone in their first conversation, then immediately founded Common Ground that brought tens of thousands of volunteers to New Orleans, many of them learning of the need through the Bay View.
“Tookie’s cubs are running loose” is the banner headline over my editorial in the Dec. 14, 2005, Bay View, and Minister of Information JR told the story in “The state-sponsored murder of Tookie Williams, co-founder of the Crips.” Tookie was beloved for his books for youngsters on his transformation – he called it redemption – that move them to redeem themselves.
Black youth had come in droves to the largest vigil ever at San Quentin hoping to stop his execution. But Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who knew Tookie personally from when they were both body builders and had asked Tookie to appear in one of his films, made the cold blooded decision to condemn him to a slow, agonizing death.
The banner headline on June 7, 2006, “Sign the petition to save Bayview Hunters Point,” refers to the referendum we initiated with allies to reverse the Board of Supervisors’ approval of a plan to put Bayview Hunters Point – the whole neighborhood of some 30,000 people – under the jurisdiction of the dreaded Redevelopment Agency, the same agency that bulldozed the Fillmore, known in the ‘50s and ‘60s as Harlem of the West, but feared by whites for its Black power. With that power relocated to Bayview Hunters Point, our hood was assigned the same fate, but we weren’t having it!
Ultimately, with support of San Franciscans citywide who admired the courage of Blacks fighting from the bottom up, we gathered over 33,000 signatures, far more than needed, only to have the referendum quashed by City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who declared we should have attached a telephone book-size package of all the related proceedings to the petition, even though his office had approved our petition initially.
In the summer of 2006, a little yellow notice appeared on the Bay View masthead saying: “The Bay View’s website, www.sfbayview.com, which had been getting over 2 million hits a month, was attacked and badly hacked. It is under reconstruction and will return, better than ever, hopefully next week” and signed by Webmaster Terone Ward. Someone or something very powerful hacked the site, forever destroying some 10,000 stories. Though countless experts tried to help, the site was never resurrected and, in 2008, volunteers created a new site, the one we use now, still at sfbayview.com.
City Hall’s war against Black San Franciscans resounds in the two front page stories above the fold on Oct. 18, 2006, “Enough Is Enough rally a rare show of Black community force” by KPOO Radio News Director Harrison Chastang and “Alert! Gang injunction: 300 Black men targeted,” the banner headline over a story by Damone Hale, Esq., along with a big picture of the Black Panther Party’s 40th anniversary. The rally, organized by Minister Christopher Muhammad and me, drew an enormous crowd, girding the community to fight the gang injunctions, a terrible idea that migrated from Los Angeles.
“Lennar divides Hunters Point with apartheid wall” is the banner headline on March 21, 2007. The plan had never been announced, but finally we figured out that Lennar’s massive earthmoving project to remove 35 feet of Hunters Point Hill at the Shipyard boundary was intended to create a large grade separation between the Black poor folks who’d lived on the hill for generations and the white rich folks Lennar hoped would buy its condos. Hoping to drive Blacks off the hill, Lennar made no effort to suppress the toxic dust clouds that poisoned the community for years.
Aug. 8, 2007, was the day of Chauncey Bailey’s funeral, and the Bay View of that date carried the story by JR. The Black community had been astounded to hear of Chauncey’s murder the previous week at 7:20 a.m. as he walked to work in downtown Oakland; he was then editor of the Oakland Post after many years as one of the Bay’s tiny handful of Black journalists in mainstream media.
No one could imagine why anyone would want to kill Chauncey. Though he sometimes reported controversial stories, he was loved by everybody. We at the Bay View immediately suspected OPD, which Chauncey had told his publisher, Paul Cobb, he was investigating. But the police threw suspicion on Your Black Muslim Bakery and the young son of founder Yusuf Bey, who took the reins after his father died. Yusuf Bey IV was ultimately convicted. A mainstream media collaboration called The Chauncey Baily project, which had immediately accepted the police line, severely chastised the Bay View for daring to suspect the police.
