Earth Day 2021 in San Francisco!

On this Earth Day, April 22, 2020, more than 120 fired up Hunters Point and Treasure Island residents and supporters gathered in front of San Francisco City Hall to call for real environmental and social change that comes from the people in the wake of complete disinvestment and neglect of our Black communities by city leaders. But we also came together to acknowledge, learn about and celebrate the amazing work of people and organizations like Dr. Ahimsa Sumchai, Greenaction, Hunters Point Mothers and Fathers Committee, Arieann Harrison, Elaine Brown, Dr. Aude Bouagnon, Ms. Margaret from West Oakland, investigative reporter Carol Harvey, Gloria Berry, attorneys Stanley Goff and Charles Bonner, Literacy for Environmental Justice and many more. – Photo: Griffin Jones

by SF Bay View Staff

“Just like we can get killed by the police, we can get killed by this toxic soil.” – Gloria Berry, SF DCCC (San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee) member and Bayview Hunters Point native

Thursday, April 22, 2021, was an overcast and breezy day in San Francisco, but that did not keep more than 120 activists, doctors, lawyers and members of the community from assembling in front of City Hall.

The focus was a little different and the tone was a lot angrier than in previous years. One thing that stood out was the multiracial unity on clear display at this Earth Day Rally in San Francisco.

“This city claims to be a leader in environmental, climate and social justice, but the reality is that this city has become a leader in environmental racism and injustice.”

The rally was organized by Greenaction and co-sponsored by a host of local organizations which have defined themselves as champions for the people. There were three clear-cut demands:

  1. Declare a MORATORIUM on Lennar’s shipyard development and unsafe soil excavation!
  2. Declare a PUBLIC HEALTH EMERGENCY!
  3. Conduct full retesting, safe cleanup and removal of all radioactive and toxic waste at the Shipyard Superfund site and Treasure Island!

The demands were directed at San Francisco Mayor London Breed and the SF Board of Supervisors. President of the Board of Supervisors Shamann Walton was mentioned numerous times at the rally as people were expressing their anger, frustration and disgust with the lack of support coming from District 10’s very own supervisor.

Community members from Bayview Hunters Point turned out in force at this Earth Day Rally. Speaking here are a few members from the Hunters Point Mothers and Fathers Committee, a local group that supports a moratorium on all construction at the Hunters Point Shipyard. – Photo: Malik Washington

District 10 is the home of the toxic U.S. Hunters Point Naval Shipyard. The Bay View has been on the frontlines of reporting when it comes to the environmental disaster which has taken the lives and destroyed the health of numerous community members.

The MCs of the event were Ms. Arieann Harrison, founder of the Marie Harrison Community Foundation, and our very own Malik Washington. Arieann and Malik shared the duties of introducing the long list of amazing speakers.

At 78 years old, former Black Panther Elaine Brown is still challenging those in authority, especially when they violate the public’s trust. At the Earth Day Rally on April 22, 2021, Comrade Elaine read a heart wrenching letter from Bayview native Gwen Woods, the mother of Mario Woods, executed by an SFPD firing squad in 2015 and still waiting for justice. All power to the people! – Photo: Malik Washington

Certain speakers stood out in particular, and one such speaker was Elaine Brown, former chairwoman of the original Black Panther Party for Self Defense. At 78 years old, Elaine Brown still has the power, strength and intelligence to command the respect and attention of any crowd. 

Elaine Brown reminded everyone that the verdict that came in the other day from the George Floyd trial was possible because there is power in and with the people. Elaine read a statement from Gwen Woods, the mother of young Mario Woods, killed by SFPD in December 2015. 

Gwen Woods grew up in Bayview, and she said that she returned to San Francisco to care for her ailing mother, stating that the cancers that killed her mother and father were the result of the volatile toxicity at the Hunters Point Shipyard.

Elaine Brown said that the reason Gwen Woods could not attend the Earth Day Rally was because she had to work. She went on to explain that the City and County of San Francisco never gave Gwen Woods any money after the San Francisco Police Department murdered her son. 

