A proliferation of pollutants, toxins and other dangerous radiological and biological chemical agents saturate the land, air and water that Bay View Hunters Point families are attempting to survive in with their children. Decades of benign neglect have resulted in unparalleled devastation to the health and well-being of residents. This is a fact that is now a matter of record.
Yet nothing of any substance has been done to reverse the current trend—the incalculable number of men, women and children who face imminent death from a plethora of serious respiratory ailments. Nor does any public agency seem to be making much effort to reverse the staggering and disproportionate number of Black women of the community who find themselves courageously battling breast cancer, directly tied to the pollutants found in Bay View Hunter’s Point (BVHP) in San Francisco.
These women are our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, cousins, aunts and nieces. They are the mothers and caregivers of our children—arguably the most valuable asset for the future we have—and deserve to be treated with the utmost dignity and respect.
While I could focus attention on many subjects that illustrate the problems related to the swath of devastation and destruction visited upon the quality of life these unacceptable health conditions impose upon thousands of BVHP residents, I will direct my remarks about just one, to illustrate how pollution and prejudice work together as weapons of mass destruction.
In the early 1970s, the Southeast Community Facility was built as a mitigation measure in exchange for community support to the city’s plan to build the Southeast Water Pollution Control Plant—commonly called the sewage treatment plant. Community leaders urged the city 35 years ago to treat San Francisco’s human effluent in other locations in the city and not just in BVHP.
To allay community concern, officials guaranteed to the community that a “cross-town tunnel” leading to the ocean beach at the Great Highway would be built. A multi-million dollar bond measure was passed by the voters to assure the funding necessary to complete the mammoth construction project.
However, inexplicably, the cross-town tunnel was never built. For decades, one city administration after another did not heed vociferous protests from community leaders such as the late Harold Madison, the late Ethel Garlington and others who relentlessly cried out to the city to live up to and keep the promises made to 70,000 community residents.
Those leaders were correct in foreseeing the consequences that would eventually befall the community for acquiescing to government-sanctioned tyranny disguised as development. Like an invisible raging torrent, over 80 percent of the effluent from the entire city flows directly into BVHP for treatment and is then pumped into the Bay. More sewage comes from Colma, Daly City and Brisbane.
As for the promise made by government officials that community leaders witnessed, they all died waiting for it to be fulfilled. The promise of jobs and training directed primarily to African American residents from BVHP was also broken.
Today, the Southeast Water Pollution Control Plant on Phelps Street is polluted not just by the choking odor of human waste, especially when the digesters overflow on rainy days, but by the overflow of inhumane prejudice toward Black people in their own community demonstrated by the hangman’s noose placed in the desk drawer of Anita Labossiere, a 23-year employee and the only Black woman senior chemist working for the San Francisco Water Pollution Control Bureau.
The hangman’s noose and the stress associated with such an odious symbol of hate and intolerance made her working conditions impossible for several weeks. When she attempted to return to work, she was told that she needed to obtain a doctor’s note. Labossiere did so.
Her private doctor cleared her to return to work. However, she was then told that she would be required to see a city doctor. Moreover, the city took the unusual step of contacting and attempting to change the mind of her private doctor.
She had to wait two more months to see the city doctor. Finally, after a 10-minute visit and no more than a visual examination, the city doctor determined that she was not fit to return to work.
The city then required a third opinion from yet another doctor to further delay her return to work. A few weeks ago, upon the advice of her attorney, she simply went to work, accompanied by Roland Sheppard, a well-known local labor leader.
Many of her co-workers were pleased to see her return and exchanged warm greetings with Anita. However, soon after Sheppard left, three managers of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission escorted Labossiere out of the building in plain view of the other employees. One superior warned her that if she returned she would be terminated for insubordination.
Carmi Johnson, who was also confronted with a hangman’s noose, and Leticia Brown are two other Black women on the staff who have suffered the maltreatment of prejudice and segregation in the workplace by Public Utilitities Commission (PUC) brass.
Longtime resident Espanola Jackson asked nearly a year ago for an accounting from the PUC of revenue streams generated from payments to the city from other counties. To date, she has not received a single report.
