Hunger strikers teaching San Francisco a valuable lesson

Hunger strikes grow in importance the longer the protest goes.

When my website — — first broke news of the “Frisco 5” hunger strike, the public responded by … well, not really responding at all. It was the very morning the hunger strike began, and other than a few hundred clicks, the general response was crickets.

I guess, that’s about as much as you can expect. News of something about to happen isn’t the same as reporting on something that is in the process of happening. Besides the fact that, at the time, there were no photos of the “Frisco 5” actually on hunger strike. I imagine most people who saw the headline thought, “A hunger strike, huh? This probably won’t last very long.”

That was more than two weeks ago.

As I’m writing this, Maria Cristina Gutierrez, Sellassie Blackwell, Ilych Sato, Edwin Lindo and Ike Pinkston have not eaten in more than two weeks. How’s that for conviction? While most people share an article on Facebook and then pat themselves on the back for their activism, these five San Franciscans are literally starving themselves to death because they want to see Police Chief Greg Suhr removed from his position. They argue he should be held accountable for the killings of unarmed black and brown people that seem to continue happening in our progressive bastion by the Bay. And the community has their back.

It’s been incredible to see the outpouring of support and solidarity for the “Frisco 5.” At any given hour, a dozen or more people can be found holding space in front the Mission Police Station at 17th and Valencia street. From massage therapists and medical professionals offering their services, to random dudes from the block just kicking it, the crowd is filled with people who care not only about the lives of these hunger strikers, but also the plight of black and brown people in America.

I was there the other day, showing my support, when my friend Jeremiah came by with his 9-year-old daughter, Beatrice.

“I felt it was important for her to see this,” Jeremiah told me. Afterwards, I overheard him answering all of Beatrice’s questions and explaining that the police in America treat people differently depending on the color of their skin — even in San Francisco.

It’s not only important that Beatrice sees the hunger strike, it’s important that all of us do, which is why the location chosen to hold it couldn’t have been a more perfect one.

Valencia Street is ground zero for the hyper-gentrification that is rampaging through San Francisco like an incurable infectious disease. There’s a certain tension created when newer, wealthy white residents move to a neighborhood and then call the cops on the working-class people of color being displaced from there.

This tension is what ultimately lead to the police killing of Alex Nieto.

Setting up camp in front of the police station on Valencia Street, while also holding vigil for Nieto and others killed by the San Francisco Police Department like Mario Woods, Amilcar Lopez and Luis Gongora, the “Frisco 5” bring the reality of this tension home to roost. By being there, directly in the middle of your stroll to brunch, they are asking this question: Are you just going to walk by or are you gonna stop, show your support and do what you can to change things?

You don’t have to starve yourself to make a difference. All you need do is call the Mayor’s Office at (415) 554-6141. Tell them you support the “Frisco 5” and that Chief Suhr should be fired.

Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at Broke-Ass City runs Thursdays in the San Francisco Examiner.

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