The Aug. 15, 2007, Bay View’s front page headlines show the range of the paper’s reach: “Forming a ‘Human Levee for Human Rights’ in New Orleans”; “In loving memory of ‘Mr. Karl’ Paige” by Apollonia Jordan about the beloved founder of the Quesada Gardens a block from the Bay View; the banner headline, “Chronicle omits SF mayor’s strongest challenger, Dr. Ahimsa Sumchai,” about our own health and environmental science editor, who has long been deeply involved in San Francisco politics and ran a very influential campaign against Mayor Willie Brown’s heir apparent, the rich, white Gavin Newsom; “Bayview Hunters Point needs Malcolm and the Panthers” by Ebony Colbert, a very insightful young writer who served as managing editor for the Bay View until we ran out of money to pay her; “Officials allow dioxin to poison Black town”; “Wrongful mass eviction case settled by Oakland Housing Authority” by our favorite writer on low-income housing, Lynda Carson; “Fighting for the right to learn: The public education experiment in New Orleans two years after Katrina” by renowned human rights attorney Bill Quigley; “The unwarranted move of Imam Jamil Al-Amin to Supermax” by Minister of Information JR about the transfer of the former H. Rap Brown to the dreaded “Guantanamo of the Rockies” at Florence, Colorado; and “August 8th – again” by our hero, Mumia Abu-Jamal, about the terrible day in 1978 when police launched a major assault on MOVE in West Philly and the survivors of the MOVE 9, who remain in prison for the death of a cop who was killed by friendly fire.
Mumia is the liberation journalist who wrote for The Black Panther newspaper from age 15 and whose commentaries have been the Bay View’s moral compass for decades. For 32 years, he wrote from the solitary confinement of Death Row, wrongly convicted of killing a Philly cop. In 2012, he was resentenced to life without parole and in 2015 nearly died from undiagnosed Hepatitis C. Through it all, his rare combination of courage and kindness have made him the world’s best known and loved political prisoner and proven that media, too often a purveyor of lies and hate, can be a beacon of truth and love.
“Lennar built homes on land littered with live bombs” is the banner headline on Nov. 21, 2007, over my editorial that begins: “I thought the most horrifying story about Lennar’s corrupt construction practices was the subdivision it built on its own dump full of rubber tires in Florida. Now a new Florida debacle beats that one.” A 23-pound unexploded fragmentation bomb had been found just under the surface in a Lennar subdivision under construction. Neither bombs nor radiation nor toxic contamination stop Lennar from profiting off homebuyers’ misery, whether in Florida or Hunters Point.
The July 2, 2008, Bay View is the last weekly paper we published. I remember my wife, Mary, looking up at me suddenly from her work on the following week’s paper and saying, “That’s it. We’re flat out of money.” We’d been approved for refinancing the building we still live in but no longer own. A friend with slightly better credit had helped us buy it in 1998 after the noose at the airport had shut down Liberty Builders, my construction business.
It had been a crack house, deteriorated and cheap, but I was able to restore it to its early 20th century glory; a Black painter friend gave it a beautiful coat of green paint with gold trim, and we considered it the prettiest building on Third Street. But the loan approval evaporated when the appraisal came in lower than expected. Why? It was summer of 2008, when the mortgage crash few knew was coming hit this hood and all hoods like a hurricane, blowing away generations of Black wealth.
First, while we struggled to survive and keep a roof over the Bay View’s head, we concentrated on a new website, so the Bay View could remain viable online while we worked on finding the money to resume printing. A friend of a friend recruited Brendan Nee to build the website we use today – for free, a sample of his work to draw clients to his new web design business. And supporters donated enough for us to print a paper for November, on the eve of Obama’s historic election.
The December 2008 Bay View – we’ve been able to finance printing only once a month since the foreclosure – welcomed Kambale Musavuli, a young Congolese writer with Friends of the Congo, who encouraged us to cover his country and the African Great Lakes region to help stop the genocidal resource plundering by foreigners that had taken 6 million lives already. His story: “Congo in crisis: What President Obama can do to right past wrongs in U.S. policy.”
