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Activists charge environmental poisoning and ‘silent homicide’ in San Francisco

By Charlene Muhammad National Correspondent @sischarlene | Last updated: Jul 19, 2020 - 11:28:04 AM

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Activists are charging silent homicide rages in San Francisco’s Bay View Hunters Point neighborhood and say national housing developer Lennar, Inc. is still digging up radioactive dirt in its plans to build upscale housing on the site of the old Hunters Point Naval Shipyard.

As of June 16, the Hunter’s Point naval shipyard was one of America’s 10 most toxic sites and is currently on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund site list, which means it is prioritized for cleanup because of radioactive contamination.

Earth movers digging at Naval Shipyard Photo courtesy of Hunters Point Community lawsuit committee

A committee of attorneys, community leaders and doctors are angry but not dismayed at what they called blatant defiance in the face of a federal class-action lawsuit filed against Lennar for fraud, wrongful death, environmental racism, and for violating federal laws. A judge will have to decide whether the issue warrants certification as a class action lawsuit.

Bayview Hunters Point residents suffer medically and economically, in addition to fear, anxiety, humiliation, pain, and emotional distress, among other things, according to the suit filed in San Francisco. 

“This is not just a silent homicide … it is a screaming loud homicide that is being ignored,” said civil rights attorney Charles Bonner, who filed the class action on behalf of some 4,000 individuals who have been living, working, attending school or had substantial contact with the community in the Hunters Point Zip Code 94124 from 2004 to present.

He said residents are currently being poisoned and alleged that San Francisco Mayor London Breed gave the green light to Lennar Corporation to start digging, but failed to notify the community. 

“It is criminal for Lennar to go and dig after we have filed the lawsuit, a $27 billion lawsuit on behalf of the 40,000 people who live in the 94124 zip code, the Hunters Point zip code. But yet, this is the doubling down on the fact that our lives don’t matter,” added civil rights attorney Bonner.

Student Minister Abdul Rashidullah Muhammad Photo:Facebook
He, epidemiologist Dr. Mark Alexander, Student Minister Rashidullah Muhammad of Mosque No. 26 in San Francisco, Elaine Brown, former Black Panther leader, and others, coordinated a virtual town hall June 24 to give residents an update on recent developments, which include allegations of Lennar’s digging and community testing.

The suit calls for an immediate halt to all development, construction, building, digging, erecting, disturbing of soil, dirt, earth, buildings, structures, pipes, and all activity at Hunters Point Navy Shipyard until independent verified reports can be obtained showing a total and complete remediation or clean up of all toxic substances, including radiative materials.

Defendants, which include Lennar, Inc., Tetra Tech, Inc., and Five Point Holdings, LLC., were knowingly, purposely poisoning the predominantly Black population, the suit alleges.

“We don’t need to look at the demonstrations in Korea and Japan and London or Italy where people around the world are saying Black Lives Matter. Just right here, it’s a doubling down. They’re ignoring the whole world. Only Black bodies have mattered in this country since the beginning of the Constitution when we were only three fifths of a person,” stated Atty. Bonner.

Dr. Raymond Tompkins, retired professor and air quality expert, Catherine Muhammad and Danielle Carpenter, lead plaintiffs, and Dr. Ramona Tascoe, assistant to Dr. Ahimsa Porter Sumchai, principal investigator for the Hunters Point bio-monitoring program, were also panelists during the virtual town hall meeting and press conference.

Lennar’s re-digging has opened up old wounds for Christopher Carpenter’s widow.  “It’s kind of like watching Chris’ assassins or killers if you will walk around free while I’m still being punished by his death and my family,” said Catherine Carpenter.

Mr. Carpenter, who worked for Gordon Ball, a subcontractor with Tetra Tech, was honored as a community hero for sounding the alarm about radioactive saturated dust and other chemicals blowing into nearby school playgrounds and exposing safety violations by his employer, said advocates.

