Friday, September 29, 2006

Hunters Point Protest

On 1966-09-27, a police officer shot and killed a 16-year-old who was fleeing the scene of a stolen car in the predominantly African-American Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood in the southeast corner of San Francisco. The killing touched off several days of protest, often referred to as the Hunters Point Riot. Forty years later, those protests have almost been forgotten, but a new controversy — the invalidation of petitions calling for a referendum on the neighborhood redevelopment plan — coinciding with the anniversary led to a commemoration along with a whole new protest. I have photos, quotes, and commentary from Wednesday's protest.

Read more...The very first thing that struck me was that this group had much better slogans than most protests I've seen or participated in. There was none of the "Hey, hey, ho, ho" nonsense that I've complained about previously. Here are two of the better calls I heard:

No Justice, No Peace
No Racist Police!

Every day, the same old thang:
Oink, oink, bang bang!
They're catchy because they're not the same old recycled fill-in-the-blank stock chants. Although there was considerable attention paid to issues of police hostility towards the neighborhood and its residents, the focus was on the redevelopment plan, which opponents say was drafted with minimal input from the residents. The co-sponsors of the rally included POWER (People Organized to Win Employment Rights), San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper, ACORN, Environmental Justice & Advocacy, and other groups.

Hunters Point March 01 Hunters Point March 02 Hunters Point March 04 Hunters Point March 05 Hunters Point March 08 Hunters Point March 08 detail Hunters Point March 09 Hunters Point March 10 Hunters Point March 11

On 2006-09-19, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera ruled that, by his interpretation of a California Supreme Court decision requiring that all initiative petitions include all relevant documents, the petitions circulated to overturn the redevelopment plan for Bayview-Hunters Point were invalid; the issue will not go before voters in November unless Herrera's ruling is reversed. Organizers of the petition drive point out that the documents they were faulted for not including with the petition amounted to over 1,000 pages. They got over 33,000 signatures — far more than the 21,000 needed — with 70% of those signatures coming from white people who live in other neighborhoods of San Francisco.

Willie Ratcliff (sp?) of the San Francisco Bay View spoke about the petition drive. The old Coca-Cola bottling plant is being converted to apartments with 375 units, all at market rate: no provision is being made for low- or middle-income residents. Mr. Ratcliff also endorsed Yes on 90.
Sister Marie Harrison, one of the candidates for District 10 Supervisor, spoke of her optimism, saying, "Change is coming: I feel it on the wind!" She also demonstrated the impact of the City Attorney's ruling by having an assistant hold up the stack of documents that were supposed to have accompanied each copy of the petition. The printing costs would have been prohibitive, and the sheer weight would have made petitioning onerous in the extreme.
Minister Curtis Mohammed (sp?) of the Nation of Islam, Bay Area, spoke next. The following is a paraphrase of the substance of his remarks. Forty years ago, a young black man named Matthew Johnson was murdered here in Hunters Point by the San Francisco Police Department. That murder sparked not a riot but a revolt. If justice is not given, over time, the anger of the people rises. What kind of stand are you willing to take now to stop the hemorrhaging of our community? Law enforcement supports and sometimes instigates gang violence: we know where the guns come from. The same people who foment civil war in Africa and the Middle East are at work here in Hunters Point. Time out for talk, time out for game-playing, time out for double-dealing, time out for duplicity. In South Africa, we put rubber tires around the necks of those people who betray their own. Smiling people sometimes tell lies. We mus build our own destiny for our own people: put your life on the line for the community. We want to own the Projects.

A woman named Meesha spoke next, bringing a quote highlighting police racism way back in ... 2003! San Francisco police officers used brutal tactics to corral African Americans back into "their" neighborhood, saying, "As long as you people are here, we're going to keep doing this!" Meesha also spoke against Prop. 90. The next speakers, whose names I didn't catch, said, "Either you stand for something or you fall for anything!" and "Wake your game up! United Playaz tell you to put the guns down and help each other!"

Sister Stephanie Hughes from ACORN [the Association of Community Organizatinos for Reform Now] spoke next, speaking for ACORN in enouncing the City Attorney's decision on the Hunters Point redevelopment referendum. She spoke of the need for community control of redevelopment and land-use decision to bring about responsible redevelopment on the community's terms. Gentrification is forcing people out of their own neighborhoods.
Next up was Charlie Walker, another candidate for District 10 Supervisor. Charlie has lived in the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood all of his life. The Redevelopment Agency did a study that showed that the Fillmore area redevelopment plan took unfair advantage of black people in the Western Addition, but now they're doing it again. "The Redevelopment Agency is designed to get black people out of the cities and back to the cotton fields! Why are black people fighting a war in Iraq but we can't get justice here?"
Lavon Barnes and B.J. Higgins spoke next for POWER, which has organized the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood — "the only difference here is there is no hurricane." The 3rd Street White Rail won't have a lot of people from this neighborhood on board. It's one minute to midnight. People are going to City Hall and finding that their names are not on the deeds to their homes. We need to take the struggle to the streets like in 1966.
Espanola Jackson, also a candidate for District 10 Supervisor, spoke about the "land grab" represented by the redevelopment plan. Supervisor Sophie Maxwell, the District 10 incumbent, signed onto an agreement moving the boundary between Bayview-Hunters Point and Visitacion Valley. The redevelopment plan includes an Olympic Village in Bayview-Hunters Point, but no one asked the neighborhood if they want an Olympic Village.
Billy "Jazz" Ellis wasn't able to attend in person, but sent a statement that was read to the rally. "Drive out the Bush régime!" In September 1966, Billy was 32 years old, working a split shift on Muni. During his break, he was looking for a store to buy a snack. A police officer told him, "You get your black ass out of here!" Because of his Muni uniform, he was able to explain that he was just going to the store, so the cop relented, but told him that he'd better not be heading down to 3rd Street, where the protest was being held. Of course, he did go. They sent tanks, machine guns, and the National Guard to the Bayview Opera House, but the people fought back. Racism and oppression are built into the system. Another speaker whose name I also didn't catch (Hey, I'm new at this!) from Poor magazine, told about the redevelopment of Chavez Ravine, a Mexican-American neighborhood in Los Angeles that was considered "blighted." After the redevelopment, the entire character of the neighborhood was changed, because so many of the residents were forced to move out. The leaders of the petition drive spoke about the need for community input and the frustration of democracy in the rejection of the referendum petitions.
Sala Chandler, yet another candidate for District 10 Supervisor, gave an energetic speech, trying to get the crowd to show some enthusiasm. She spoke of the need for community involvement, and the need for people to vote.
Malcolm Exodus from the ACLU spoke about the need to push for Reparations for slavery. He dismissed the argument that the people who created and maintained the system of slavery are no longer alive and that those born after slavery should not be held to pay for the sins of their forebears, since those descendants have continued to benefit from the continued oppression of the descendants of slaves.

Supervisor Sophie Maxwell did not make an appearance at the rally, although I doubt she would have received a warm welcome.

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