A group of activists is now on its seventh day of a hunger strike they say won’t end until San Francisco mayor Ed Lee either fires police chief Greg Suhr or resigns himself. The group cites police-involved deaths—including Alejandro Nieto, Amilcar Perez-Lopez, Mario Woods and Luis Gongora—and the revelation of racist text messages reportedly sent by local officers as proof that the system needs an overhaul.
“We don’t want to die,” striker Maria Cristina Gutierrez told SFGate.com. “But we’re prepared to go all the way.”
Since April 22, Guitierrez has been joined outside the Mission District police station by four additional strikers: her son Ilych “Equipto” Sato, an MC who is leading the protest; Edwin Lindo, who is running for local office; hip-hop artist Selassie Blackwell; Ike Pinkston, who works at Guitierrez’s preschool. Other strikers have joined and left in the interim.
Yesterday (April 26) CNN released a batch of racist slur-filled text messages allegedly sent between San Francisco Police Department officer Jason Lai and his colleagues. It is the second set of messages released to the public. The missives included the following: “I hate that beaner, but I think the nig is worse,” “Indian ppl are disgusting” and “Ghetto nigs burning down their own city wtf.”
Lai’s attorney identified him as Chinese-American. He is no longer with the force, stemming from a prior investigation that resulted in misdemeanor charges. Three of the four other officers involved in the texts are also no longer SFPD officers, with the fourth currently faceing disciplinary charges.
Chief Suhr addressed the text messages in a press conference yesterday, saying, “The message is clear to both the officers in the department and the public: We will not have this in the San Francisco Police Department. The culture of this police department is, you demonstrate yourself to be a racist and a homophobe, and you’re not going to be a police officer in San Francisco.”
When asked if he will step down, per the demands of the hunger strikers, he said, “I don’t have any plans to resign. I plan to move the department forward in the fashion I’m discussing with you right now.”
And the San Francisco Examiner reports that Mayor Lee expressed his support for the chief at a press conference yesterday and shared his thoughts about the protest. “Everybody has a right to protest,” he said. “Should the situation deteriorate to where it’s a health situation…things could change on the ground.”
Meanwhile, the hunger strikers press on, subsisting on water, coconut water, ginger tea and multivitamins. “I love all of us Black and Brown people who are here. Look at us, we are fighting for our rights, we are fighting for our grandchildren,” Guitierrez told MissionLocal.org. “I never felt so much love in my life… If we talk about revolution, we have to start with love.”