Milton Meyer Gym on Kiska Road in Hunters Point was filled to capacity Thursday as residents tried to come to grips with one of the worst reported cases of police brutality in memory, the vicious beating of five children on Martin Luther King Day in front of their parents and neighbors. It was those parents and neighbors who organized the meeting. Susie McAllister, I'Nell Manuel, Tenisha Bishop, Gayle Brown, James Brown, Leonard Helms, Kevin Hall and Selina Brown planned the meeting in hopes of getting some answers from public officials, but though many were invited, few attended. Barbara Lynn of San Francisco SAFE facilitated the meeting.
The flier announcing the meeting set the theme. It began with the now infamous statement by one of the police officers involved in the incident, which is now being commonly described as terrorism. In response to terrified parents on the holiday to honor Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. King, the officer said, "As long as you people are here, we will act like this."
The crowd was shocked to hear the captain of the Bayview police station say that that officer had been a member of the San Francisco Police Department for only eight weeks. The many complaints that are being made against him suggest that he may have been brought here from out of state to lead an SFPD crackdown on the neighborhood.
"What does this mean?" the flier asked, and that was one of the questions on the minds of many at the meeting. On their minds, too, was the determination that "our community will not be stepped on any longer," as the flier declared. "We have coordinated a meeting with public officials to let them know how we are being treated by the San Francisco Police Department," the flier explained. It called the meeting "the first step in taking action against police brutality in the Bayview Hunters Point community."
On a panel was Yolanda Harris, special assistant to the mayor, but she left the meeting early without addressing the crowd. Deputy Police Chief Heather Fong sat on the front row and listened but had not a word to say. Nor did Capt. Mike Puccinelli, under whose jurisdiction the incident happened, have much information to contribute. He confirmed that the officers who violated the rights of the children are still on the force and going about their business. They were not put on administrative leave as would have been standard procedure in any White neighborhood. Commander Greg Suhr tried his best to answer the question sincerely but failed.
After listening to the parents of the victimized children explain in detail how they were treated and traumatized, Supervisor Sophie Maxwell had nothing to say. She seemed at a loss for words. At one juncture, she left the main podium to sit next to one of the victimized parents and try to console him. I was just behind them and could see that her efforts were to no avail.
The Office of Citizen Complaints was represented by Cheri Toney, who tried to explain what her office stands for, but it did nothing to soothe the anger of the residents. I noticed that while one former member of the Black Panther Party, now a progressive, active resident of Bayview Hunters Point, was addressing injustices meted out to him by the Office of Citizen Complaints, Toney was very busy having a side conference instead of listening to the concerns of the community.
As can be expected, the residents gathered at the meeting were very angry. According to the ground rules, comments were to be kept to one minute. No one did that. People were asked to be brief, and no one did that. Everyone was to show respect for everyone else, and most tried their best.
Speaker after speaker expressed their disdain for the San Francisco Police Department and how the officers conducted themselves on that fateful day. A couple of ministers from neighborhood churches spoke, demanding that the police do a better job. Bay View Publisher Willie Ratcliff encouraged the community to stand united and demand not only an end to police brutality but an end to the lockout of African Americans from good jobs, especially in City construction. He demanded that the police treat the residents of Bayview Hunters Point with respect. Espanola Jackson, a long time community activist, demanded that the officers involved in the incident be put on administrative leave. Others in the community wanted the officers to be jailed and stripped of their benefits.
Another meeting, this one a strategy session to bring attention to the incident and demand accountability, will be held tomorrow, Feb. 21, 6 p.m., at the office of PoliceWatch, 54 Mint St., the alley between Market and Mission, Fifth and Sixth, in downtown San Francisco. This meeting brings together the Hunters Point families and the family and supporters of Idriss Stelley, the 23-year-old Black college student gunned down by police in an empty Metreon theater last June.
According to PoliceWatch staff, who are working with both groups, "It is this kind of solidarity and unity that makes us strong. These cases are intimately linked. Both involve unwarranted excessive force against young people of color. And in both situations, brave family members have stepped up to lead the community in justice campaigns."
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