We can't lay down any longer


root - Posted on 20 May 2002

Town Hall Meeting demands an end to police brutality,
toxic poisoning and racism.

by Gretchen Hildebran with PNN Media interns Gay Montgomery and Joseph Bolden

The two young women on the stage would have probably
liked to have been somewhere else. Driving up into the
Bayview on this hot and blue Saturday morning, I was
lulled by the light breezes and wide vistas on top of
the hills, serenaded by distant radios and kids
playing on sidewalks while parents and neighbors
chatted and kept an eye out. Surely Tenisha Bishop and
Susie McCallister would have rather been at home or in
the park with their kids, but on this past Martin
Luther King Day--a blue and hot day--their children
were terrorized in front of their homes by
eight uniformed police officers. They came to the Hunter's
Point Town Hall Meeting last Saturday to let us
know, in Susie McCallister's words, "We have to speak
up. We can't lay down any longer." Theirvoices boomed
around the wood and cement walls of the gymnasium, and
the affirmation that they received from the crowd made each
mother sit up taller and speak up a little louder.

The Town Hall, which was hosted by Kiilu Nyasha and
Wendell Harper and broadcast live on KPFA, was called to
give voice to those most recently terrorized by the police in
this neighborhood, and to link police brutality to the
environmental racism of the Navy and the Hunter's
Point Power Plant that has poisoned the air, water and
soil of this residential community. As panelist
Maurice Campbell put it, "We are talking about basic
human rights."

I have intense respect for all mothers, starting with
my own. The fight that all parents in this part of
the city face to create a safe environment for their
children is against increasingly severe factors.
Willie Ratliff of the San Francisco Bay View explained how
worsening conditions are forcing this community to
flee the city. Rather than experiencing the economic
good times of the last decade. Ratliff said, "San Francisco
in the last seven or eight years is regressing for
African-Americans." Quality of life in Bayview
Hunter's Point has been so endangered by police
brutality, pollution and economic decline that 23% of
the African-American community has been displaced in
the last ten years. 20,000 people have left. The
parents, neighbors, educators, doctors, artists and
activists that came out to this meeting addressed the
root causes of these multiple injustices that
jeopardize the health and future of their community.

"A Rose That Stings"

Environmental pollution that this community faces is
severe. In her introductory comments, Marie Harrison
of the SF Bay View and the Restoration Advisory Board
insisted, "This is environmental racism. By any other
name it is a rose that stings." Children are the most
vulnerable victims, and have outrageous rates of
asthma, Attention Deficit Disorder and cancer: The
environment we live in is so tainted, so toxic, that a
three-year-old can't go outside or breathe the air, a
12-year-old can't stay in school because he can't
concentrate. Another parent described her child's
symptoms of feeling crushing weight on his chest.
Mesha Irizarry, mother of Idriss Stelley, the young man
who was killed by police this past June, told of how
her son had had to filter the air in his room to sleep
at night as well as the water he would use to shower.

Panelist Dr. Ahimsa Sumchai explained many of the most
deadly toxins in the area originate from the Naval
Shipyard. The Navy, while acknowledging that the
poisons, which include lead, radium, asbestos and
radioactive cesium, originated from their activities,
has not taken responsibility for the effects on the
residents of this community. A case in point is the
fire that broke out on Parcel B of the shipyard.
Ray Tompkins, a Bay View resident who has been trying
to track the levels and effects of Shipyard pollution,
described that it took the Navy 16 days to even report
that fire to the SF Department of Public Health. Not
only did residents go on breathing contaminated air
without warning during those days, but physicians who
treated people suffering from the fire had no
knowledge of what to test or treat their patients for.
Tompkins explained that when the Navy was
eventually confronted with the medical effects of the
fire, they claimed that people's symptoms were
psychosomatic. They wanted to tell us, "You're all
just crazy!"

The powers are adept at ignoring reckless endangerment
of people of color's health rather than protecting
them. Tompkins explained, "Part of the fallacy of the
racism in science is that "normal" means a 35-year-old
white man." The testing that is supposed to be done
often doesn't get done at all or doesn't represent the
community. One government group who was supposed to
test air quality levels mistakenly did their tests in
Visatacion Valley rather than the Bayview. Other
tests don't allow for the fact that children are more
vulnerable to toxins. Tompkins own tests, done with
the help of professionals and at standards higher than
the EPA, showed toxins at levels 100 times over a safe
measure for cancer risk. He said he had taken at
least one sample from where neighborhood kids hang out
and play basketball.

Tompkins is working to urge Mitchell Katz, the head of
the SF Health Department, to release hospital intake
records from 6 weeks before the Shipyard fire broke
out and 6 weeks after. A comparison of these records
would be a crucial step towards building proof of the
health problems of the community due to the fire.
Until this proof emerges the Navy is unlikely to take
any responsibility for the disaster.

"The tentacles reach deep," said panelist Don Paul, as
to why the Navy and the city are willing to ignore
this situation. High-financed developers all want a
piece of the Bayview, if they don't own it already.
An Enron executive apparently sits on the the board of
directors of Bayview housing developers. Artist Lani
Asher from the Shipyard studios described how the
Bernard Corporation wants to build an "artist mall" on
contaminated parts of the Shipyard. All too often
corporations and government are in agreement about the
value of property over people.

