Home as Bittersweet War Zone
Tonight, I arrived home to Station 40 to find this hanging above our front door at 16th and Mission streets in San Francisco. Looks like we’re all dressed up and ready for the “resisting our eviction” press conference tomorrow, Monday, March 2, hosted by Friends of Station 40 on the 16th Street BART Plaza at noon.
Eviction isn’t fun or pretty, so we can use all the mutual aid and solidarity we can get. But it’s about a lot more than one home — in this case, mine.
It’s about the war in this neighborhood, one that’s been waged for decades and centuries, but is heating up, fiercely, again now.
It’s about displacement and dispossession, a long history of theft, whether of lands and cultures, lives and social fabric.
These days, it’s about building new jails to house those who are now seen as undesirable for certain neighborhoods; it’s about politicians and city hall helping to smooth the way for developers, landlords, and real estate elites, working with wealthy tech corps, to demolish the old and replace it with luxury residential towers and office buildings for the uncaring “sharing” economy; it’s about cops criminalizing, harassing, and even murdering those who must be banished to make way for the rich, particularly the poor, homeless, mentally ill, and/or people of color.
I came home to this banner — a happy sight. Yet soon after, looking out the windows above the banner, cop cars were visible outside, lights flashing. Police jumped out and ran around, with rubber-bullet guns raised, spreading out in groups in obvious search of someone. Seconds later, they cornered a black person right outside the door of our home. We could hear them saying, “You matched the description…,” and then they let that black person go, in pursuit of someone else to racially profile … or worse.
I’d just come home this evening from the unhappy site near 24th Street of the murder, three nights ago, of a brown person, 21-year-old Amilcar Perez-Lopez, a poor immigrant who moved here on his own to help out his impoverished family back in the Guatemalan village where he’d grown up. Though as many mentioned tonight, Amilcar was still so young, and of a height that matched many 10- to 12-year-old brown boys in this neighborhood and at this sunset vigil tonight. Indeed, an 11-year-old spoke, saying how he’d heard the gun shoots and how sad it made him. I know and adore his mom and dad, who shouldn’t have to worry that their little boy won’t make it home someday. Yet they are. And so we shared tears tonight, along with dismay and rage.
At this humble vigil, in fact, there were more tears than candles, though candles encircled a small memorial of flowers, photos, and signs. Friends of Amilcar’s spoke in Spanish, kindly translated into English, of how he was humble and good, simply trying to raise himself out of poverty, yet always giving a dollar to any and every homeless person. They explained how he came here, alone, leaving behind his family, sending them money, saving up to buy little toy trucks to mail to his little brothers last Christmas. A friend noted that Amilcar was a hard worker, that he “came here to work not to steal” (the excuse police gave for killing him — that he took a bike — but already eyewitnesses and photos are contrary to that tale, that lie). Friends here explained how they became his family; how they now felt that they had to honor Amilcar by trying to help his family back in Guatemala for the rest of their lives. His girlfriend cried the hardest.
There was talk, too, of how unjustified his killing was, and how the police are lying to cover up their crime. That they started covering up within minutes of killing young Amilcar, who witnesses say was grabbed by police and put in handcuffs ten minutes before the cops murdered him — then police made up a story about a bike theft. People at the vigil spoke of how cops get away, literally, with murdering black and brown people here.
A woman who lives on Folsom, site of this murder and the vigil, gestured up the street to Bernal Hill, saying how just under a year ago, four officers gunned down Alex Nieto, another brown man, up there, and now (her arm gesturing back to where we stood), cops had murdered again. Our eyes, moist again, followed her pointing. All knew, without words, the connections: racism and capitalism, private property rights and “ethnic cleansing,” to make way for wealthier, whiter people; police going free, without charges, with impunity. Both killings and others relate to the gentrification of this neighborhood — who is now welcome here, to live, to stay alive, and who isn’t.
Sandwiched between the mournful vigil and my homecoming to banner and cops on the prowl, I wandered down 24th Street in SF’s fast-changing Mission. A black man stopped me, asking me if I knew that a brown man had been murdered by police just two blocks away. He told me that the “kids” who protested it last night with banners — the “march against police violence” that about 40 to 50 of us had joined in — needed to be careful; they were many cops. He told me, too, that the police threatened him with death yesterday. That he and so many others were scared. I don’t know why he stopped me, but I listened; I agreed. I’d felt that fear through others — friends and neighbors — a fear so palpable, so accurate, so warranted at this vigil attended by predominantly working-class folks harking from Mexico and Latin America and/or raised here in the Mission.
There is a war here, undeclared but clear, with police, state, capitol, and high-tech as invading army. It is a dangerous and deadly class war, seemingly more deadly as each day goes by, and more sorrowful than a thousand tears can wash away.
The “our” in “resisting eviction” isn’t about any single person, any single home or space; it’s about fighting for the heart, soul, and very life of this neighborhood and city, and other neighborhoods and cities like it.
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To see the human face of Amilcar and seek justice in this unjust world for him, go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/353672264838421/.
For video footage of the entirety of the Station 40 press conference and the full text of our press statement, see https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2015/03/02/18769398.php.
For three decent news stories coming out of the Station 40 press conference, see http://www.beyondchron.org/missions-future/; http://www.thebolditalic.com/articles/6981-evictions-could-signal-the-approach-of-more-monsters-in-the-mission; and http://missionlocal.org/2015/03/tenants-fight-longtime-neighborhood-landlord-at-16th-and-mission/.
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(Photos by Cindy Milstein, front of Station 40 at 16th and Mission, and candles at vigil for Amilcar, Folsom and 24th, both in San Francisco’s Mission on March 1, 2015.)
Cindy Milstein is the authorof Paths toward Utopia: Graphic Explorations of Everyday Anarchism.