Police Sweeps violate Human Rights.
On April 21st at two pm I attended my first press conference regarding police sweeps that happen daily in San Francisco and affect many lives. Police Sweeps are unfortunately something that is not uncommon in the homeless community of San Francisco. A sweep is when police officers search personal belongings to look for guns, drugs, and weapons. These searches can be done without a warrant and often lead to personal items being taken and violence. A week before this Press Conference a police sweep ended the life of a man named Luis Gongora.
Luis Gongora was a resident of a homeless encampment on Shotwell Street in the Mission. Luis was a 45 year old man from Mexico living on the streets of San Francisco. Luis was a father; his children still lived in Mexico but he would keep in touch with them and talked to them regularly. Luis was mentally ill, but many of his neighbors knew him as a quiet, kind man who was always kicking a soccer ball off of a wall. Luis was walking down the street from his friend’s tent on April 7th when officers arrived and shot him five times. It is reported that it only took them 20–30 seconds to open fire which does not seem to be enough time to get a proper read on the situation. The police reported they were called to the seen because a homeless outreach group reported Luis waving around a long knife. Once on the scene the police claim they used a bean bag round on Luis he did not drop the weapon but instead charged them which is why they opened fire. Many eye witnesses and neighbors are now challenging that story. Witnesses claim to have seen Miguel sitting on the curb with his head between his legs. Others who know Luis said that he carried the knife around for protection when going out to collect cans, but during that incident it was tucked away in his waistband. Unfortunately like many officer- involved shootings we may never know the real story. Mayor Ed Lee says a full investigation will be launched but it still does not bring a father back from the dead.
This of course is just one of many stories involving police sweeps that have ended in the loss of personal property or a life; I was fortunate enough to talk to many homeless and community members and hear their stories and perspectives on what it is like to be a part of these police sweeps.
Speakers of the Press Conference
Pastor Elaine Amos minister and spiritual leader and has been on the streets of San Francisco since 2010. She had to say, “This is not the city I grew up in, not the loving city I remember. The way I was kicked out of housing was terrible and hidden behind lies. They said I couldn’t pay rent, but I paid rent. I have multiple disabilities, and multiple things have been stolen from me. There is more love out in homeless areas then you see in all of San Francisco. When all of my things were taken from me the people on the streets gave back to me…We are not like roaches that you spray and we will die. I have nightmares not of the people, but of the police that they will take me away and no one will ever hear from me again. Give us a chance to give love, give us a chance to tell the truth. We will fight, and we will fight with love and probably make you go out and love someone else”.
Kenshin Tomoshima a former resident of the San Francisco streets and the painter of the “Housing is a Human Right” mural in Clarion Alley said, “Housing has enabled me to rescue more animals and focus on being a better painter and person. Mostly because I am housed I don’t have to put all my time and energy into avoiding harassment from the police. This is a nationwide failure to hold ourselves responsible for being decent human beings with integrity and honor. As tax payers we have the power to put our foot down and say Mayor Lee we need homes for the homeless not harassment and cold blooded murder. I myself have been a victim of police brutality and we need to hold the mayor and SFPD accountable for their actions now and in the future”.
Once the Press Conference was over an open mic session began where people could stand up and speak about how they feel.
“House keys not handcuffs”
“Homelessness is not a crime, let the police do jail time”
People applauded, gave hugs, and made it known they were there to be heard!
The biggest thing that I noticed was unity, support, passion, and love. Fundamental feelings and notions that are often forgotten and looked past in the everyday hustle and bustle of life… So this led me to ask myself why are the homeless are so over looked. Are we used to big corporations, money, and whatever it takes attitude to get to the top?
Are the police solely to blame for the shootings and killings that go on around us every day…?
Or do we put blame on the police because we have failed as a society to recognize basic human rights?
I don’t think the police are the only ones to blame; I grew up seeing police officers as someone I can trust and turn to in a time of need, but I also know not everyone has that privilege. The question is where do we draw the line on social injustices? Who do we hold accountable, or should we all be held accountable for at least one time in our life believing that we are better than someone else. How many deaths will it take on both sides to come to a better understanding of each other?
I know there is not a single answer to these questions, and I also know different backgrounds and upbringing contribute to how we think. What I do know is that by doing something as basic as exploring a different social class, race, religion, gender, etc. it can give us a better perspective on humanity and how we can help improve the world for everyone. I am thankful for the brief outlook I have been given in my few short interviews, and participation in these events.
Thank you Coalition on Homelessness and all the wonderful people who spoke at the Press Conference to stand up for what’s right.