Frisco 5: Longest Hunger Strike in Memory; Stalemate in Standoff with Mayor

It's been sixteen days now without solid food now for the “Frisco 5,” the activists camped outside Mission Police station on a hunger strike, refusing to budge or to eat until San Francisco police Chief Greg Suhr is fired by Mayor Ed Lee, or resigns voluntarily.

(In context: hunger striking California state prison inmates made it over 50 days without food; members of the Irish Republican Army famously starved themselves to death in prison in 1981 after about two months.)

This week, after snubbing a surprise visit from the mayor on Monday and marching to City Hall on Tuesday, when the mayor was at a meeting in Bayview, the strikers — Ike Pinkston, Edwin Lindo, Maria Gutierrez, Sellassie Blackwell, and de-facto leader, preschool teacher and rapper Ilyich “Equipto” Sato, who has been publicly haranguing Mayor Ed Lee since a chance run-in at a restaurant in October — eventually heard directly from the mayor via a phone call. 

They were told the mayor stands with the chief, and that Lee and Suhr are addressing public concerns over use of force with the police reforms already underway: bias and sensitivity training; the equipping of all cops with three-foot-long batons; other reforms as may be recommended by a U.S. Justice Department advisory review.

Which means the hunger strikers are still refusing to eat, taking in calories via coconut water, tea, and the occasional cup of broth. Which also means the longest hunger strike in recent memory continues.

The Frisco 5 stopped eating shortly after a “415 Day” event on April 15 — which came shortly after San Francisco police shot and killed 45-year-old Luis Gongora, a homeless man who had been living in one of the Mission District tent encampments that sprang up after Lee ordered a bigger homeless camp underneath the US-101 freeway dismantled. 
Hunger strikes are a well-known but not-often-used tactic in nonviolent protest. Gandhi famously went a few weeks without eating well into his 70s; as mentioned above, young and otherwise-healthy members of the IRA starved themselves to death in the early 1980s. Prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, refused to eat unless their detentions were explained with evidence or if they were brought to trial, resulting in some of them being force-fed through a tube inserted into a nostril — a most unpleasant experience, as Mos Def found.

As of Friday, the Frisco 5 were continuing what may be the longest hunger strike in San Francisco — ever. SF Weekly is still contacting every historian of protest we can find, but nobody can name a longer one.

“I honestly can't think of one,” said Paul Boden, a longtime homeless advocate and activist. In terms of lengthy demonstrations, the Frisco 5 is now in the category of the AIDS activists who, in shifts, chained themselves to a government building in Civic Center.

That went on for years — but while they slept outdoors in the elements, like the Frisco 5 are doing in camp chairs and tents on Valencia Street, they at least ate.

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