It was the sort of incident that could have made national news.
The leader of a community-based organization called the police on a gathering of young men, most of whom were Black, for having a cookout on the sidewalk. The complaint drew outrage, spurring a community-wide discussion about anti-Blackness in the Ocean View-Merced Heights-Ingleside neighborhood.
From New York City’s Amy Cooper, who called the police on an African-American birdwatcher, to Oakland’s “Barbecue Becky,” who called the police on two African-American men barbecuing at Lake Merritt, incidents of white people using law enforcement as their personal security, which can be dangerous if not fatal, are being exposed.
The San Francisco’s Human Rights Commission Executive Director Sheryl Davis, in collaboration with the Office of District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safai, held a community discussion called “Recipe for Restoration: Rooting Out Anti-Blackness in the OMI” on Wednesday, June 10. Nearly eighty participants joined the conversation.
“I personally know everyone in this neighborhood, so it kind of hit me when I learned someone called the police on me, not knowing it was my neighbor,” Donald Andrews said during the remote community meeting.
Andrews, a lifelong OMI resident and owner of the Dream Team, hired a private chef to prepare a community breakfast on May 26. A staff member of OMI Family Resource Center, a program of the YMCA Urban Services, called the police on the event. He wasn’t certain why the police had shown up, thinking that they were just hungry until an officer informed him that they had been called by someone in the neighborhood.
The officer took a plate of food and said “go on about your day,” Andrews said.
Andrews asked the community to “lift the veil,” insisting that this type of “silliness” of racial discrimination happens in OMI all too often.
Charles “Chuck” Collins, president and CEO of the YMCA of San Francisco, condemned the incident in a written apology, calling it “unfortunate” and saying “we will not stand for any form of racial profiling.”
“As an African-American, 72-year-old man — born in San Francisco — I’m in the dangerous class of people who have been disproportionately impacted by systemic racism. It’s the story of me, it’s the story of my family, and it’s a story all too uncommon in America,” Collins told the community.
Collins was praised by fellow organizers for his immediate response and handling of the situation.
For Young Community Developers Director Gwendolyn Brown, the experience of growing up Black in San Francisco has been one of struggling to be noticed.
“In San Francisco we have this progressive image but for myself and people who are from here, James Baldwin’s ‘Take This Hammer,’ is our experience,” Brown said.
At Davis’ direction, the conversation shifted its focus on solutions to root out anti-Blackness in the OMI.
Board President of Southwest Community Corporation, operator of the IT Bookman Community Center, Ej Jones offered to pair with the YMCA to better its cultural competency.
OMI Neighbors In Action President Mary Harris strongly suggested bringing back a hiring committee to ensure community input on the next director of OMI Family Resource Center.
There was a collective agreement that there was a lack of city and private resources being directed to OMI, and there was an immediate need to reinvest in District 11’s African-American communities.
Director at Youth 1st, Renard Monroe firmly believes that communication between the groups and organizations is the key.
“I think a lot of people speak on behalf of our neighborhoods and community, and we don’t get to speak for ourselves,” Monroe said. “But before we can speak for ourselves. We’ve got to come together.”
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