Tenderloin protest highlights impact of homeless sweeps on Black residents

Protesters rallied outside the San Francisco Police Department’s Tenderloin station to advocate defunding police and for UC Hastings to drop a lawsuit against homeless Tenderloin residents on Tuesday. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Protesters march from UC Hastings to the SFPD Tenderloin station to advocate defunding SFPD and for UC Hastings to drop a lawsuit against homeless Tenderloin residents on Tuesday, June 23, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Protesters rally outside SFPD Tenderloin station to advocate defunding SFPD and for UC Hastings to drop a lawsuit against homeless Tenderloin residents on Tuesday, June 23, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
San Francisco Police officers stand guard outside the Tenderloin Police Station as protesters rally to advocate defunding SFPD and for UC Hastings to drop a lawsuit against homeless Tenderloin residents on Tuesday, June 23, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Jennifer Friedenbach with the Coalition on Homelessness speaks at a rally outside SFPD Tenderloin station to advocate defunding SFPD and for UC Hastings to drop a lawsuit against homeless Tenderloin residents on Tuesday, June 23, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Protesters rally outside SFPD Tenderloin station to advocate defunding SFPD and for UC Hastings to drop a lawsuit against homeless Tenderloin residents on Tuesday, June 23, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
People carry signs at a rally outside UC Hastings calling on them to drop a lawsuit against homeless residents of the Tenderloin and to defund SFPD on Tuesday, June 23, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

A protest Tuesday afternoon in the Tenderloin neighborhood highlighted the policing of unhoused Black communities — an issue that’s thus far been underrepresented in Black Lives Matter protests.

More than a hundred people hit the streets to protest police violence and support the call to house the more than 2,000 homeless people living in the Tenderloin, marching from UC Hastings at McAllister and Hyde streets to the Tenderloin police station at Eddy and Jones streets.

The protest was timely; two weeks ago, a lawsuit filed against San Francisco by UC Hastings over conditions in the Tenderloin was settled with controversial terms. The City agreed to remove 70 percent of the tents in the neighborhood, and provide 300 hotel rooms for people experiencing homelessness.

But advocates say the math doesn’t quite add up; there are an estimated 2,000 people living on the streets in the Tenderloin. The removal of tents and belongings is often led by police, and deploying them to manage this effort directly contradicts The City’s recent commitment to lessen the use of police to respond to non-emergencies.

“This has been the primary response to homelessness in San Francisco: a police response,” said Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness. “Over 50,000 times a year police are sent to take care of psychiatric crises, people who are without housing. They’re not criminals. They’re simply homeless. This is not right. We need to turn this whole situation around.”

While Black people represent only 6 percent of The City’s general population, they make up over 37 percent of the homeless population. This group is heavily policed; in San Francisco more than 50,000 calls are made each year to 311 around homelessness, ranging from the presence of tents on residential streets to complaints over noise. These calls are routed through the Healthy Streets Operation Center (HSOC), which is meant to deploy police, Public Works employees and members of the Homeless Outreach Team to address the situation.

But, the response has historically been led by police, which advocates say can create trauma and a risk of violence for people trying to survive outside.

Shyhyenne Brown, a homeless outreach counselor who spoke at Tuesday’s rally, told The San Francisco Examiner that she’s felt the impact of police violence not just personally, but through her community.

“Police shot and killed one of my best friends,” Brown said. “Alice Brown. She was a homeless individual. It was right over at Van Ness and Pine. An officer recognized her from a prior arrest, and targeted her. They could have done anything other than what they did. It hurt me very much. I’m still feeling that pain to this day.”

Queenandi XSheba was born in the Fillmore and raised in the Tenderloin. At Tuesday’s protest she turned to face the line of armed police officers standing behind barricades outside Tenderloin Police Station.

“You cannot criminalize people because they are houseless,” she told them. “You should be criminalized for allowing them to suffer and live in this condition. You don’t become a police officer to control the masses, you’re supposed to do a service. For 500 years we’ve been trying to convince the universe that our lives matter. This country should be ashamed of itself. ”

The energy was high at the peaceful rally and march Tuesday, but those who have been watching the UC Hastings settlement unfold are nervous about the upcoming police-led sweeps — particularly during a pandemic. As it currently stands, hundreds of people are set to lose their shelter with little recourse to access hotel rooms.

“They’re right around the corner,” the Coalition on Homelessness’s Kelley Cutler said of the pending sweeps. “We’re expecting them to start any day now.”

nbishari@sfexaminer.com

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