Jackson too heard the commitments made to the community years ago. The jobs created by the construction and operation of the sewage treatment plant were to benefit community residents, the people most affected by the plant.
Similarly, the promises of a program to train residents in horticulture, culinary arts and pollution control appear to have no more value than an old Indian treaty. Not one resident works in the horticulture annex at the Southeast plant.
Based upon the testimony of at least three Black employees, the PUC management operates the Southeast pollution plant in much the same manner as a Southern plantation. It permits and condones without comment, hangman’s nooses, the flagrant abuse and humiliation of a Black woman supervisor—in one instance a white male subordinate employee was allowed to call her a f——-g Black bitch. No discipline followed against the insubordinate man. In another instance, Senior Chemist Anita Labossiere was thrown out of her office for reporting the maltreatment of Black women and herself at the Southeast plant, which ironically is located in a predominately Black community.
The repressive treatment by PUC management toward Black women has, however, awakened a sleeping giant and has produced a force unifying Blacks, organized labor, and progressive residents who abhor legally sanctioned corruption manifested by privatization of city jobs and favoritism and cronyism in contract awards.
The agenda will henceforth be to challenge pollution and prejudice, until we succeed in exposing these twin weapons of mass destruction to the extent that they impede the inalienable constitutional guarantees common to us all, of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
On December 1, 2003, Anita Labossiere along with this reporter, expressed some of our concerns at the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), that overt Racism and “nooses” have raised their ugly head again in San Francisco. The following are excerpts from Anita¹s statement to the PUC.:
I, Anita Labossiere, have been working for the San Francisco Water Pollution Control Bureau for over 23 years, as the only African American Supervising Chemist. In the City & County of San Francisco, there is a well organized plan to harass any minorities, minority supervisors and employees who supports us black cases, by the managers of the City.
After I wrote the article in this newspaper, last August ‘Dealing with Racism in the Water; Waste Plants,’ I have been kept away from work by the managers at PUC. They are using every legal and illegal trick to keep me from returning to work from my personal leave.
…. I should never have to work in this living HELL!!!!!!! You are damned if you do and damned if don’t.’ The following poem explains my feelings, I feel like I am a strange fruit swingin’ in the southern breeze:
Strange fruits Southern trees bear a strange fruit Blood on the leaves and blood at the root Black bodies swingin’ in the southern breeze Strange fruit hangin’ from the poplar trees Pastoral scene of the gallant south….
PUC Personnel have refused to allow me to return to work, I was on a leave of absence bought on by stress. There are many black employees throughout the City are going through what I am going through. My case is very typical of how Mayor Willie Brown has ignored all of the black employee¹s concerns and even allowing them to be fired on trumped up charges – we have not gotten any help from Mayor Brown.
“The PUC needs to conduct an immediate and open investigation/hearing, of this Racism in the Water and Wastewater Plants.
We were both well received by the PUC and they agreed that it was an important matter. They stated, for the record, that they will investigate this intolerable situation within the Waste Water Plant.
But the truth of the matter is that the PUC’s department managers have implemented “Sec. 120.22 Compulsory Sick Leave” in order to keep her from going back to work.
On December 15, 2003, she was forcibly removed from the job under this city rule, even though she was accepted back to work earlier in the day. An absent, so far unnamed, supervisor evoked rule “120.22.1.”
In that section of the city rules it states that: “An appointing officer or designee who has reason to believe that an employee is not medically or physically competent to perform assigned duties, and if allowed to continue in employment or return from leave may represent a risk to coworkers, the public and the employee, may require the employee to present a medical report from a physician designated by the Human Resources Director certifying the employee’s medical or physical competency to perform the required duties.”
In fact, this rule was put in operation after Anita wrote her article for this newspaper on Racism in the Waste Water Plant and was already on stress leave due to the racist environment that is allowed to exist and fester at the plant.
Under this interpretation of the rules, the “appointing officer or designee” has the right to discriminate against any employee. Every employee who gets injured on the job, under this interpretation of the rules, could be prevented from returning to work.
In this case it is a another type of “noose” that is left dangling before every city worker. Especially those, as Anita, who have “blown the whistle” on Racism ect.. They even dare to begin to implement this policy in the heart of the last remaining Black Community in San Francisco!