Dr. Mark Alexander is an epidemiologist who was born and raised in the Bayview Hunters Point community. He works closely with Dr. Ahimsa Porter Sumchai, principal investigator and chief medical doctor with the Hunters Point Biomonitoring Program.

If we analyze the facts that are presented here, it is not very hard for us to come to the conclusion that “the state” has many ways set up in order to kill the most oppressed and disadvantaged minority communities in Amerika.

Gwen Woods’ statement ended powerfully, and it is worth repeating here: “If no one at the highest level steps up against this entity known as Lennar, you are complicit with this group, or maybe your agenda was and is to help in the genocide of the Bayview – yes, I said genocide! When you deliberately partake in the destruction of a large group of people or community, it is genocide!”

The Bay View’s investigative reporter Carol Harvey attended the rally to call out the “sister-Superfund site” Treasure Island as well. She spoke of her experience not only as a reporter but as a friend and confidant to the human beings who have been subjected to environmental racism on the island. 

Carol gave the history of the creation of Treasure Island and the complicity of the U.S. Navy in toxifying the land, specifically naming the development of radiation schools set up on the island for U.S. Navy personnel. After the U.S. dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, they decided that all wars after that would be nuclear. 

Carol said: “Treasure Island has a mother lode of radiation and chemicals in the soil. People have been living on this island since 1999 and three quarters of the population are people of color. Are you surprised? Willie Brown decided to solve the ‘homeless problem’ in San Francisco by housing folks on Treasure Island. 

Dr. Ahimsa Porter Sumchai, pictured here in front of City Hall with Malik Washington on Earth Day, April 22, 2021, continues to serve the community as founder and head of the Hunters Point Community Biomonitoring Project. Developers like Lennar feel threatened by Dr. Sumchai’s work because it has exposed the lies bought and sold, offering the historically Black Hunters Point as a healthy place to live for gentrifiers. – Photo: Malik Washington

“I was talking to Dr. Ahimsa Sumchai about the burn pits. You see, the U.S. Navy had burn pits all over the island, where they burned chemicals and radioactive materials. Many of the houses on Treasure Island were built on top of these burn pits and they are highly toxic and dangerous to human beings.”

None of this information is new, and every politician and government official in the City and County of San Francisco knows that Treasure Island is poisonous.

During the rally we heard from attorney Stanley Goff, who represents the residents on Treasure Island, as well as attorney Charles Bonner, who represents the residents of Bayview Hunters Point. Both of these intelligent and strong Black men had a word of encouragement for the people. 

Dominique is one of many community members who came out to support and speak out at the Earth Day Rally.

Attorney Charles Bonner had an update in regard to the lawsuit he filed against Lennar. Soon, he plans to file for an injunction, asking that a moratorium be placed on any construction at Hunters Point until medical and scientific experts can ascertain the true toxic nature of the soil, water and air as well as the affect this toxic environment has on the human beings who have lived here for decades. 

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Dr. Ahimsa Porter Sumchai has led the effort to perform biomonitoring testing on the citizens of Bayview Hunters Point, and that we as a community must continue to support her work because, at the end of the day, it is for the good of our children and our children’s children.

Fists up for justice! The people of Hunters Point and Treasure Island demand a truly clean environment prior to any further development. – Photo: Griffin Jones

In closing, I share a quote from Bradley Angel, executive director of Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice: “It is time for the mayor and the Board of Supervisors to protect the people of Bayview Hunters Point and Treasure Island instead of protecting Lennar and other corporate developers that are polluting and gentrifying our city. 

“This city claims to be a leader in environmental, climate and social justice, but the reality is that this city has become a leader in environmental racism and injustice. By failing to require a full clean-up of radioactive and toxic waste at the Shipyard and Treasure Island, this city has become complicit and culpable in polluting the environment and poisoning its own citizens.”

The San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper will continue to cover these subjects and will forever be on the side of the people. Many of us wonder why our elected leaders are not as passionate about this fight as we are. The evidence is clear: There is a financial interest in remaining silent. 

Please remember that the mantra of capitalism is “profits over people.” However, at this newspaper, our mantra is: Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win, all Power to the People!

Bay View staff can be reached at 415-671-0789 or editor@sfbayview.com.