By Eric Louie

In full disclosure, I am a San Francisco native. It sounds irrelevant when talking about yesterday’s hunger strike march to City Hall to oust Police Chief Greg Suhr in the national debate over police shootings. But it also gives a personal view in what is happening as the city changes with tech money.

Gentrification, with lower-income blacks and Latinos moved out as wealthier whites move in, was linked early to the current local movement against police force. But even longtime residents are seldom born and raised, which many natives carry as a status. Some of the five hunger strikers were identified in media reports as native San Franciscans, which caught my interest. In a seven-by-seven-mile square city with one major public high school for each neighborhood, you didn’t know everyone in town, but probably had the same hangout spots and maybe even friends in common. I didn’t know the “Frisco 5” before, but in my quick search found this 5-year-old video for “Heart & Soul” from hunger striker Ilych Sato, also known as the rapper Equipto. His mom is also striking. Obviously I don’t assume all native San Franciscans will agree with their politics, but seeing images from the 1989 earthquake to Carousel (the former Doggie Diner) at Ocean Beach hit home.

Home is something I think of all the time as I take a 45-minute BART train ride to the city from the East Bay. I remember my high school theater tech teacher at School of the Arts randomly asking us what we thought about never being able to afford a house in the city we’re from. In college, though a city internship class taught by former Supervisor Mabel Teng, we learned about how the city is more younger and single than family. Along the march someone who recognized me from high school said hi, while another who I see occasionally doing backstage work when I’m working with catering companies downtown was also there. It’s rare to see anyone from those days, so it’s interesting to note that not only did I see two yesterday, but another friend from the old days while at the protest last week.

After marching to City Hall, demonstrators learned Mayor Ed Lee was in another neighborhood. Protesters then went to the Board of Supervisors, who were also meeting. During the exchange, one speaker talked about how young white people who have moved to the Mission District drink, play music and trash Dolores Park while people of color would get busted for that. Not that there wasn’t marijuana smoke during the march, or white people in it, but while it might not be the best illustration of inequality to make the news, this is also an example of how some see their safe spaces being taken. Locally, a video taken by a guy mocking a park ranger enforcing the rules went viral last year, not because of those cheering on his right to party, but because it showed the entitled attitude that has come with the growth.   

Interestingly, Suhr is a San Francisco native too, attending the private Saint Ignatius College Preparatory. But he isn’t talking much, let alone about his city roots, canceling a pre-scheduled community discussion with Public Defender Jeff Adachi Tuesday night. I’d love to ask him about how this has affected him as a native. Anyway, here’s some video from yesterday’s march, their 13th day without solid food, along with some I got from the sixth day.

 

 

Today I woke up with less than a year before I’m 40, and decided to take the advice of a writer I chauffeur and get back into writing by…writing. More than I have been, anyway. So here’s a short story that ties in the day I turned 21, played a show with my band, and the changing technologies since then that reinforces why we need to live life for moments that will never happen again. There’s even video of the show, and for an added bonus, there’s videos of the Human Beans on San Francisco cable access and one I made of Nick’s band Secret Secretaries included in this posting.

I spent my 21st birthday playing with my band 3 Hunglo at San Francisco State University. It wasn’t the largest show, coming in the middle of the day in the middle of the week. But it was everything I could ask for both as an aspiring punk rock bassist, and now later in life, especially as we dissolved after a few years after only “releasing” a home-dubbed cassette tape with a handful of songs. Thinking about those times and lost technologies 18 years later makes me realize how important it is to follow those dreams, because they can never be had again.

My buddy Nick and I were both from San Francisco’s Sunset District, having downhill skateboard races as kids through Noriega Street traffic to the beach. After getting hooked up with friends’ drummer friends, we upped our professionalism and found Lonnie’s ad on the bulletin board at the Lookout Records store in Berkeley. As in he wrote his phone number on a card tacked on a wall at a store where people got music on record, CD or tapes. Not craigslist or another online listing post. Nick and I had our first serious band.

I was going to SF State at the time, working on campus doing phone surveys, which was a very welcome job. It paid $8 an hour, then $11 as a supervisor, while my job at the Hallmark card store was the minimum wage $5. Comparatively, I shared a studio apartment with my girlfriend for $655 a month, not the $1,500 or $2,000 it would be now. Another perk was making long distance calls. Phone calls were generally made from landlines back then, and paid for by distance, not cell phone minutes. In fact, cell phones were only for those with money, and would have been too costly and bourgeois anyway.

