On May 19, when the news broke that San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr had resigned, a group of activists who had been demanding his ouster were prepping for a vigil. Earlier that day, a 29-year-old African-American woman named Jessica Williams was fatally shot in the Bayview neighborhood of the city, making her the third person in the past six months to die at the hands of the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD). Activists planned to assemble outside City Hall, where a legion of sheriff’s deputies guarded the entrance, for the latest in a series of ongoing protests prompted by the uptick in officer-involved shootings in the city. Then, less than an hour before the demonstration was to begin, Mayor Ed Lee made a decision he’d resisted for months: He announced he had requested, and received, Suhr’s resignation.
The vigil that evening had a bittersweet air. Participants alternated between jubilant chants of “power to the people” and tearful laments over the police violence plaguing the city. “[Jessica Williams] had to give her life up in order for this to happen,” Maria Cristina Gutierrez, 66, said of Suhr’s resignation. Gutierrez is a member of the “Frisco Five,” a group of community leaders who camped out in front of the Mission Police Station from April 21 to May 6, pledging to starve themselves until Mayor Lee fired his chief of police. The group launched the protest after 45-year-old Luis Gongora was shot and killed by two SFPD officers several feet from the tent he occupied in a Mission district homeless encampment. While the Frisco Five ended their hunger strike on day 17 because of their declining health, their protest garnered international attention and amplified their most urgent demand: Get rid of Suhr.
Now that that demand has been met, many are wondering what’s next for the Frisco Five and the other activists who spent months organizing for Suhr’s removal, often referred to as the “Frisco 500.” But for those who attended the May 19 vigil, the answer was clear. Several steps away, in the majestic rotunda of City Hall, wealthy donors, politicians, and influence peddlers gathered for a ritzy healthcare fundraiser sponsored by Google, Wells Fargo, and other locally headquartered corporations. Chaired by former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown, who remains a well-connected powerbroker with a direct stake in local real estate ventures, the “Humankindness Gala” was a who’s who of San Francisco politics and philanthropy. But for the activists outside the closed doors of the lavishly restored Beaux-Arts building, the gala represented the rich, corporate, and exclusive city they’re trying to reform.