Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Pressure Remains On SFPD and Mayor To Clean Up Their Acts Post-Suhr-- Medical Professionals Join Fight For Reforms


UCSF Do No Harm Coalition at City Hall in San Francisco

-by Denise Sullivan

Following last Thursday's SFPD shooting of Jessica Williams in San Francisco's Bayview District, the campaign to Fire Chief Suhr succeeded when Mayor Ed Lee called for his resignation by day's end, while the push to reclaim the City by the Frisco 5 and their growing community of supporters, including medical professionals, remains in full force.

"The guy is no longer the chief and it's our victory, your victory," said the Frisco 5's Maria Cristina Gutierrez. "It took the sacrifice," she said of SFPD's latest victim, "But if we had not done what we did, it would've been business as usual." Gutierrez and three of the four hunger strikers, in partnership with Dr. Rupa Marya, assembled on Monday night at UCSF Hospital in San Francisco where the doctor presented her research on police violence. Dr. Marya who served as the Frisco Five's physician during its hunger strike and is part of the Division of Hospitalist Medicine at the school, has also been researching the toll gentrification and over-policing over a 30 year period has taken on Black and Brown lives in the Bay Area. Addressing a crowd of healthcare workers and community members, she deems police violence to be a public health crisis.

"Racism is influencing the killings and so is police impunity," said Dr. Marya, who has formed the UCSF Do No Harm Coalition of healthcare workers committed to ending police violence. "Police killings need to be counted and reported."

Dr. Marya sees no contradiction in the "political" issue of police brutality and the "science" of medicine. As a doctor, saving lives is her business. She believes in the idea of doctor and patient advocacy and demonstrates an extraordinary compassion and integrity in her work. Noticing the gap in the way communities of color are served by the healthcare systems, she became more motivated to get involved in the movement for medical justice while studying the case of Alex Nieto, shot 59 times by police in his neighborhood. Described as "a foreigner" by the 911 caller who perceived him as a threat, "He was a San Franciscan," said Dr. Marya, who is California-born and was raised by her parents in India and South of France.

Beyond mortality issues, Dr. Marya asserts police violence has an impact on the well being of the community, especially loved ones left behind; the violence and impunity may also lead to civil unrest and the immediate and longterm traumatic effects that go with it (she pointed to Baltimore, where a CVS pharmacy was destroyed and the people who needed medication went without, while others who didn't need it became vulnerable to a free flow of opioids on their streets). The takeaway? Police violence does harm to the body politic, and in case there is any further doubt about it, Dr. Marya noted the shooting in Bayview last week occurred as she was preparing slides for her talk. Here in San Francisco, though African Americans account for anywhere from just three to six percent of the overall population, they are five times more likely to be shot by police than whites.

"A movement is going to require everyone sit at the table," said SFPD Sergeant Yulanda Williams who was also a panelist in attendance at UCSF. An African American and longtime member of Officers for Justice, Williams admits her department suffers from "endemic" racism ("They don't like to say systemic," she says) though one thing she's certain of is issuing the force tasers is not a likely solution for reducing harm. "I have no more room on my gun belt and am not looking for any more toys," she said.

Williams vouched for now acting chief Toney Chaplain who she's known since the police academy and believes he will hold officers accountable---"I'll make sure that happens," she said---but she also admits reform is easier said than done. "You have a department that supports nepotism, cronyism and legacy police officers," she said, and "a union that constantly disrespects people."

The Frisco 5 also believes accountability to be the top priority. It also wishes to have a say in the search for a new chief, among other demands. "We need to see the officers who did the shooting charged," said Frisco 5's Edwin Lindo. "Ed Lee is next."

Preparations to recall the Mayor have been underway for some time (various straw polls indicate there's the will and even a candidate), and while no such action can take place until November, the coalitions for police and ultimately city government reform continue to gather funds, signatures, and steam for the long road ahead. If this show of support from the medical community is sign of what's in store, perhaps more institutional bodies will get ready to sign on in the fight to save San Francisco from itself. Asked if there are other hospitals and healthcare workers initiating these kinds of radical shifts in the way police violence is perceived, Dr. Marya answered. "So…This is a revolution and it's starting now."

Oh yes, and while we're here: Dr. Marya is also a professional musician who fronts Rupa and the April Fishes (look for the cameo by musician/activist Boots Riley in this clip).

Denise Sullivan writes about music and gentrification issues from San Francisco for DWT. Her most recent book is Keep on Pushing: Black Power Music From Blues to Hip Hop.

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