Six days into a hunger strike calling for Mayor Ed Lee to fire Police Chief Greg Suhr or resign, the mayor pledged to stand behind the chief and proceed with police reforms already underway.
While greeting formerly homeless residents into their new homes at the Henry Hotel in the Tenderloin on Tuesday, Lee told reporters he cares for the health of the five protesters who have refused food while camped out at Mission Police Station since last Thursday.
“Everybody has a right to protest,” Lee said. “…Even if they’re protesting they have a right to do so. We care for them, for their health, but they also have that first amendment right to protest and their cause and we’ll respect that.”
The hunger strikers are protesting recent fatal shootings of black and Latino men by the San Francisco Police Department. Local rapper Ilych Sato, known as Equipto, has been a leader in the wave of demonstrations that have followed the Dec. 2, 2015, police shooting of Mario Woods.
Sato has been joined in the hunger strike by his mother and preschool director Maria Cristina Gutierrez, candidate for District 9 supervisor Edwin Lindo, Ike Pinkston — who also works at the preschool — and Sellassie Blackwell, another rapper.
Suhr told reporters Tuesday that he has no plans to resign and police are facilitating the hunger strike.
“Should the situation deteriorate to where it’s a health situation,” Suhr said. “…Things could change on the ground.”
Thus far, the protesters have said they are in good health. An ambulance has been stationed around the corner from the police station. Gutierrez, 66, has been sleeping in a nearby car to keep warm. At one point, Lindo reportedly collapsed but declined to leave.
“When they go on a hunger strike, my first thing is to call the health department and make sure they’re adequately cared for, because they may not know what kind of danger their bodies are in or their minds are in,” the mayor said. “I just read in a newspaper that somebody got up and got a head rush. Hopefully he didn’t fall into the street.”
The mayor’s office had not responded to a request for comment on the hunger strike sent a day before the protest began.
Lee made his statement during a news conference at the Henry Hotel — a Sixth Street residential hotel where a group of undercover San Francisco police officers were captured on video in 2011 performing warrantless searches.
The investigation led to a federal court case during which prosecutors revealed a slew of racist and homophobic text messages sent between police in The City. The racist texts have been at the center of protesters claims that there is widespread bias in the department, and District Attorney George Gascon’s desire to root it out.
The police union has vehemently denied such assertions and Suhr has narrowed down such allegations of racism in the department to isolated incidents.
“We will continue to make improvements in our police department,” Lee said. “We’ll continue having practices that will go in the 21st century and respect for every single community in San Francisco.”
On Tuesday, Public Defender Jeff Adachi revealed the language of a second round of racist texts, discovered during the investigation of sexual assault allegations against another SFPD officer.
EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this story stated Mayor Ed Lee had not previously addressed the hunger strike. In fact, he spoke about the strike at an unrelated news conference Thursday.
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