In a chilling example of this, Dr. Sumchai gave
details of a conveyance agreement which Mayor Brown
plans to sign on April 1st which would transfer
contaminated Parcels A& B from the Navy's property and
open them for quick development. "Never in the
history of conveyance agreements has a developer been
named in the agreement. There always is a bid," Dr.
Sumchai stated. The agreement is illegal and grounds
for a lawsuit, she said, and is not in the interest
of the health of the community. The agreement must
first be approved by the Board of Supervisors and she
encouraged the audience to contact Supervisor Sophie
Maxwell to tell her to reject the measure.

Slavery All Over Again.

While environmental pollution poisons the natural
elements of the community, police brutality isolates
and terrorizes its people so they can't clean up or
hold onto their neighborhoods. Tenisha Bishop
described her experience on Martin Luther King Day as
"Slavery all over again." Her neighbor Susie
McAllister described how their children were
subjected to the very treatment that we warn them
from.

Theirs and other neighbors' children were pulled from a
car in front of their house, pushed to the ground, and
held at gunpoint. Some of the five kids, ages 12 to
14, were physically assaulted and arrested. The girls
were inappropriately fondled and molested by male
officers, and others had police hold them down with
their boots. A child who has grown up feeling the
weight of asthma on his lungs had then the pressure of
the police's boots in his back. McAllister described
her feelings at seeing her young daughter brutalized
by the police, "I felt helpless, I was being ignored,
treated less than a piece of meat."

Beyond the shock and fear that the audience reflected
upon hearing these descriptions laid the outrage and
anger at the targeting of communities of color by the
police. Bishop herself said, "I've work in Laurel
Valley, I've never heard of anything of this kind
happening there." Other audience members echoed this
sentiment, one rising to comment, "If white children
were treated in this manner, the whole country would
be plastered with the news!"

Basic Human Rights Should Apply

Samantha Liappes of the local advocacy group Bay Area
Policewatch made the simple comment about these
events, "Basic human rights should apply." This is
the demand of the community against the racist system
which ignores pollution where people of color live
while downplaying the brutal actions of police towards
those same people.

These were the rights that were missing on MLK day,
that were missing when Idriss Stelley called for help
during a psychiatric crisis and was shot down by
police, and countless other instances when police
practice brutal and illegal racial targeting, and the
rights that are ignored by the Navy and the
city government when it allows contaminated land to
continue to poison an entire community.

The next steps to be taken will be against the police
department, which has placed the events of MLK day
"under investigation." One speaker from the community
reminded us, "Civil Rights is about love. We
shouldn't hate the officers that did this as much as
we should hate the system which allows them to do
this." "Policewatch and other groups are working to
create community control over the police," said
Liappes. "The community should have power and
oversight over the police department and we have the
resources to make it happen right here."

Harrison expressed the desire that accountability will
also come with reparations for the damage done. When
she declared, "My intent is to see this police
department pay dearly for what they've done to these
children and this community." Her sentiment was
affirmed throughout the audience. The mothers spoke
of needing grief counselors, a greatly lacking
resource in this neighborhood, to help their children
deal with the trauma. A woman in the audience offered
her services. Maurice Campbell of the SF Bay View
stated, "We need to be with each other on this."
Along environmental justice and police reparations,
many people spoke out about the economic injustices in
their neighborhoods which need to stop. Campbell
spoke out on the practice of "redlining" neighborhoods
of people of color. "Banks have vacated our
community," he stated, while pointing out that fraud
was a common way of diverting city and other
government contracts away from local businesses.
Beyond a clean and safe environment, as Willie Ratliff
put it, "We all need the opportunity to get a job and
feed our families." Neighborhood activist Theresa
Johnson poised the question "How did we get involved
with criminal politics?" When our government signs
away protection, lands, lives, and children's futures, she
said, "I don't find that to be freedom."

Hopefully the mothers whose children suffered will
find hope in the community that rose up to support
them last Saturday. Samantha Liappes of
Policewatch mentioned in closing the recent racial
targeting of Laurie McElroy, a Poor Magazine writer
who was unjustly arrested for walking home with her
son in a neighborhood that the cops didn't find
appropriate. Liappes pointed out that "simply
existing in our own communities is now a criminal
act."

The only protection that these parents and their
children now have is from the community, whether that
is by calling city officials to demand a stop to
environmental racism, or by demonstrating against the
police, or by joining a lawsuit against the Navy and
other racist institutions. What is crucial is that
the larger community of San Francisco become educated
and involved in the struggle. Even if this wouldn't
happen "in my neighborhood." Because Tenisha Johnson
doesn't have to read the paper to know about what is
going down. As she said, "I just have to look out the
window, I see the power plant, I see children being
brutalized by cops. We have an amazing view but once
you get down to flat ground reality kicks in."

To express your outrage over the policies' racist
attacks:

Contact the Police Chief Lau at (415) 553-1551

Police commissioners: Sidney Chan (415) 397-1985,

Victor Makras (415) 992-1990, Connir Perry (415)
538-4146, Wayne Friday (415) 431-1702, Angelo Quaranta
(415) 885-1557.

Or to get involved contact Bay Area Police Watch:
(415) 951-4844 Ext. 224

To tell the SF Board of Supervisors to reject the
illegal conveyance deal on Shipyard Parcels A and B
call your district supervisor and call:
Supervisor Sophie Maxwell (415) 554-7670.

To demand that the SF Department of Public Health
immediately release the records of hospital intakes
before and after the shipyard fire, call Dr. Mitchell
Katz (415) 554-2600.

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