He suffered for it. He was fired, contracted cancer, and died on March 6, 2016 at age 52.

Mrs. Carpenter remains concerned for the safety of her community, which is more susceptible to Covid-19 because of the underlying high rates of asthma and other lung problems that it suffers as a result of Tetra Tech and Lennar, she stated. “My children still suffer from bloody noses being at George Washington Carver School,” she said.

“Them starting to rebuild is a blatant disregard to me and our family for his life. People that live there that know the toxicity of the land and continue to live there and know that or maybe not know that the end result could possibly be the same way our family is. It saddens me,” said Mrs. Carpenter.  “I just want to see this (moratorium) on the digging happen again but stop the building. Give us some kind of justification for Chris’ life, that he didn’t just once again pass away in vain,” she added.

Catherine Muhammad was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and has had to undergo radiation treatments since, she charged, learning she was poisoned by radioactive dust kicked up during Lennar’s excavation next to Muhammad University of Islam, a K-12 school. She’s still suffering.

“I’m constantly seeing the doctor having adjustments ... having to take multiple blood tests every month to make sure everything is okay. And I’m still suffering from being poisoned up there at the school,” said the Muhammad University of Islam San Francisco teacher.

She thanked the Hunters Point leadership committee for keeping the community informed and the candle burning in their fight or movement for justice. San Francisco city officials have proven time and again they don’t really care about Blacks there, she stated.

“I guess they figured, well, if the world is caught up in this pandemic they can just slide right on in and start digging again without anybody noticing. But how many more of us have to get sick from cancer before they listen?  How many more of us have to die before they take action,” she asked.

“At a time when the world is demanding change, in San Francisco, some things never change. We’ve got to keep fighting like our very lives depend on it,” Ms. Muhammad added.

“This is heart-wrenching stuff, and these are real testimonies of people who have died and who are suffering from cancer because of pre-existing conditions living in Hunters Point and now we’ve added coronavirus and insult to injury,” said Ms. Brown.

The first act by the leadership committee for the Hunters Point Residents’ Lawsuit after learning the digging resumed was to amend and serve their complaint on behalf of approximately 8,000 more plaintiffs on June 26.  They are asking the State Attorney General and San Francisco District Attorney to file criminal charges.  They also plan to file complaints with the San Francisco Bay Area Quality Control Agency, asking them to levy millions of dollars in fines against Lennar in light of the new developments.

“Mayor London Breed says that we ought to shelter in place, but yet at the same time she gave the green light to Lennar to go out and start digging and did not give notice to the community. That is a contradiction. That is basically a betrayal,” stated Atty. Bonner.

“Very loudly, contact Mayor London Breed, loudly, through telephone, through emails, through smoke signals, any way you can communicate to her that we are dying in Hunters Point, and that she has to stop the digging.”   

“There should be live demonstrations down at City Hall, with everyone practicing social distancing.  People are in the streets across the world about Black Lives Matters. This is the time to say Black Lives Matters in Hunters Point, stop the digging,” the attorney said. “Go down to City Hall. Sit in City Hall. Don’t leave City Hall until they stop the digging. Engage in direct action. That is what gets results—direct, civil, non-violent disobedience,” continued Atty. Bonner.

In addition, the committee urged residents to go to San Francisco General Hospital and demand urine testing to determine what kinds of toxins are in their systems. Diseases won’t show up until nearly a decade later, said Min. Muhammad. Once the Covid-19 quarantine is lifted, he continued, the committee will begin testing poor residents on their own with a medical van they purchased. 

Elaine Brown Photo:Facebook
“History proves we can’t trust the Department of Public Health to look out for our best interest. So we need the city and county of San Francisco to defer to the wisdom, the oversight and the expertise of Black health care professionals that are offering themselves to guide direct and oversee this process so that we no longer allow Russian Roulette to be played with Black lives in Bayview Hunters Point,” said Min. Muhammad.

