Hundreds Rally in San Francisco, Reviving Demands to Defund Police

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Hundreds of demonstrators gather outside of the Mission Police Station on April 15, 2021, after a march in honor of Roger Allen, Daunte Wright and those killed by the police. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Chanting "say his name" and holding signs that read "abolish the police," hundreds of demonstrators converged in front of San Francisco's Mission High School on Thursday evening, demanding a fundamental overhaul of policing in America.

Organized by the activist group Defund SFPD Now, the rally is part of a renewed national focus on police violence, sparked by several recent high-profile police shootings of Black men, and amid the ongoing high-stakes trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with killing George Floyd last spring.

"Police will never be held accountable because the system doesn't want them to be," said Aditi Joshi of Defund SFPD Now at the demonstration Thursday.

A memorial in honor of Roger Allen and people killed by the police fills the steps of Mission High School on April 15, 2021. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Outside of Mission High School, demonstrators spoke, chanted and placed flowers on a memorial for 20-year-old Daunte Wright, who was shot and killed by a police officer in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center, and Roger Allen, a 44-year-old San Francisco resident who was shot and killed by a Daly City police officer on April 7 after a reported struggle over a fake gun.

The group then marched to the San Francisco Police Department's Mission Station on Valencia Street. While gesturing at police officers outside the building, Talika Fletcher, who said she's Allen's sister, said "they didn't do it, but Daly City did."

"They should not be allowed to carry any guns. If we can't have none, why should they have some?" Fletcher said.

Talika Fletcher, who said she's Roger Allen’s sister, takes a moment during speaking outside of the Mission Police Station on April 15, 2021, during a rally in her brother’s honor and those killed by the police. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Wright was killed during what began as a routine traffic stop for expired vehicle tags, just miles from the courthouse where Chauvin is being tried. The officer involved, a 26-year veteran of the department, claims she mistook her handgun for a Taser, firing it at Wright after he resisted arrest for an outstanding warrant. She is being charged with second-degree manslaughter and faces a maximum of 10 years in prison, which Wright's family has decried as far too lenient.

At least 135 unarmed Black men and women have been shot and killed by police in the last five years, according to an NPR investigation in January.

“What happened to Daunte Wright and Roger Allen proves that the criminal legal system can never bring us justice," Joshi, of Defund SFPD Now, said in a statement prior to Thursday's rally. “They will always kill because the system of policing is NOT broken. It is functioning as intended. The time for waiting is long over. We must defund, disband, and abolish the police.”

Just hours before the start of Thursday's rally, yet another fatal police incident drew national attention after officials in Chicago released body camera footage of a police officer shooting a 13-year-old boy named Adam Toledo during a foot chase in that city several weeks ago.

Over the summer, protests erupted across the region, the country and much of the world, in response to the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man. A visceral video of his death in late May shows Floyd — who was arrested on suspicion of using a counterfeit $20 bill — handcuffed and pinned to the ground as Chauvin kneels on his neck for more than nine minutes.

The incident and its aftermath launched what some consider a racial reckoning in the U.S., galvanizing scores of companies and institutions to reexamine their positions on racial equity and justice, and prompting multiple state legislatures — including in California — to adopt modest policing reforms. It also spurred activists in cities across the country to demand major local policing reforms — including a push to defund or flat-out abolish police departments, and reallocate much of those budgets to social service and educational agencies.

Multiple cities across the Bay Area, including San Francisco and Oakland, have since proposed or adopted plans to cut their police budgets by large chunks and reinvest those funds in community service agencies that advocates say are far better equipped to handle many of the non-violent incidents that often escalate when police are called in.

Alexis Rodriguez, a sophomore at Summit Shasta High School in Daly City, holds a sign that says 'A badge is not a license to kill' during a vigil and rally outside of Mission High School in San Francisco on April 15, 2021. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

In September, San Francisco supervisors approved Mayor London Breed's proposal, as part of this year's budget, to strip $120 million from the city's law enforcement agencies over two years and redirect those funds to support the city’s largely underserved Black community. Breed — who has for years supported increasing SFPD's budget — also last summer directed the police department to no longer respond to non-criminal complaints, revise its accountability and anti-bias practices, and stop using military-grade equipment.

However, some activists have said that while these actions mark progress, they don't go far enough, and that only a complete overhaul of law enforcement systems can make any real dent in reversing the ongoing epidemic of police violence against communities of color.

This post has been updated.