Anita is a strong person and, so far, she is standing up to and enduring these attacks. If the Black Community stands up with her, she will win and all of San Francisco will gain.
On Friday January 16, 2004, at 4:30 PM, a picket line will be held in front of City Hall to address this issue. All are being welcomed to raise their voice and attend.
We must remain ever vigilant so that a proper investigation is carried out and that the PUC does not just go ³through the motions² of an investigation and that racism in city government is rooted out and punished. A “town meeting” on February 7, from 11AM-3PM will be held at the ³Greenhouse² 4919 3rd St. (Palou and 3rd) to assist this investigation by the PUC and oppose racism in the city. (For more information: call 415-867-0628)
I want to thank the San Francisco BayView for letting me report on this issue helping to make all citizens aware of the Racism that is openly festering in the government of the City of San Francisco.
As we celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday, it is important to reflect on the changes that he helped to bring about and how those changes have been reversed in recent years. under both the Democrats and the Republican Parties.
In one of his last speeches, given at Stanford University in April 1997 and titled the “The Other America,” King addressed the problem of the rich and the poor in this country. Instead of his “dream,” he talked about the nightmare of Blacks’ economic condition.
He talked about “work-starved men searching for jobs that did not exist,” about the Black population living on a “lonely island of poverty surrounded by an ocean of material prosperity” and about living in a “triple ghetto of race, poverty and human misery.” He explained that after World War II, the unemployment rate for Blacks and whites was equal and that in the
years between then and 1967, Black unemployment had risen to twice the rate for white workers. He also spoke about how Black workers made half the wages of white workers.
From his experience when he started his campaign for equality in Chicago and elsewhere in the North, King concluded in this speech that to deal with the problem of the “two Americas” was “much more difficult than to get rid of legal segregation.” He pointed out that the northern liberals, who had given moral and financial support to the struggle against Jim Crow, would not give such support to the efforts to end economic segregation.
He also polemicized against the concept that “people should pick themselves up by their own bootstraps.” In the course of explaining the obstacles that Blacks faced coming into this country that Europeans did not have, he stated: “It is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man to pick himself up by his own bootstraps.” Black people, he said, were “impoverished aliens in their own land.”
Black people have remained in the same economic position, except for the “talented tenth,” as W.E.B. DuBois described them, who have become politicians, lawyers for the government, doctors etc. and move from the ghetto to the suburbs as they prosper – their minds and their hearts moving with them.
In today’s America, the “Other America,” as Martin Luther King described it in 1967, is under constant attack. Unemployment is higher, pensions have been cut and drugs have been imported by the CIA and become a $1,000,000,000 a year industry to subjugate the people, who are witnessing the destruction of the “social contract” and the promise of the “American Dream” and a future for their children.
Nationwide, schools are resegregated and the cities are removing their Black populations and scattering them throughout the land with their gentrification programs. Congressman Richard Baker, R-La., was overheard telling lobbyists, “We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did.” From his point of view, Katrina made it possible for the politicians to gentrify New Orleans.
San Francisco has not been immune. The latest census showed San Francisco losing a larger proportion of its Black population than any other major city in the country. The last remaining predominantly Black community is under attack by the City. The following summations from the San Francisco BayView point out this process.
Ebony Colbert wrote that on the eve of the Martin Luther King holiday, the San Francisco Unified School District threatens to close a long list of schools in Black neighborhoods. Ebony has also been “rewarded” for her reporting on wrongdoing by BayView precinct police officers with retaliatory harassment from Mayor Newsom and the police force. Dr. Ahimsa Porter Sumchai has written for years about the health hazards at the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard and the corruption surrounding the city handing development of the Shipyard to Lennar, the nation’s largest home builder, in defiance of voters citywide who overwhelmingly rejected development until the entire Superfund site is clean.
Marie Harrison, too, has written countless stories calling for an end to environmental racism and for the City to shut down the old power plant and other sources of pollution that poison the Bay View/Hunters Point and create asthma and cancer clusters that the City ignores.