It was through that job that a co-worker was looking for acts to fill her St. Patrick’s Day celebration at the university. Having band members available during the day was probably a big part, so we did it. I let the student newspaper know for their event listings, which back then was a bigger deal in advertising shows than in today’s must-have Web presence. I heard about most local bands from The List, a basic-type, photocopied weekly listing passed out at record stores and shows in the Bay Area. No bands had Web pages, and if your music came out on CD it was because a label put it out or you had the money to have them done professionally. Burning a CD was not the DIY undertaking it is today.

Apparently, being listed with us upset some of the Irish folk dancers organizing the event, and along with Lonnie being late due to parking and traffic, we got in a rough six minutes. But it was one of the most memorable six minutes of my life. Peet, another neighborhood buddy who played in the Human Beans and later joined 3 Hunglo when Lonnie left to play for Subincision, even made an appearance on the boombox. Peet would play various tapes, sometimes instructional or commercial recordings, with different speeds and other manipulations as background noise. It used to annoy me, but with Peet later passing away and tapes virtually non-existent, I’d do anything to see that happen again. It’s hard to think it was barely a generation ago.

 

This week the family of Alex Nieto started their federal civil lawsuit in his police shooting death, one of a handful of cases in the Bay Area that have drawn significant protests in recent years over police brutality. It has also brought in discussion of San Francisco’s gentrification, with Nieto a Latino born and raised in the Mission and Bernal Heights. On the trial’s first day a couple hundred people gathered in his family’s support outside the courthouse. Here’s a video I put together.

Nieto, 28, was killed March 21, 2014. He was at Bernal Heights Park on a Friday having a burrito before work as a nightclub security guard when passers-by called police and reported a man with a gun. Police responding said he pulled a Taser at them, causing them to fire, including reloading their handguns and shooting him more until he was no longer a threat. There is no video, as has become the standard in the current outrage over police shootings, but a witness said he was not a threat. There’s debate over whether his hands were in his jacket pockets when he was shot, and many other specifics that are being followed by multiple local media outlets daily.

The officers involved were long cleared of criminal wrongdoing, with some promoted, without any big visible change to police or window smashing protests in reaction. But with the Black Lives Matter movement continuing, with Beyonce’s dancers giving a nod to the Mario Woods shooting with an off-stage video at the Super Bowl, the outcome will have an impact on both the movement locally and community at large. The fact that it is getting daily media coverage, while many lawsuits against police reported at their conclusion, if at all, shows how closely this discussion has become one of the nation’s top issues.

DSC_9868

By Eric Louie

Yesterday I was at the 12th Annual Walk For Life West Coast, which brought thousands to downtown San Francisco to rally against abortion.

It also brought pro-choice counter protesters. The event started in front of City Hall, and when pro-life activist David Daleiden started to speak, activists with FEMEN USA rushed the stage. More active in Europe, where they started in 2008, the women activists’ tactic is to take off their tops for a variety of causes. Their messages are painted on their bodies, with flowers in their hair, and the aim is to use their bodies against a system run by men. Security quickly grabbed them and got them off the stage. As police took them away they shouted “Fraud, fake, liar!” 

DSC_9930

I had expected the other counter protesters, who waited along the march route and were separated by a row of police on bicycles. But the FEMEN activists, who undoubtedly create a media spectacle, obviously do not publicize their actions. Luckily I had found a spot past the crowd near the front of stage right to get shots of the speakers. But I was also able to break away to behind the stage when the commotion started. While the basic rule of camera work is to get as close as you can, it also reminded me of an early lesson in journalism, which was to sit in the back of a courtroom, city council meeting or other gathering. You get to see more, and get out in case something happens.

Here’s some video I got.

By Eric Louie

Last night I covered another community outrage after police killed a black man. Police say he was a stabbing suspect with a knife that left them no choice but to shoot when confronted. Protesters say witness cell phone video shows otherwise.

It’s a story seen many times and in many cities, especially with technologies that let us record images and distribute them through the Web. But this goes further than what happened when five officers fired on Mario Woods that Wednesday afternoon, or even the wider talk of police brutality. 

Last night’s demonstration was during a police commission meeting at City Hall. The largest banner, being used to frame the speakers rallying the crowd outside, read “We are the Last 3% of Black SF.” With the current tech boom others are not just left out, but in some cases physically moved out from rising housing costs with gentrification. During the meeting many speakers identified themselves as native San Franciscans who felt alienated.

