The voices came from the dark as Mayor Ed Lee stood in the spotlight.
Several members of the Justice for Mario Woods Coalition began to shout over the mayor’s speech at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, where hundreds had gathered in honor of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“We want to make sure that you know that your police chief needs to be fired,” protester Sellassie Blackwell shouted.
Many protesters expressed that if King were alive today, the trailblazing civil rights leader would stand with their cause to get justice for Woods and others in the black community they say have been victims of excessive force and police brutality.
In that regard, the coalition has called for the firing of Police Chief Greg Suhr and the criminal prosecution of five police officers who shot and killed Woods, 26, in December. They also want an independent investigation into the fatal shooting.
“It’s more than just police officers it’s also about affordability,” Lee told the crowd before his voice was again drowned out by the coalition. “It’s about a city that represents and builds housing for its residents.”
But Blackwell and the other Woods supporters, including local rapper Ilyich Sato — known to many as Equipto — told the mayor that King would not approve of his actions. The coalition invited Lee to speak with them and promised to hassle him until he listened to their demands.
“I appreciate you’re listening to me,” Lee said to protesters as they shouted over him. “May I speak?” Lee then thanked the audience and left the stage to applause.
Outside protesters began to chant, “Fire Chief Suhr,” and waited for the mayor to try and exit through a side door. But he never came out.
The coalition wrote a letter to Lee that they planned to hand him. A copy of the note obtained by the San Francisco Examiner read: “How can you continue to support Chief Suhr? If his long and sordid history is not enough, how much more will it take before you fire Chief Suhr?”
With the letter, the coalition attached a list of the scandals in which Suhr has been involved, including the racist text messages sent between officers under his command and the various men who have been killed while Suhr was chief.
The Interfaith Council meeting was but one of several disruptions caused by protesters throughout the holiday Monday. During the early evening, protesters shut down of the eastern span of the Bay Bridge.
Third Street in the South of Market neighborhood was closed to traffic while demonstrators, including Officers for Justice, marched down the middle of the road near Mission Street.
“We’re outraged about the last ruling of the textgate scandal,” said San Francisco police Sgt. Yolanda Williams of Officers For Justice.
At Yerba Buena Gardens, community members showed their support for Pastor Yul Dorn, who was evicted from his home last Thursday after living there for 20 years.
“It is absolutely criminal what our system is allowing these spectators and the mayor to do to people, especially to people of color,” Dorn said. “We’re low hanging fruit. We don’t have the money to get high-priced lawyers, they do. And so we basically just have to be displaced.”
Monday morning, Sato spoke out loud during another public celebration of King at a San Francisco Labor Council breakfast.
A line of police prevented coalition protesters from entering the Holiday Inn on Van Ness Avenue and Pine Street around 8 a.m., where the event was underway.
But several protesters from the coalition had purchased tickets to the breakfast in advance. Between speakers, Sato hopped up stage and took over the microphone, he said.
Sato’s speech prompted an organizer with the Labor Council to invite the rest of the Woods protesters, who were stuck outside the hotel behind a police line, inside the meeting.
“We were outside speaking our demands to police officers who were laughing at us,” Yayne Abeba, a member of the coalition, told the crowd at the meeting.
Once inside, the protesters were invited on stage by Rev. Cecil Williams of Glide Memorial Methodist Church, who told them, “You have a great cause. Don’t go against your own.”
“Cecil invited us all up to share our story,” said Felicia Jones of SEIU 1021 and the Woods coalition. “It was powerful.”
Blackwell read the coalition’s demands to the unions and elected officials that filled the audience.
“We came in as the opposition,” Blackwell said. “And we ended up leaving as the highlight.”
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