By Nicholas Chan and David Sjostedt
People flooded the streets of San Francisco on Friday for protests to mark the Juneteenth holiday, a celebration of the end of slavery in the United States also called “Freedom Day” or “Emancipation Day.”
Hundreds of people gathered at City Hall for a rally hosted by Coleman Advocates, a San Francisco based nonprofit advocating for low-income children and families, to commemorate their ancestors and push for police reform. The rally came on the heels of nationwide protests in recent weeks over police brutality and the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery among other African-Americans.
“Juneteenth matters to me especially at this moment when we’re putting Black lives first and saying that they deserve to be respected, protected and honored … our ancestors knew back then that we still had so much change to make,” said Brandie Bowen, 25, a community organizer at Coleman Advocates. “Now, we are here in honor of that fight, Juneteenth and our ancestors.”
The rally at City Hall was joined by a a car caravan and by a group of hundreds of people that marched from the Ferry Plaza at noon, escorted by police on motorcycles.
Fernando Lorenzo, a San Mateo resident who organized the Ferry Building rally, said “I am really tired of the oppression that’s been happening, and coming from someone who is a victim of a hate crime and police brutality, I needed to do my part to being able to make systemic change in our country.”
“The importance of Juneteenth is to know that the chains of slavery have ultimately been broken,” Lorenzo said.
Megan Malone, a nurse who marched holding her son’s hand, said this was the second protest she attended. While she does not usually consider herself the type to protest, she is the mother of three biracial children and felt it was important to bring her son out.
“I want him to be aware of the realities of the world, but I also want him to know that for as much hate as there is, there’s that much more love,” Malone said. “I’m so happy that there are so many people who have woken up to this, and that are out here to advocate for change.”
John McCartney watched the march from the sidewalk. An older man who said he was the father of Berkeley rapper Lil B the Based God, he said he wanted to leave the marching to the younger generation, but noted that the current protests are different from the ones he remembers from the 1970s and 1980s.
“This is different, because a majority of the marching is white, and there’s more of a percentage of Asians than ever,” McCartney said. “We have different versions of white supremacy and this generation gets that.”
Among the crowd at City Hall was Dejaneek Brown, a 23-year-old resident of San Francisco and Atlanta, who carried a placard reading “Black Lives Matter At Work.” She pointed to the different ethnicities of people who gathered at City Hall, noting the unity of the people who rallied behind the Black community. Nonetheless, Brown said much more work needed to be done to end racism in America.
“I’m tired of having to go to work and I’m just a stereotype …” Brown said. “It’s not my color. It’s my work ethic.”
Gwendolyn Woods, the mother of Mario Woods, who was fatally shot by the police in 2015, spoke to the crowd and denounced the police department.
“What they do to us is annihilate us and execute us,” Woods said. “That’s as cold as it can be, because that’s what they do to us.”
Chanting “Black lives matter,” “I can’t breathe” and “no racist police” among other slogans, the crowd then marched to the headquarters of the San Francisco Unified School District at 555 Franklin St. and demanded the district end ties with the police.
San Francisco school officials have debated whether to end their formal relationship with the police this month. But Pamela Travis, whose grandson goes to school in the district, said the district should maintain its ties with the police. And the police should spend more time getting to know the students, especially those with disabilities, she added.
“You got good people of all colors,” Travis said. “[The police] may need more training, but our job is not to knock them down but to pray for them, that God will touch them.”
Mayor London Breed and Supervisor Shamann Walton have also vowed to divert police resources “to support the African-American community in the upcoming budget” this month, though city officials have not announced the dollar amount. And Bowen said the funds should be diverted to prevent domestic violence and fund education among other programs and services.
“Our schools are going through major budget cuts this year and it’s a shame that our students have to go to schools with only a few counselors, part-time nurses instead of full-time nurses,” Bowen said.
Breed reiterated a recent call for police reform, directing the police department to ban the use of military-grade weapons like tear gas, tanks and bayonets against unarmed people. She also called for an end to using police officers as responders to nonviolent calls such as reports about homeless people and disputes among neighbors.