A grandmother. Two rappers. A supervisorial candidate. An educator. The oldest is 66; the youngest 29.
What this handful of activists — dubbed the “Frisco Five”— has in common is a refusal to eat. Since the beginning of their fast on April 21, the hunger strikers’ tents and stacked bottles of water and juice have turned the sidewalk in front of San Francisco’s Mission Police Station into a scene of protest.
They say they won’t eat until Police Chief Greg Suhr is fired or resigns.
Meanwhile, Suhr this week stated he has no intention of resigning, and Mayor Ed Lee has voiced his support for the chief as the point man for use of force and bias policing reforms — even as pressure continues to mount for Suhr to leave his post.
The hunger strikers’ efforts sprang from outrage at violence within the ranks of the San Francisco Police Department — made all the more pressing in the wake of two fatal police shootings in the last six months.
Mario Woods was shot by a group of police in the Bayview in December. Earlier this month, Luis Gongora was also fatally shot by SFPD. The two killings, along with a series of scandals of racism in the ranks, have spawned a protest movement that continues to pressure city leaders to root out bias and police brutality.
Sellassie Blackwell, 39
Born at St. Luke’s hospital, Blackwell grew up in the Fillmore, Hunters Point and Ingleside in a family of longtime San Franciscans. His mom worked in local government and his dad was “rogue.”
They lived in rough neighborhoods, but he was saved from the street because of his political consciousness; black power had always been a theme in his home. As a rapper, he says he was best known for his “Stop Hating in The Bay” campaign.
Ike Pinkston, 42
Pinkston was raised in San Francisco — from the Fillmore to Hunters Point to the Mission — with his half brother by fairly apolitical parents. His father worked for the housing authority and his mom works at the airport.
“I haven’t really talked to my parents about this,” said Pinkston, who attended J. Eugene McAteer High School and now works at a preschool. With two children of his own, both not yet teens, he worries for their safety in The City.
Ilyich Sato, 42
Born at St. Luke’s Hospital, Sato was raised by a Colombian mother (and another hunger striker) and jazz DJ father, Art Sato who has a show on KPFA called “In Your Ear.”
Sato — a local rapper known as Equipto — says he grew up at protests. His mother took part in a vigil decades ago outside the Colombian consulate to protest human rights abuses in her country. But it was his father who brought hip hop to his young ears. Sato was named after Bolshevik leader Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.
Edwin Lindo, 29
Born in St. Luke’s Hospital like many of his compatriots, Lindo was raised in Bernal Heights and the Mission by his father, a Nicaraguan.
Coming from a country ruled by a dictator, Lindo said his father explicitly knew the importance of politics.
A law school graduate and education equity consultant, Lindo is now running for supervisor in District 9.
“I am very aware that this is political suicide,” he said of the hunger strike.
Maria Cristina Gutierrez, 66
Originally from Cali, Colombia, Gutierrez has lived in San Francisco for decades and raised her two children here, one of whom is another hunger striker.
Gutierrez is the executive director of the Compañeros del Barrio preschool in the Mission. As a child she had to flee her home because of her father’s union organizing work.
Her father, Luis Alberto Gutierrez, would be proud of her action, she said. She came to San Francisco in 1968 to study but stayed after meeting her former husband.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated from its original version.
Read more criminal justice news on the Crime Ink page in print. Follow us on Twitter: @sfcrimeinkCrimeEdwin LindoGreg Suhrhunger strikeIke PinkstonIlyich SatoMaria Cristina GutierreaSellassie Blackwell