The banner headline in February 2009, “Black Power wins a Black president and a white cop charged with murder” – the latter referring to BART cop Johannes Mehserle for his murder of Oscar Grant Jan. 1, 2009, on a BART platform. Oakland exploded – and stayed in the streets for years – showing the country that persistence gets action, a lesson taken to heart in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. Probably in retaliation for his years of reporting police terrorism – I think he coined the term – JR was charged with arson of a trash can; it took a year in court to beat the ridiculous rap. His treasured camera was seized and never returned.
March 21, 2009, was payback time. “Police 2, Oakland residents 4” was the headline over JR’s report in the April 2009 Bay View on the “routine” traffic stop of 26-year-old Lovelle Mixon that led to the deaths that day of Lovelle and four Oakland cops. At a rare march, rally and vigil at 74th and MacArthur in East Oakland on March 25, protesters, mostly Lovelle’s neighbors, friends and family, connected the dots from the OPD murder of Lil Bobby Hutton in 1968 to the police murders of Oscar Grant and Lovelle Mixon. The banner headline over that photo and my editorial is “If you want peace, fight for justice.”
“NO BLACKS WORKING” blares the banner headline in December 2009 over a column, the first of a series, by our dear friend Joseph Debro, founder of the National Association of Minority Contractors. Joe was determined to stop the lockout of Blacks from construction. He died trying. We’re still trying.
Haiti was hit on Jan. 12, 2010, by a catastrophic earthquake that killed at least 300,000 people, and the February 2010 Bay View is full of stories about it. Thousands still live in tents since the disaster capitalists, most notably the Clintons, used the calamity to push the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere deeper into poverty. The U.S. response was as predatory as in New Orleans after Katrina five years earlier, as a story headlined “New Orleans’ heart is in Haiti” by Jordan Flaherty explains.
“Minister of Information JR recruited a medical-media team to travel to Haiti with 65 boxes of medical supplies to help the people heal and tell their truth,” begins the caption under a front page photo in the March 2010 Bay View. Young Stanford-trained Dr. Chris Zamani led the medical contingent and wrote the story under a picture of him caring for a tent full of Haitians. In “Haiti: A tale of two disasters,” he tells how Haitians have always “refused to be exploited” and “500,000 African slaves organized themselves to defeat Napolean’s army in a massive successful slave revolt that established the Haitian republic” in 1804. It was that spirit of never-say-die determination and racial pride that had originally led us to cover Haiti, hoping it would inspire our readers here in the U.S.
The Bay View has been blessed with more than our share of awards over the years – and a few other recognitions of our influence in the struggle for justice: the noose at the airport that signaled the lockout of Blacks from construction in 1998, the website hacking that destroyed 10,000 stories in 2006 and, on May 13, 2010, at 1:45 a.m., someone stood on the roof of the bank next door and shot a bullet through our bedroom window of our home-office that was apparently meant not to hurt us but to scare us.
The bullet, which is pictured along with the 2-by-3-inch hole in the window on the front page of the June 2010 Bay View, sailed over my bed, through the open bedroom door and made a dent in the molding of the closet across the hall. Mary was still working behind the next window, easily visible to the shooter, but he chose not to shoot her. We figure only a cop in uniform could be on that roof at that hour and not draw suspicion. But why did he shoot? I think it was intended to scare me into withdrawing from the competition for the contract to build the new Bayview Library and put my community back to work.
Also on that front page is the story, “Gentrification journalism,” written by Minister of Information JR about the cover story in the East Bay Express that labeled him “Agent provocateur.” Gentrification journalism is “the public relations team that is put in place to make gentrifiers feel safe while making the native population feel as if they no longer are wanted or have a place in the area.” I always see attacks directed at our core crew as really aimed at the Bay View, to shut us up and shut us down. So far we’re still here.
One of many stories by longtime Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney tops that same front page, this one condemning the Israeli murders aboard the Freedom Flotilla to break the siege of Gaza. She herself had sailed there twice, once having her little boat rammed and almost sunk by an Israeli warship and later being jailed for a week in Israel. And she became our friend when we organized a couple of speaking tours for her. Congresswoman McKinney also became our war correspondent when she covered Libya after the terrible Clinton-Obama decision to invade in March 2011.
