Who are the last 3 Percent of San Francisco?

By: Ronnishia Johnson

“They want to say bye bye to the Bay view. The media used to hate us, now they pay per view. Picture that, no trivia to that, dress it up like gentrification is the new black. They see us when we fall, but they never want to answer the call. Answer the call.”- Ronnishia Johnson, “Answer the call”- excerpt from youth written song from 3rd Street Youth Center and Clinic

April 4th, 2015 a collective group of residents, students, elders, and children, predominantly black, marched in solidarity down 3rd Street of the Bay view Hunter’s Point neighborhood shouting, “We are the last 3 percent!”

Banners highlighting phrases such as “Black Lives Matter,” “Black Unity= Black Power,” and “Heal the Hood” helped to set the militant tone of the peaceful action. Participants stated the march served as a tactic to connect the hidden intersectionality of state violence and gentrification among black residents throughout San Francisco, particularly in the Bay View district.

According to SF Gate, San Francisco’s population of African Americans has decreased faster than that of any U.S. city. In the 1970’s, African Americans made up 13.4 percent of the city’s population and decreased dramatically to 6.5 percent in 2013. Currently, the number has lessened to a staggering 3.9 percent according to the U.S. Census. Rheema Calloway, an organizer of the March, stated, “San Francisco has the highest displacement rates of Blacks outside of Hurricane Katrina. That [is] a natural disaster.” Although the issues of gentrification within the city are presently being polarized as public housing units are rapidly being replaced by new “affordable living,” the dilemma is deeply rooted in the unspoken history of the city.

In 1858, hundreds of black settlers began to emigrate to British Columbia to flee from discriminatory and racist U.S. policy instituted by the Fugitive Slave Act after the civil war. Fast forward a century and the racial riots in the Bay view Hunter’s Point district in the 1960’s also helps to illuminate the intersectionality of police brutality and gentrification. The documentary Point of Pride released in 2014 highlighted the stories of black migrants from the south who settled in the Bay view and western edition of San Francisco. Families migrated from the southern states to take part in the “American Dream,” only to find in their new “home” the same problems of segregation and racist practices they fled from. As the wave of black power and resistance grew, the country responded to the fight for civil rights with strict government policies birthing an increase in police presence in the community as a way to silence the movement. Tension between residents and law enforcement exploded when SFPD shot a 17year old black male. Consequently, residents began to fight back after experiencing decades of desecrated housing and scarcity of resources.

Although racially rooted policies are often discussed from a historic paradigm and overshadowed by San Francisco’s façade of diversity, prejudice policy practices still serve as a catalyst currently. Many of the discriminatory strategies have permeated public housing institutions and structures that directly link to mass incarceration and police brutality. In 2011, a 19 year old male, Kenneth Harding, was shot ten times by SFPD after he “failed to pay his train fair,” according to The Daily Mail website. Many argue that what occurred to these young men are a result of individual actions, however one who understands the intentionality and pervasiveness of racism within the trends of gentrification knows that this can only be a blatant “war” to push blacks out of the city.

City proposals such as the African American Out Migration Task Force by former Mayor Gavin Newsome in 2008 and Mayor Ed Lee’s violence prevention programs have suggested several initiatives over the years. The programs were framed as aid to reduce crime as well as provide financial support for CBO’s and micro loans. While these initiatives painted a possibility of hope for many city residents, others argue that the proposals were premature solutions that scarcely address the issue of gentrification and police violence.

Instead of disinfecting the insidious wounds of racist policies, these programs serve only as Band-Aid to cover up racial inequality. Included in these practices are the current replacement of public housing with “affordable living units,” instituted by the SF Housing Authority and private developers. Better understanding of this problem lies in identifying how we define affordability in San Francisco, and especially for black families. According to the SF examiner, more than 50 percent of blacks in SF are unemployed, compared to the citywide median income of $65,000. That number is higher for all other racial groups, however blacks also comprised over 50 percent of the city’s jail population.

Similar to the ways enslaved Africans were deprived of basic necessities that support a humane quality of life such as housing, the right to vote, fair access to opportunities, many black residents-whether incarcerated or not- are strategically being deprived in the same ways. The San Francisco city is known for it’s beautiful views and landscapes, however it never talks about the blood and tears shed by the black families who worked to build community as the city simultaneously refuses to support them. What’s most important is to shine light on the seed of the problem that is racism watered by the ideal of capital gain. Similar to Eric Fromm’s notion of love in the American society, the essence of true unity and respect for black lives cannot thrive while the principle of capitalism still exists in its current state. The two are incompatible.

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