More than 10,000 people took to the streets in San Francisco’s Mission District Wednesday in a festival of unity and a march for justice and reform.
In a youth-organized demonstration, protesters demanded police reform and accountability following a string of high-profile police killings of black and brown men, women and children over the past decade.
Thousands together chanted:
“No justice, no peace!”
The event, organized by Mission High School students and recent graduates, started at the school with 18th Street, located between Mission High and Mission Dolores Park, completely packed in by massive crowd.
The park played host to thousands unable to find room in the streets, and even more people spilled out over the next full block to Guerrero Street.
The San Francisco gathering Wednesday was one of countless demonstrations in cities across the country and around the world following the Memorial Day killing of black Minneapolis man George Floyd at the hands of white former police officer Derek Chauvin. Chauvin was captured on cell phone and surveillance footage pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes while Floyd repeatedly said:
“I can’t breathe.”
Ivan Garcia, 23, told SFBay that the onslaught of demonstrations are about Floyd, and much more. Garcia said:
“This is about George Floyd definitely — a contemporary thing — but it’s a historic and timeless struggle, walking in the footsteps of people who laid down their lives for this. So [this movement] is the next way to continue that in the contemporary scope.”
Police departments across the country have since criticized Chauvin’s actions. The San Francisco Police Department’s use-of-force policy, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, allows officers to use knees as one of numerous “body weapons” to subdue a suspect. However, SFPD prohibits the use of two types of neck constraints: choke holds and carotid restraints.
The Chronicle reports:
“A chokehold is applied to the front of the neck and restricts a person’s ability to breathe. A carotid restraint focuses pressure on the sides of the windpipe, restricting blood flow to the brain and rendering the subject unconscious.
San Francisco’s policy does not specifically address the move in question, in which an officer applies pressure to the back of a prone subject’s neck, potentially pressing the windpipe to the ground.”
The most vocal organizer, 17-year-old Simone Jaques, started the protest with a speech, saying:
“I’m black and proud, I’m Afro-Chicana and proud and I’m the primary organizer of this protest along with ‘Alejandro’, ‘Herman’, ‘Mariano’ and ‘Nico,’ and so many other homies and homegirls ‘cus that’s really what it is. This entire time, people have been asking us, you know, ‘Are you guys under an org? Who is it?’ It’s just youth who grew up in The City. We’re just people who care and love each other.”
SFBay was unable to confirm the spelling of organizers’ names aside from than Jaque’s.
Simone gave thanks to the Ohlone people, who once lived in what is now the San Francisco Bay Area. It is customary for organizers to thank the area’s indigenous people as they fight against various systems of power.
Simone acknowledged the death of George Floyd and said that the demonstration was about reclaiming non-oppressed identities as well as decades of police brutality and hundreds of years of oppression under colonial and American powers.
“Understand that we are here to fight, abolishing police and to dismantle the systems dependent on our oppression; understand that [police] are the direct representation of U.S. imperialism. When they put on a uniform and the badges of slave-catchers, they are no longer citizens subjugated to the same violence we experience because they are the violence.”
Simone’s “slave-catcher” remark refers when slave-catchers and slave-patrols were given legal authority in both the South and North to catch runaway slaves, helping preserve an economy that relied on slavery in the South.
She talked about how the over-policing and over-imprisonment of brown and black people in both government-based and private prisons allows prison authorities to make money from people of color. Slavery was officially abolished in the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution except as punishment for a crime. Prison-reform activists often say that prison is the modern-day equivalent of slavery.
On the need to reform oppressive societal norms in general, Simone said:
“We are here as a community to disrupt their peace. We are here as integral children of our generation to disrupt their peace. This is community taking care of community and we are living proof that we do not need police. We will no longer sacrifice our bodies, our money and our spirits for the peace of the white man. We will place our economic value in black and brown businesses only.”
Alejandro, one of the student organizers, stepped up to speak next, saying:
“We must dismantle white supremacy. With it, comes the abolishment of police, prisons, ICE, U.S. imperialism; it is time to abolish capitalism.”