A big stand-alone picture on the October 2010 front page of me handing a piece of paper to a young clerk at City Hall is explained with this caption: “On Sept. 22, Liberty Builders owner (and Bay View publisher) Willie Ratcliff signed the $5.1 million contract to build the new Bayview Branch Library and handed it to Rochelle Delavega at the San Francisco Department of Public Works. He must still secure a loan and a bond, huge hurdles for a Black contractor, but he is determined to let nothing stop the people of Bayview Hunters Point from building our library ‘for us by us.’ ‘I didn’t win that contract by myself,’ says Ratcliff. People out here said, “Give it to him!” when asked their opinion by City officials.
“He reports that DPW and Library leaders seem as committed to success as his all-Black team of top construction professionals. While Ratcliff and the City had hoped to start construction this fall, work will start in the spring. That gives jobseekers, experienced workers and potential subcontractors in the community time to GET READY TO GO TO WORK!” The photo was taken by our friend and neighbor, Francisco Da Costa.
Then came the December 2010 headline over a story by Joe Debro, “San Francisco locks Blacks out from building our own library.” City officials’ apparent enthusiasm had soon waned. It wasn’t the bond, which we got, or the loan that shot down my plans and dreams and those of this job-starved community.
The City snatched back the contract on the flimsy excuse that our insurance agent was one day late in submitting a certificate of insurance that the City already had on file, and they immediately handed it to the second low bidder, a white contractor, for $2 million more than my realistic bid. That $2 million included a bonus for hiring some “minority” subcontractors who had already committed to work within Liberty Builders’ budget. I’m not sure I’ve ever recovered from the low blow of losing the contract, our last hope for girding our community with good jobs to stave off the exodus of Blacks from San Francisco that has reduced us now to a little over 3 percent of the population.
The news on jobs in January 2011 was a little better, announcing, “Mandatory local hiring becomes law in San Francisco,” a longtime goal of the Bay View. But it hasn’t helped Black workers a lot, because despite a record building boom, contractors, nearly all white, either refuse to hire Blacks or keep them on the payroll only for a short time. Black contractors are the key to Black construction jobs, and most remain out of business or unable to win even the smallest public works contracts.
A photo caption under the banner headline, “WHY BLACKS ARE NOT WORKING,” in the May 2011 Bay View reads: “Even on stimulus-funded projects that were supposed to create jobs in Black and other disadvantaged communities, Blacks appear to have won few if any jobs or contracts. Check out the next construction site you see. Most likely, even the flaggers will be white.” So much for Obama’s efforts to stimulate the economy for Black folks.
On that same front page are photos and a story about the legendary Rev. Edward Pinkney, the hero of Benton Harbor, Michigan, leading a march against the fascist “emergency managers” foisted on Michigan’s Black cities that resulted in the Flint water atrocity. Rev. Pinkney was convicted on trumped-up charges of voter fraud two years ago and now organizes his comrades inside prison, an extreme punishment for exercising First Amendment rights.
“California SHU prisoners begin hunger strike July 1” announces the start of what would be a series of three mass hunger strikes fated to reverse the course of prison history by dealing a near death blow in California to solitary confinement, which had buried thousands of “trouble-makers” – teachers, jailhouse lawyers, prisoners who cared about others – for decades in the dreaded SHUs, Security Housing Units.
Starting in July 2011, if not sooner, the Bay View became the go-to paper for prison news, filled with stories by and about our brothers and sisters inside as well as outside prison. Mary calls it the proudest day of her life when we learned that the California Department of Corrections blames the Bay View for the hunger strikes – that is, it was our fault that 6,600 joined the first strike, 12,000 joined the second, and 30,000, according to CDC’s own records, joined the third, in 2013.
Now, prisoners across the nation, stirred by the prisoner-led Free Alabama Movement, are using prison strikes to end slavery – to strike the “slavery clause” that makes an exception for convicts to the 13th Amendment’s abolition of slavery. The price of our commitment to the movement is censorship – banning – of the Bay View by prison wardens and some entire state prison systems. But we can’t stop until slavery is completely abolished!
