Dear San Francisco,
I am one of your local physicians and have taken care of many different kinds of people during the past 9 years of my appointment as an internist at UCSF, where I have worked at SF General Hospital as well as at the VA and the UCSF campuses. San Francisco is a surprisingly small town, and when you spend enough time in the health care industry, you come to recognize many of the city’s residents. You hold their stories and watch over them, in the hospital when they are ill and in the chance occurrences of running into them on the streets, in the market or painting the town red. It is an honor and great privilege to take care of the people of this city that I love so dearly.
Last month, I learned that one of my former patients, Charles Hill, was shot and killed by BART police. Per the police, he was armed with a bottle and a knife and had menacing behavior. Per eye witnesses, he was altered and appeared to be intoxicated but did not represent a lethal danger. I remember Charles vividly, having taken care of him several times in the revolving door which is the health care system for the people who do not fit neatly into society. Charles was a member of the invisible class of people in SF–mentally ill, homeless and not reliably connected to the help he needed. While I had seen him agitated before and while I can’t speak to all of his behavior, I never would have described him as threatening in such a way as to warrant the use of deadly force. We often have to deal with agitated–sometimes even violent–patients in the hospital. Through teamwork, tools and training, we have not had to fatally wound our patients in order to subdue them. I understand the police are there to protect us and react to the situation around them, but I wonder why the officer who shot Charles did not aim for the leg if he felt the need to use a gun, instead of his vital organs. I wonder if he possessed other training methods to subdue an agitated man with a knife or bottle.
I feel this situation quite deeply. It is hard to watch our civil servants (police) brutally handle a person and their body when i spend my time and energy as a civil servant (physician) honoring the dignity of that person, regardless of their race or social class, their beliefs or their affiliations. I know it is not my job–nor the police’s job—to mete out justice or judgment of a person’s worthiness. It is also hard because Charles has no voice, no one to speak for him now that he is gone. It would be easy to let this slide and move on with our busy lives, as we all struggle to make ends meet in this expensive city during a recession. I believe this situation shows us how powerless we all feel to some degree.
I feel outraged and am trying to find the best ways to express it–through creative outpouring, through conversations. I would like to lend my voice to the growing protest of the BART police’s excessive use of violent force and know that weekly protests are being organized on Mondays until demands are met for BART to fully investigate the shooting of Charles Hill, disarm its police force and train them properly, as well as bringing the officer who shot him to justice. The media is portraying the annoyance of the protests to commuters more than the unbelievable horror that an innocent man was shot dead by the force that is meant to protect us. I don’t want to upset commuters or be a nuisance. I would like to be part of educating and not letting this slip under the proverbial rug, in honor of Charles Hill and Oscar Grant, another recent victim of a BART police shooting, and in order to help prevent something like this from ever happening again.
I will be present at the peaceful demonstrations on Mondays in front of the BART Civic Center station, not to prevent commuters from getting home, but to educate a population that may need to pause and think about the value a human life has and the kind of San Francisco we want to live and work in.
If you feel this gravity of this situation and want to lend your voice, please join me at Civic Center on Monday at 5pm to be part of a nonviolent, peaceful demonstration. Please bring a simple sign, expressing your concern. Or just your self to stand in support. If you’re a musician and would be into creating an acoustic street band with drums and brass outside the BART for this purpose, please let me know. And if you support this outpouring, please spread the word.
Thank you for your time and thoughtful consideration.
Rupa Marya, MD
Dear San Francisco,