The renaissance of the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood has been a long time coming. And it may have just gotten longer, with the recent discovery of radioactive material missed in the controversial 20-year, $1 billion EPA Superfund cleanup of the Hunters Point naval shipyard. The unearthing of a radium marker—a remnant of the shipyard's use as a decontamination site for nuclear warships and a secret military lab for testing biological and chemical weapons—prompted renewed calls from community activists to delay the area's massive redevelopment plans.
In this charged environment, choreographer Joanna Haigood unveils Picture Bayview Hunters Point, a work for Zaccho Dance Theatre that unites aerial dance, video and music. Anchoring the piece are voices of local residents telling family histories of migration and individual dreams for their long-ravaged community.
Picture Bayview Hunters Point takes place in and around the Bayview Opera House, a historic gathering place for the community since the late 19th century. In 1966, the theater became ground zero for a social uprising that prompted the largest mobilization of police and National Guard in San Francisco since World War II. Triggered by the police shooting of Matthew Johnson, Jr., a black teenager, the unrest evinced longstanding frustrations in the community that was—and still is—San Francisco’s largest African-American neighborhood. Over several days, the police responded with disproportionate force, at one point spraying machine-gun fire into the opera house while children were sheltered there. This tragic episode is one of several watershed moments in the neighborhood’s history evoked in Picture Bayview Hunters Point.
Despite claims that the police had been fired upon first, Haigood reminded me, nobody found guns in the opera house. Hundreds of arrests were made on charges of involvement in what was termed a “civil disturbance.”
“When you look at the impact [of the police shooting of teenager Matthew Johnson],” Haigood noted, “it’s very similar to what is happening all over the country, like Ferguson. We are trying to hold [these more recent shootings] with this one historic event... So, when you see and hear this story, it sounds very familiar. It sounds like it happened yesterday.”