Greetings compassionate readers!
Trouble in Black Paradise follows a tragedy trail that advocates healing.
Social justice denied and held at bay from desperate communities, where no cops have been charged for murdering unarmed civilians, is a long drawn out endurance—this unlike a terribly related milestone that arrived so quickly.
Sunday, February 26th, marked the 2nd anniversary of 21-year-old Amilcar Perez-Lopez being cut-down by 2 San Francisco undercover cops. To honor the young man’s memory and keep public attention—on cops needlessly killing civilians—his memorial hit the actual murder site—centered on 9:45pm the exact time of death.
A 2nd part to this memorial happened the next day at the Bryant Street Hall of Justice with a noontime “die-in.” Public Defender Jeff Adachi and Mission District Supervisor Hillary Ronen addressed it—but I couldn’t attend.
“Prayer & reflection” at Folsom Street, fortifying the spiritual call to rally for social justice, laid a consistent foundation. A Biblical quote affirmed the idea that “response” is our duty, coming from Leviticus 19:16 “Do not stand idly by when your neighbor’s life is threatened.”
Gatherers here bringing a show of presence had no plans to be idle. Neither did the program participants tapped by organizers Dawn Noelle Smith Beutler & Father Richard Leslie Smith to actively share—myself being included.
The location of Folsom St. between 24th & 25th in San Francisco’s Mission District is where cops Craig Tiffe & Eric Riboli killed Amilcar—with 6 shots to the back. Police reports did say Amilcar lunged at them with a knife—soon contradicted by damning autopsy reports showing the opposite. Two years later—no charges filed by DA George Gascón—the killers still work out of Mission Station.
Several weeks ago Amilcar’s Prayer Vigil went directly to Gascón’s home. We amped up “the call,” imploring him to file charges in all related cases—given broad evidence contradicting many falsified police findings. Now, arriving for the memorial’s 8:00pm start at Folsom, flat low laying Barrio streets were as bleak as those affluent hills nestling Gascón’s residence; dark & still here—rain also threatening overhead.
This usually bustling commercial area had desolate air offset by the several dozen or so people bringing resolve.
A program with traditionalists linked arm-in-arm began:
Amilcar’s alter glowed—crowned with a ribbon clad “Barrilete” (massive Highland Guatemala “kites” honoring ancestors & sending messages—usually built by Mayan men). Danzantes Xitlali Aztec Dancers consecrated the site: each direction faced drew from the celestial 4 corners.
Spiritual call rattled the site’s urban starkness—those celestial forces emblazoned through drumming & song. Sacred Conches pierced the night! Elders worked to blanket this neighborhood’s “zone-of-extreme-risk”—honoring our fallen Guatemalan immigrant—protecting other “innocents” still facing grave danger.
The troop then led us to intersections bordering the site, blessing each of 4 corners—now the stations that fasten the neighborhood’s protective spiritual “net.” We came full circle, the alter anchoring a social guardian “nexus,” Aztec ritual strengthening an expanding “safety field.”
When suddenly a release of steady rain—windless, but with modest presence. It was as though Amilcar had assembled a weeping sky chorus—clearly affirming our diligence, acknowledging “they” were here in “rain song”—heavenly presence steadily pelted us all the rest of the way.
The tradition of sharing and public speak out began:
Host Dawn Noelle venerated Amilcar’s alter with tribute to its special Barrilette, crediting a helpful crew, then set the lineup in motion. Father Richard Leslie Smith who keeps fuel in the Vigil’s drive, welcomed and thanked all for such relentless dedication. Reps from fellow Justice Seeking groups and performance artists primed at the edge of dark.
A message from Amilcar’s father in Guatemala was read by Florencia Rojo. The son’s income supplementing the family back home had greatly improved their quality of living. They dearly appreciate the relentless dedication of our San Francisco Vigil—it astounds them! The family was holding their own anniversary memorial, simultaneous with ours.
The man accompanying Florencia then spoke. He’d witnessed Amilcar’s execution and two years later his trauma is still unbearable—tears in steady step with trembling words. I know personally the horror of being inducted into that dreaded club—people unexpectedly bearing witness to public catastrophe. I was on a Muni bus in 2010 that entered the stop at Van Ness and Market, when it apparently hit someone. Unsure as we exited if assistance was needed I looked to the street and saw only a trail of indescribable carnage. I fell into a cocoon of shock—a mental wreck for months—isolation unbearable—not able to pass that intersection for years—learning later it was a suicide. You can’t not see what eyes blaze into your eternity.
Other coalition units joined the roll call: Rebecca Luisa for the Idriss Stelley Foundation (La Mesha Irizarry, founder and mother of its namesake—who set this chain of coalitions in motion—unable to attend); Refugio Nieto, father of slain Alex Nieto; and Luis Poot, cousin of victim Luis Gongora.
Julio Escobar of the archdiocese shared and Tim Dobbins of St. John’s said Amilcar’s rosary.
My own song and poetry input made way for African ancestors. Ghanaian Ewe element gracing an emergency session roused the community—calling “ah-low-yah!” (Are you ready!?) The community thunderously responded “po-yah-toh!” (We are ready to get down!).
It tagged the lyrical urban story visuals offered by rapper/artists Equipto and Rey Lara.
Then the moment of impact:
In gifted shaman style guitarist and vocalist Francisco Herrera rallied us, striding to the collision of chaos that had happened at 9:45pm. The Circle of Prayer tightened under that steady “presence”—still pelting those who remained. Zoe Mullery called for silence; her voice then adding evocation within silent prayer.
Soon the last of us hugged; our exits now down to a trickle—timed to a diminishing rain song.
The duty of “response” as our healer suddenly lit me with a smile and reflection brought more Leviticus 19:16 “See each other. Say your name. Now you know your neighbor.”