Equipto's 'Frisco Five' Hunger Strike: The Importance of Art in Social Change

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Equipto decided he’d had enough.

After seeing nine people in the past two years shot and killed by law enforcement in his hometown, the San Francisco hip-hop artist born Ilych Sato knew he’d have to get people’s attention somehow.

So, on April 21, Sato and four others stationed themselves outside the Mission District police station on a highly publicized hunger strike, vowing to stay put until embattled SFPD chief Greg Suhr steps down.

“We're just right here, tired of taking it,” Sato tells KQED. “Our voice is powerful.”

Sato is joined in protest by fellow hip-hop artist Sellassie Blackwell, as well as Ike Pinkston, a preschool teacher; Edwin Lindo, a Ninth District candidate for Supervisor; and Sato’s mother María Cristina Gutierrez, who serves as executive director at the Mission District’s Compañeros del Barrio preschool.


In addition to the high-profile deaths of Alex Nieto, Mario Woods, Luis Gongora, Amilcar Perez-Lopez and others at the hands of law enforcement, the 'Frisco Five' hope to bring attention to homelessness, gentrification, housing and police misconduct, including the ongoing SFPD scandal of racist text messages sent amongst officers.

As Equipto, Sato has released over two dozen albums, and is part of a dwindling hip-hop community in San Francisco, where the black population is quickly diminishing. In an incident caught on video last year, Sato accosted Mayor Ed Lee at a restaurant, alleging a lack of concern for the displaced Asian population in San Francisco and calling Lee “a disgrace to Asian people.”

The hunger strikers vow to stay until Chief Suhr is fired or resigns.


Text: Gabe Meline
Video: Claudia Escobar