Community Organizers Decline Hero Award

Daniel Muhammad from the Justice 4 Mario Woods Coalition acknowledges the crowd during the Hero Award ceremony at City Hall on July 28, 2016. (Photo by Cassie Ordonio/The Guardsman)
Daniel Muhammad from the Justice 4 Mario Woods Coalition acknowledges the crowd during the Hero Award ceremony at City Hall on July 28, 2016. (Photo by Cassie Ordonio/The Guardsman)

 

by Cassie Ordonio

What was to be a ceremony for justice turned into a demonstration at City Hall on July 28.

The San Francisco Human Rights Commission, joined by its Equity Advisory Committee, annually honors those who work to increase equality and fight against discrimination. The Hero Award was presented to 16 organizations at this year’s ceremony, which was centered around a theme of “Communities Organizing for Justice.”

Justice 4 Mario Woods Coalition was the first organization to decline the award. Four others followed suit: Justice 4 Amilcar Perez-Lopez, Justice for Luis Gongora Pat, Justice 4 Jessica Nelson-Williams and Amor for Alex Nieto.

In declining the award, Daniel Muhammad of the Justice 4 Mario Woods Coalition, demanded the Human Rights Commission to call for an investigation of the San Francisco Police Department.

“It’s a shame that we have to use this platform to send this message,” Muhammad said. “But it’s also an insult that the Human Rights Commission wouldn’t understand that giving awards is not going to bring back the precious lives that’s been lost due to the San Francisco Police Department.”

City College professor Ben Bac Sierra initially accepted the award on behalf of the Amor for Alex Nieto Coalition. Following Muhammad’s dissent, Bac Sierra grabbed the Hero Award and slammed it to the ground in front of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission.

City College instructor Ben Bac Sierra from the Amor for Alex Nieto coalition addresses supporters on the steps of City Hall following the Hero Award ceremony on July 28, 2016. (Photo by Cassie Ordonio/The Guardsman)

The plastic laminated award shattered to pieces as recipients raised their fists and yelled, “No justice, no peace!” while City Hall security came to mediate.

Amor for Alex Nieto, a coalition of family and friends of the City College student who was shot and killed by SFPD in 2013, had planned to make a statement of disapproval as soon as they received the award. However, public comments were last on the ceremony’s agenda.

“Amor for Alex Nieto accepted this Hero Award, now San Francisco sits in shame —You should be ashamed of yourselves,” Bac Sierra shouted at the Human Rights Commission.

Human Rights Commission Chair Susan Christian struck her gavel four times to receive order in the room.

“I appreciate and respect everything that has been said here, and I want to be clear,” said Human Rights Commission Vice Chair Sheryl Evans Davis as she was interrupted by chants. “I hear you and we acknowledge you, but I also want to make sure that we’re respectful toward each other and that we don’t violate other people’s rights as we advocate for our own. That’s all I want to say.”

As community organizers left the room and headed toward the front of City Hall, they yelled the names of the lives taken by the SFPD: Alex Nieto, Mario Woods, Amilcar Perez-Lopez, Jessica Williams and Luis Gongora Pat.

Supporting the community organizers, former City College student Larry Dorsey chanted with them.

“I thought it sent a powerful message,” Dorsey said. “Maybe City Hall won’t award us again, but until they build the relationship with the people, then there will always be resistance.”