Weds is 40th Anniversary of Hunters Point Riots

Wednesday Sept 27th 2006 commemorates the 40th Anniversary of The
Hunters Point Riots and the lasting effects of the social
stratification that has long hung over the community.

Brought on by neighborhood outrage over the death of Matthew “Peanut” Johnson, a 16 year old unarmed youth who was shot in the back by the SFPD, the Bayview became a volatile cauldron of tempers that erupted into a disturbance that lasted several days.

That drama may have died down, but the tragic context of the riots, their
impact, and the surrounding events remain as a bleak reminder of a
situation that remains largely unchanged for four decades…

Award winning local documentary filmmaker Kevin Epps ( Straight Outta Hunters Point ) and the
Hunters Point Community Youth Park Foundation present an open discussion of the historical signifigance, and how the situation exists today in the city’s largest African American enclave. The event takes place at 6pm Weds at 200 Middlepoint Road, home of the Hunters Point Youth Park Foundation, where the late Julia “Aunt Bea” Middleton tirelessly served to bring a bright spot into the lives of children raised amidst dilapadated & deprived social infrastructure. To set the tenor of the times, and educate today’s youth who are expected to attend, Epps will show some rarely seen archival news footage of the riots as well, and tape portions of the event for inclusion of a future program on Current TV.

For more background on this issue, and some socio-economic context of race relations in San Francisco in the 60’s til now… read on.

Kevin Epps invites the press and public to a discussion with Hunters
Point community leaders, families, youths and elders who will be
attending and are concerned for the area. With the poor state of police
and community relations unchanged in decades, and the recent rejection
of the petition to review the Redevelopment Agency’s wide reaching plans
for the area, the Bayview Hunters Point Area of San Francisco is at
another critical boiling point.

This event promises to shed light on current events via historical context…

Some Of The Relevant History:

In 1958, Willie Mays, recently relocated from New York to play for the
new SF Giants found his welcome to San Francisco was hindered by a Jim
Crow racist property laws. Even America’s greatest baseball star was denied a chance to
rent a home where he wanted to live by local white realtors & city policies.

In 1962, the San Francisco Examiner became the first daily paper in the Bay Area to hire a full-time black reporter, Ben Williams. There were still restaurants that refused to serve blacks in the Bay Area in the 1960’s, and the state’s 1st law preventing racial housing discrimination was not passed until 1963. For a dramatic expose Chronicle reporter, George Draper,went to live “in San Francisco’s Negro world.” On July 15th 1963 The 72 point headline screamed “I LIVED WITH S.F.’s NEGROES”.

This may surprise some that San Francisco, long portrayed as a free thinking liberal hotspot, where free speech, marijuana smoking and gay marriage are cause celebres that this area was as backwards & stubborn about racial issues as many segregated deep south counties. Despite it’s image, the city remained hostile and unwelcoming to black folks who had arrived in droves mainly in the 1940’s as part of the war effort. Unlike Los Angeles to the south, at the start of WWII San Francisco had no black politicians, or even firemen or city employees. When the war was over, in the early 1950’s the San Francisco mayor at the time responded to grievances presented by black journalist Carlton B Goodlet via another question , that of how long the black folks intended to stay…

As issues related to unemployment and racial tensions swept the Bay Area throughout the 60’s, The San Francisco Redevelopment Agency and Justin Herman declared parts of the Western Addition to be “blighted” and relocated some 461registered businesses and over 4,000 black families, most out of the city. Many would move to the
only SF option, the run down barracks style military housing of Hunters Point, adjacent to the old polluted shipyards.

Hunters Point suffered from widespread post war unemployment, the welfare culture was taking hold as trade unions were resistant to employ blacks, and even the freeway was built to bypass the once vibrant 3rd st. corridor.

On September 27th, 1966, white Police Officers shot an unarmed youth discovered near a stolen car named Matthew ‘Peanut’ Johnson in the back, his death set in motion the makings of a riot.

Within hours, outraged residents pressed demands that the officer be
charged with murder, a key demand that was incomprehensible to the
authorities. Terry Francois, the city’s first and only black appointee
on the board of supervisors, was jeered and pelted with rocks when he
appeared to appease the fuming crowd. As police lost control of the
situation, outbreaks of petty looting were reported.

Mayor Shelley ordered a curfew which caused protests and a four day
disturbance that spread to the Fillmore district and Valencia Gardens in the Mission. Gov. Pat Brown
ordered the CHP & 2000 National Guard into Hunter’s Point with shoot to kill orders.

A few hours after calling in the troops, the police responded to
alleged gunshots and shootout by opening up an attack on the
Bayview Opera House and surrounding buildings. After riddling
the historic wooden structure with hundreds of bullets, the police
found no gunmen or weapons but only several pre-teen kids huddling in
the corner.

As the police and soldiers assumed a more militant stance, the violence
grew worse, at one point it was apparently even suggested that Navy
ships be brought in to bombard the neighborhood from the Bay.

For 6 days rampant gunfire and arson plagued the community, and race
related violent incidents were reported throughout the city from The
Mission to Potreo Hill and throughout The Fillmore. The riots were
contained to underclass neighborhoods, where they provided some momentary steam
releasing, but the underlying racial and social problems continued to
worsen throughout the ensuing decades.

40 years later Hunters Point remains a neglected and disenfranchised
part of the city whose voice is not being heard. With the city attorney and redevelopment agency comfortable with ignoring the will of the people in that part of town, it appears not much has changed.

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For More Information : Hunters Point Youth Park Foundation 415 285 1415

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