“Free Fly Benzo, facing 4 years for copwatching” blares the banner headline in December 2011, with the subhead, “Police critic Fly Benzo keeps catching hell since SFPD murdered Kenneth Harding.” Fly (given name Debray Carpenter, son of Black contractors Claude Carpenter and Barbara Banks), a rapper and straight-A student at City College, had brought on the wrath of SFPD Chief Greg Suhr and was brutally thrown to the ground in Mendell Plaza, Bayview Hunters Point’s main gathering place, by several cops in front of a multitude of witnesses in a clear act of terrorism. The court piled on by sentencing Fly to stay away from Mendell Plaza for three years, and never since has any political activity been allowed there.
To bring this historical sketch through the last five years to the present, I’m going to pick up the pace so as to be able to fit all this in the paper. Most of you have been reading the Bay View a while, so if I leave out anything important to you, please write a letter to the editor so everyone will be reminded.
In September 2012, the banner headline reads, “Let the community rebuild our schools!” and the subhead, “We want local workers and local contractors on San Francisco School District construction,” over a story by James Richards, who heads ABU – Aboriginal Blackman Unlimited, a group that demands jobs for Black construction workers. ABU had shut down the demolition preceding construction of Willie Brown Middle School in Bayview Hunters Point until local Black workers were hired.
Over the following year, we spoke at meeting after meeting of the School Board persuading them to require local hiring and contracting in upcoming projects. Finally, they passed it – just after all the contracts it would have applied to were awarded, without that requirement.
“Racial peace in prisons begins Oct. 12,” the banner headline in October 2012, announces the initiation of the Agreement to End Hostilities, written solely by prisoners, organizers of the hunger strikes and other respected leaders, to take from prison officials their most effective weapon: racial strife to keep prisoners divided and conquered. With a few exceptions, usually disputes within racial groups, the agreement has held now for over four years. The solidarity it built has carried thousands of prisoners out of solitary confinement and onto yards where race riots are history.
Beginning a tradition, the top of the December 2012 Bay View front page is all portraits of some of the stars of our first Black Media Appreciation Night, and the main picture shows Kali O’Ray, director of the San Francisco Black Film Festival and now the webmaster for SFBayView.com, handing out one of the awards. What a night!
“Kevin Weston held every heart in the palm of his hand as he told of the prayers of thousands steering him clear of death’s door just a couple of months ago as well as how he came to the Bay View as a very young writer,” Mary wrote. Tragically, cancer finally won, and at the next Black Media Appreciation Night in September 2014, emotions peaked when his widow, wonder woman Lateefah Simon, with their little daughter Lelah and his mother, Geraldine Singleton, accepted Kevin’s Legacy Award for his legacy of encouraging and mentoring countless young media makers. Lateefah was just elected to the BART Board by a landslide.
With that December 2012 paper, the Bay View had reached the limit of 24 pages that our printer’s press can handle. The paper had gradually been growing from the 12-14 pages we usually printed when the paper came out weekly. Though it costs more to print a bigger paper, the smaller size is nowhere near enough for all the stories burning to be told. Even 24 pages is too small.
“Hands off the Bay View” headlined a statement in the May 2013 Bay View by the Pelikan Bay Human Rights Movement First Amendment Campaign decrying the banning of all the Bay Views but one that year by Pelican Bay State Prison leading up to the largest hunger strike in prison history, set to begin July 8, 2013. It was also one of the longest. Some prisoners went without a bite of food for 60 days.
Strangely, only Pelican Bay – only the prison where the hunger strikes were born and raised – banned the paper that year. The men who wrote most of the stories about it couldn’t read them, but all other California prisoners could, and that’s how the organizers were able to inspire 30,000 of them to join the strike to end indefinite solitary confinement for those already condemned to it and as a threat hanging over everyone else to make them compliant.
The July 2013 banner, “California prisoners inspire the world,” headlines my editorial, saying: “Bay View readers know the strike leaders well and see them as the pride of California daring at the cost of their lives to challenge the government and corporate powers that are impoverishing the people to build a prison nation. We wish them a speedy and total victory.”