The crowd cheered loudly in response.
“And now you ask, ‘Why capitalism?’ Because capitalism sustains white supremacy. Ima say it louder for the people in the back. Capitalism sustains white supremacy. It is time to fight today for a better tomorrow.”
Asking the crowd to reexamine what holds importance to them:
“Reassess your goals. What can you envision when abundance isn’t money anymore but full, whole aspects of life? What would you find valuable then? Imagine a world where everything and everyone is valuable, where money isn’t considered the only resource – where black bodies aren’t responsible for the wealth of the world.”
Students commanded the day with impassioned speeches, poetry and shared fears of waking up every day to a new Twitter hashtag over the police killing of another person of color. One urged black people to stop having faith in white-run institutions and to rise up in unity instead.
A teacher at Mission High School and longtime political activist recalled how she fought against the same injustices in years past and lamented how little things have changed. She also talked about how Mission High is contracted with San Francisco police to act as resource officers on campus.
With every speech, the gathered thousands loudly cheered and booed, honked horns and beat on drums.
A march that followed the huge rally made its way the Hall of Justice, diverting from the originally planned destination at the Mission District police station. At a slow and steady pace, people nearly shoulder-to-shoulder made their way up 18th Street. Throughout the march, organizers and allies passed out snacks, masks, bottles of water and even burritos to fuel and hydrate attendees.
Along the way, protesters chanted:
“Say his name! George Floyd!
“Say her name! Breonna Taylor!”
Breonna Taylor was a black woman fatally shot by Louisville police in March when they entered her home looking for a suspect located in a different apartment. The plain clothed officers had a no-knock search warrant, allowing them to break down the door and enter the apartment. The officers said they did knock and announced themselves first but witnesses have contradicted that account.
“We are tired! The police must be fired!”
Sam Burma, 33, carried a sign above his head that read:
“The first pride was a riot.”
Burma said it felt both right and nostalgic to carry the sign through the Castro.
Burma told SFBay:
“I feel like where we were back then and where we are today, we are at a turn in this country where we are trying to change for the better, and this is something that is our duty to stand in and walk for, for justice. It was for justice back then; it’s for justice today.”
“The fact that there is all this killing [of black men by police] obviously induces anger and rightfully so. Where I stand with it is ‘all lives should matter, but all lives can’t matter until black lives matter.’”
He also said that allies need to educate themselves about how support the black community, be it demonstrating, giving donations, supporting black-owned businesses or having hard conversations with friends and family. Burma said that change starts with ideas taking root in allied communities, with people of all ages holding themselves accountable for their own actions.
The protest turned down 16th Street. For dozens of blocks down the street, all that could be seen were demonstrators packing the street. Chanting in unison while hoisting their signs, protesters walked over a mile to Bryant Street – where they turned and headed to the jail and courthouse.
Several marchers stopped at the freeway entrance at 8th and Bryant streets, which was blocked off by police. Some protesters shouted into police faces, some knelt in front of them and others asked officers if they were proud of what they were doing.
Barricades and a line of sheriff’s deputies met the protesters at the Hall of Justice.
Simone Jaques, the lead organizer, again denounced capitalism and police brutality – this time from the top of the bus used to bring some people along who didn’t make the walk. She held up a U.S. flag, turned upside-down, on a flagpole and attempted to ignite it. Unable to get the flag lit at first, Jacques asked demonstrators for help.
When the flag eventually caught fire, she raised it triumphantly and the crowd burst into cheers.
As the time grew late, Jaques asked white allies in the crowd to stand at the front of the line and link arms.
After organizers left, a number of protesters took over to lead chants and tell stories using a megaphone. A friend of Miles Hall, a young black man killed in 2019 by Walnut Creek police as he suffered a schizophrenic episode, talked about his feelings for Hall and the decade of police killings.
A large segment of the crowd left the Hall of Justice and a few thousand demonstrators were spotted later at City Hall, but no unlawful assembly was declared and no arrests were made.
The once-tens of thousands-strong protests ended as peacefully as it began.