Coincidentally, I saw this change first-hand recently. The night after police shot Woods, I was in the same neighborhood working coat check for a welcome party for buyers of newly-built homes. The bus went through the same dilapidated, plywood-covered-window, low-rise apartment housing projects I remember passing through on some occasional journey when young. I had before never taken the 19 Polk to the end of the line before this night, or seen the city from the shipyards my grandfather worked. Though I grew up in San Francisco, there was never a reason to go to Bayview-Hunters Point, with more reasons to avoid it. Once, during a high school journalism camp, I helped navigate us by bus to see a Giants game at Candlestick Park. Many wondered why I took them through a sketchy neighborhood to go there.   

SF City Hall.MarioWoods.12.9.2015

The most heated point last night didn’t come from someone asking police to stay away, but Sala Chandler, whose son Yalani Chinyamurindi was 19 when he was killed with three others in a car earlier this year. She said the fact that her son’s shooting remains unsolved is an example of a low priority for black lives.

Chandler went over her allotted two-minute public speaker time and wouldn’t stop. The audience stood for her support, police walked towards her, and there was some yelling that led to an emergency recess. Commissioners left the room before resuming shortly after. 

“We ain’t going nowhere,” Chandler said into the mic during the chaos.  “We’re gonna shut the streets down.”

 

 

oyster 2

As a kid, I remember hearing the stories of Jack London and oyster pirating in the San Francisco Bay. This weekend I got to add oyster shucking-at the foot of the Golden Gate Bride during the best day of another couple’s life-to the list of jobs I’ve done.

It was a casual wedding for about 60, organized by the groom who made the chili and bride who made macaroni and cheese. There was also gluten-free mac and cheese. Chinese roast duck came from a restaurant, and one of the three of us hired to work barbecued tri-tip.

oysters 2

Before dinner we shucked live oysters. The only other time I remember shucking oysters was with my girlfriend a couple years ago. I was trying to impress her and took her to Tomales Bay. But this job is always different, and instead of putting on my black shirt and tie to serve, I spent the night in the kitchen shucking barbecued oysters as they came hot off the grill for the buffet line. After dinner it was time for the help to eat. A mound of barbecued oysters were left over.

Holidays don’t mean much when you don’t have a regular job. But on this Labor Day, I am reminded that I’ve been fortunate in finding rich experiences in whatever I’ve done.

“I wanted to be where the winds of adventure blew.”

-Jack London, “John Barleycorn”

DSC_4231

DSC_2752

I was walking along Freedom Boulevard, in Freedom, Calif., looking for a photocopy store when I saw veterans selling fireworks for the Fourth of July. I then found out this area was formerly called Whiskey Hill, with the current name more about leaving behind its Wild West days than patriotism.

Independence Day this year fell on a Saturday, and the day before I got a chauffeuring job to rural Santa Cruz. Between dropping off and picking up, I ran a couple errands, but really had a few hours to kill. So instead of driving I walked.

DSC_2750

That’s when I saw Michael Baker, commander of The American Legion Post 121, with several others at their fireworks stand. Around the holiday, many community groups in California get permission to sell so-called “safe and sane” fireworks like sparklers and fountains. They don’t explode like firecrackers or shoot up like rockets, which are illegal everywhere in the state. With the backdrop of Freedom and veterans, I wanted to get a shot. Baker, a Vietnam War veteran dressed as Uncle Sam, was more than happy to talk about their group, stand and how things have been going. Last year they got $3,200, split between two groups. This year there are concerns with the drought. They unfortunately can only do cash since their credit card machine was not up, and a lot of groups got permits to operate, cutting the profits. Freedom may only be a few thousand people large, but everywhere has a story.

DSC_2753

A few blocks away I found the local photocopy store I saw in the phone book, but it was closed, probably because of the holiday. On the outside wall of a nearby bar and grill, a Pajaro Valley Historical Association, Monterey Viejo Chapter 1846, E Clampus Vitus plaque read “violence, hangings, drinking, and bull and bear fights were part of daily life” in what was formerly Whiskey Hill. Looking into it more, I learned it also had a reputation for brothels, and in 1877 the name was changed to Freedom in hopes of changing the image. The social issues with waves of young men during California’s early days wasn’t limited to here, but I had never heard of it being so connected to town names.

Since I was driving, I did not try the whiskey, and didn’t have a lot of time to look into the history further. But still an interesting first time in Freedom/Whiskey Hill.

Unfortunately I didn’t have time to get my photo of the plaque, but this is one I found online.