The main picture that month is a compilation of photos of San Francisco’s Black leadership protesting the impending eviction of the nation’s oldest Black book store, Marcus Books. And at the top of the front page, “Mexico demands justice for Malcolm Shabazz,” tells of protests in Mexico City following the terrible murder of a great friend of the Bay View, whose smile, like that of his grandfather, Malcolm X, would light up the room.
“Tavis Smiley spotlights Black suffering, Black hope” is the banner headline for December 2013 over a transcript of his fiery keynote speech to the San Francisco NAACP Freedom Fund Gala on Nov. 9, 2013, where I was pleased to accept the Frederick Douglass North Star Award from SF NAACP President Dr. Amos Brown.
Several enduring themes are represented on the front page of the April 2014 Bay View. In “Haiti is not for sale,” Ezili Danto, a powerful voice from the heart of Haiti, writes: “The Washington colonists are back in Haiti, re-enslaving. … Duvalier is back in Haiti. The neo-Duvalierists are back in power. The capitalists own the Haiti government. … Bill Clinton and all his acolytes are running Haiti.”
In “SFPD-enforced gentrification killed Alex Nieto,” prized media partner Tiny of Poor News Network describes the outrage when four cops emptied their guns into this fine young man of the Mission eating a burrito in the park on his way to work the night shift when white gentrifiers walking their dogs took him for a gang member and called police.
In “Richmond to have highest minimum wage in California,” Malcolm Marshall of the youth-led community newspaper Richmond Pulse writes about the little city that used to be a Chevron “company town” until young Black Latina Jovanka Beckles won election to the City Council and joined colleagues in making Richmond arguably the most progressive city in the nation.
And in “Will Navy’s radiological survey of homes on Treasure Island mean evicting 2,600 residents?” expert investigative reporter Carol Harvey launches a now two-and-a-half-year-long series advocating for the people of Treasure Island, most low-income and many formerly homeless, who must contend with the same triumvirate we’ve fought for decades in Bayview Hunters Point: the Navy, the City and Lennar.
In September 2014, the world was exploding after “FERGUSON LIT THE FUSE,” our banner headline over my editorial, saying: “With the world watching and their hands in the air, identifying the police as the source of the violence, night after night, young people waded INTO the teargas and stood unflinching with guns in their faces. Oscar Grant’s Uncle Bobby, Cephus Johnson, calls them the most fearless youth of our generation. … In Ferguson, the community has fused together across age, class and even race and street tribe differences.” JR went to Ferguson and sent back the front page photos – including one of the local Bloods and Crips making peace.
“Black lives matter! World feels Ferguson, demands justice” is the banner headline in December 2014 over dramatic photos of the first Black Lives Matter show of force in the Bay Area, where you might say Black Lives Matter was born; Alicia Garza, a forever friend of the Bay View, who has written stories and been pictured countless times organizing for POWER, the group she grew up in and later headed, is one of the three founders of Black Lives Matter and the one who coined their name.
In that first demonstration at the West Oakland BART station, the last stop before San Francisco, young Black people chained together to protesters on the eastbound and westbound BART trains, locked to each train with bike padlocks around their necks, managed to shut down BART for four hours and 28 minutes, the four hours reminding us of the four hours Michael Brown’s body lay on a Ferguson street and the 28 minutes for the Black lives taken by police every 28 hours.
“Beloved political prisoner Hugo ‘Yogi Bear’ Pinell, feared and hated by guards, assassinated after 46 years in solitary” is the headline over a story by Mary and me. We wrote: “’This is revenge,’ declared his close friend and fellow Black Panther veteran Kiilu Nyasha on Hard Knock Radio Aug. 13. ‘They hated him as much as George Jackson. They beat him constantly, kept him totally isolated for 46 years – no window, no sunlight – but they could never break him, and that’s why they hated him. The only way he survived was that this man was full of love.’”
Every finger, inside and out, pointed at the guards, who protected the two white assassins while shooting at the young Blacks who rushed to Yogi’s rescue. And the timing was suspicious: Aug. 12 is the anniversary of the announcement of the Agreement to End Hostilities, which Yogi inspired and personified, and guards may have timed the assassination to try and derail settlement of the Ashker case against indefinite solitary confinement by provoking a riot – riots are job insurance for guards – but everybody saw through the ruse: no riot and the settlement was signed.