According to Atty. Bonner, everyone from 2004 until now, who lived, worked or frequently visited people in that area, and therefore who would be exposed are part of the class. A limitation on amending the lawsuit expired in February, but he said his firm will still accept applicants who want to join and see what happens.

“We’re not going to turn anyone away, because we can see there’s a continuing violation that’s a continuing  criminal act, a continuing negligence, so it’s not even a matter of the statute of limitations here. We have a continuing private and public nuisance,” stated Atty. Bonner.

The Nation of Islam and followers of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan in the San Francisco Bay Area have been fighting for what they call environmental injustice since 2006. The Muslims learned that Lennar Corporation, a multi-billion dollar housing developer, had begun grading a hill directly beside the school to make way for 1,500 homes on the site of the old Hunters Point Naval Shipyard. 

The company, which Min. Muhammad dubbed a “rogue corporation,” purposely poisoned the community of Hunters Point with toxicological dust and dirt, asbestos filth and dirt, and exposed the Muhammad University of Islam, located right next to the shipyard, he stated. We finally got a breakthrough in when Justin Hubbard and Stephen Rolfe, two former Tetra Tech Inc. supervisors, were convicted for lying and falsifying records about clean up at the site, he noted.

“We fought that fight and the city and county of San Francisco covered it up and protected the Lennar Corporation, and the Navy, covered it up. The EPA covered it up. All of the health agencies including San Francisco Health Department, under the leadership of Mitchell Katz, who’s now the director of health in New York City, and of course, under the leadership of Governor Gavin Newsom,” stated Min. Muhammad.

Still, about a dozen lawsuits were filed after the Muslims charged a coverup. The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Tetra Tech in 2018 for submitting false records. The case was referred to Magistrate Judge Donna Ryu for settlement.  A lawsuit filed by approximately 400 current and employer San Francisco Police Department police officers, staff, and families who sued Tetra Tech last November is pending. The alleged officers and their family suffer from asthma, blood disorders, and lung cancer.

Tetra Tech fully stood by its work at Hunters Point. The Final Call tried multiple times to reach Lennar, Inc., and they did not respond. 

“Even though there are laws on the books that there should be air monitors, even though there should be wind protections and screening and warnings given, yet, the other day, last week, we discovered that the Lennar Corporation was once again digging on the shipyard the largest radiological testing laboratory in the world,” stated Min. Muhammad.

“And now we see earth movers excavating right next to head start, right next to housing developments, and we caught it on film … clips that prove that this rogue company has no concern for the health and wellbeing, and we’re calling on the City of San Francisco that’s taken such a bold, proactive role in containing the coronavirus by issuing shelter in place and mask laws and curfew laws, yet the Lennar Corporation appears to get away with murder with impunity,” he continued.

The Final Call had not yet received a response to its request for comment from Mayor Breed at press time.  However she announced in January that the state’s testing was appropriate on parcel A—a smaller plot that is part of larger parcels of land cleaned up and turned over to the city for use, in lieu of waiting for the entire shipyard to be decontaminated. 

Mayor Breed and other city officials sought out independent analysis from a panel of University of California at San Francisco and Berkeley experts last April.  They determined that the radiation testing procedures established by state and federal regulatory agencies at the Hunters Point Shipyard were appropriate and sufficient. 

“Nothing is more important than the health and safety of the people living in the Bayview and Hunters Point, and this community deserves transparency,” read their statement. 

(The Hunters Point Bio Medical Monitoring Clinic and Screening at 5021 Third Street is conducting urine and blood sampling testing for heavy metals and radionuclides or radioactive chemicals found in the toxic soil.  Residents can contact Atty. Bonner’s office to be connected to Dr. Ahimsa Porter Sumchai at 415-331-3070 or [email protected]. Contacts for Gov. Newsom (916) 445-2841, Mayor Breed (415) 554-6141; and Sup. Walton (415) 554-7670.)