Kevin Williams wrote, in the San Francisco BayView, about another prime polluter in the neighborhood, the City’s Southeast Wastewater Treatment Plant on Phelps Street. In his article, Pollution and Prejudice: Twin weapons of mass destruction,” he said: “
Today, the Southeast Water Pollution Control Plant is polluted not just by the choking odor of human waste, especially when the digesters overflow on rainy days, but by the overflow of inhumane prejudice toward Black people in their own community, demonstrated by the hangman’s noose placed in the desk drawer of Anita Labossiere, a 23year employee and the only Black woman senior chemist working for the San Francisco Water Pollution Control Bureau. The hangman’s noose and the stress associated with such an odious symbol of hate and intolerance made her working conditions impossible.
Kevin Williams himself was fired by the City’s Human Rights Commission for investigating a hangman’s noose at the San Francisco airport that signaled the lockout not only of San Francisco BayView publisher Willie Ratcliff’s company, Liberty Builders, but also of all Blacks from City construction sites.
Anita Labossiere, who has been tormented and harassed for the whistle blowing BayView article she wrote over two years ago, Working for the City is a living hell, is now in the process of being terminated on trumped up charges. As many as 30 other Black workers, especially those in professional and management positions, have faced similar attacks, including nooses. Nearly all have been terminated or forced out. No investigative report has been released to the public about these incidents. The City considers the nooses to be “just pranks,” not hate crimes.
The promise of jobs that residents exacted from the City in the ’70s to mitigate the sewage treatment plant’s harmful effects before allowing it to be built has turned into terrorist threats against employees. The PUC no longer hires or trains Bayview Hunters Point residents to work at the plant.
To add insult to injury, the city is now threatening Anita with a kangaroo court to illegally fire her. Her doctor has informed the city that these threats have compounded the stress Anita is under, but the City ignores both her doctor and her health in its headlong rush to fire her.
Another PUC employee, Phyllis Porter, a union steward, filed a federal EEOC case for sexual harassment, racism and stalking against a PUC manager on Jan. 3, 2005. Now, Phyllis writes, she has been “denied her day in court” and her rights to present a defense by a City judge in collaboration with city attorneys. “In an act of racism and retaliation using trumped up charges,” she explains, the PUC ordered her into court and issued a three-year restraining order against her to stop her from sexually harassing and stalking her supervisor while she was on disability leave due to two broken hips! She has now been illegally terminated and will have to fight for her job back once she is physically able to return to work. More Black PUC workers are calling the Bay View with similar stories.
On Friday, Jan. 13, to commemorate Martin Luther King’s birthday, Anita, Phyllis and other City workers formed a picket line and held a “Speak-out to End Racism, Discrimination and Corruption at City Hall.”
Picketing with them were Black, Latino and Asian men and women laborers from the Department of Public Works. Although they are members of LIUNA Local 261 and had many years of service, they were laid off by the City and replaced with workers at $11 an hour.
Their supervisor, DPW Director Mohammed Nuru, who is directly responsible for the firings and who was previously investigated for illegally ordering workers for a nonprofit to campaign for Gavin Newsom in the last mayoral election, still has his job.
Mayor Newsom and Nuru signed an agreement with LIUNA to hire new workers under a new classification doing much the same work as the laid off workers but at 50 percent less pay. Newsom also authorized the City to pay the replacement workers’ union initiations and dues – a clear ethics violation that was brought to his personal attention by the laid off workers in March and December of 2005. Newsom’s administration has not put them back to work even though the Board of Supervisors passed a supplemental appropriation of $1 million to rectify this situation. The workers are still being retaliated against.
Economic and environmental discrimination is getting worse, not better, in San Francisco. City workers and residents are being pushed out and deniedtheir rights by the courts, the mayor, the police, the district attorney, the city attorney and city managers. The whole governmental machine, run by the Democratic Party, is responsible for the institutionalization of racism by the City and County of San Francisco.
These workers have directly been denied their rights by the courts, the mayor’s office, the police, the district attorney, the city attorney, and the city managers. The whole governmental machine of the city, run by the Democratic Party, is responsible for the Institutionalization of Racism by the City and County of San Francisco.