In the achingly beautiful main picture, Yogi is getting a big hug from his daughter Allegra, who was able to pay him a few visits just before he was killed. The caption reads: “This is ‘the hug’ that rewarded Hugo Pinell after 46 years of being barred from touching a friendly human being. Allegra, who had the pictures taken Aug. 2, says her father asked that if these photos were published, ‘the hug’ should come first. In his last letter to her, written two days before he died, he wrote: ‘I felt uncomfortable posing for our first photo. I was nervous; somehow I mustered up a smile. Then you got almost behind me, put your arms around me and I felt wonderful.’”
After our second Black Media Appreciation Night on Sept. 13, 2014, and our third, on Sept. 12, 2015, portraits of beautiful, joyous people performing and giving and receiving awards are splashed across the top of the front page of the October 2014 and 2015 papers: in 2014, Kev Choice, Melonie and Melorra Green, Fleetwood and Davey D, Wanda and TaSin Sabir, Cecil Brown and JR Valrey, Karen Johnson and Leroy Moore and in 2015, Pierre Labossiere, Leroy Moore, Dr. Ahimsa Sumchai, M1 of dead prez, Alicia Garza, Lateefah Simon Weston, Katera and Kali O’Ray, Mac Mall, Dr. Willie Ratcliff, Phavia Kujichagulia and Emory Douglass – the exciting photography by experts Malaika Kambon, TaSin Sabir and William H. Jones Jr.
The October 2015 Bay View also announced, “California prisoners win historic gains with settlement against solitary confinement: Agreement reached in Ashker v. Brown ends indeterminate long-term solitary confinement in California.”
2016 roared in with the news reported in the January Bay View of the SFPD execution by firing squad of Mario Woods just a little way up Third Street from the Bay View, and young people rose up much as they had 50 years ago in 1966 when SFPD murdered Matthew “Peanut” Johnson. After they shut down Mayor Lee’s inauguration, after the Black and Brown Frisco 5 held a hunger strike for weeks outside the Mission Police Station, after the Frisco 500 occupied City Hall and finally after SFPD murdered unarmed Jessica Williams-Nelson in Bayview Hunters Point as she sat in a car, we won the forced resignation of Police Chief Greg Suhr, who, as captain of the Bayview Station, had terrorized our hood for years.
Following Part 1 of this sketch of Bay View history in the January 2016, we ran the story of the paper’s first 15 years in a fascinating interview with founder Muhammad al-Kareem by Minister of Information JR Valrey in February 2016. The March 2016 Bay View once again splashed photos of many of the beautiful people who participated in our 40th anniversary across the top of the front page.
Also in that paper is the good news of the hard-won release of Albert Woodfox, the last member of the Angola 3, from 44 years in solitary confinement and the bad news, reported by Idriss Stelley Foundation co-director Jeremy Miller, of SFPD hiring killer cop Joshua Cabillo after he had murdered 15-year-old Derrick Gaines in South San Francisco and letting him continue his brutality here.
You all know the rest of the 2016 story: an election campaign and results that leave us reeling, the scandal of dozens of Bay Area cops having sex with an underage girl, the 50th anniversaries of the Hunters Point Uprising in September and the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in October, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refusing to stand for slavery, the ongoing heroic struggle behind our October banner headline, “Nationwide prison strikes will abolish slavery in US,” the resultant banning of the Bay View by many prison officials across the country, and the great gathering of Natives from across the hemisphere to stand against Big Oil at Standing Rock because “Water is life,” among many other world-changing events.
For the Bay View’s first 40 years – and I can speak especially for the last 25 years since I took over as publisher – we owe undying gratitude to our readers and to the throngs of writers and photographers who’ve filled our pages with their extraordinary work and courage. As the Bay View’s 40th anniversary year comes to a close, we hope to find just the right new editor who will accept the torch that old age hurries us to pass – and to find the funds to pay her or him – so that the paper keeps troubling the waters for decades to come, “until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
Bay View publisher Dr. Willie Ratcliff can be reached at 415-671-0789 or firstname.lastname@example.org.