I hadn’t exactly envisioned myself spending a sunny Sunday afternoon in the park with someone that calls themselves a Mohawk. After a week of camera neglect, I was itching to photograph something interesting. So my feet brought me to panhandle of Golden Gate Park.
Of course, the scene was typical. Flocks of cyclists resting with their bikes on top of a sunny hill. Circles of hipsters with thick-framed glasses seeking shade underneath fragrant pine trees. Families barbequing, homeless people sleeping, and of course, Mary Jane wafting through the air. Just another Sunday afternoon.
Within two minutes of walking, I gravitated towards a fit-looking, African-American man sporting a mohawk haircut. He sat on the pavement drawing flowers with a small piece of chalk. Skateboarders zip by as he remained focused and meticulous with each stroke of chalk. I interrupted him to ask if I could take his photo. He put down his chalk, popped up onto his feet and slowly walked backwards to examine his fifteen foot fire-breathing dragon. Pleased, he turned towards me to extend his hand.
He introduces himself as Eric Zero, 45, a native of San Francisco Haight neighborhood and founder of the Mohawks –a local group or “family” that have inadvertently become self-proclaimed protectors of the park. “We don’t mind being called a gang,” Zero explains, “but we refer to ourselves as a Family. Gangs use violence on their members for discipline and intiations. Mohawks never raise a hand against other members, not for any reason. We take care or each other, that’s why we call ourselves the Mohawks Family.”
Zero said he started the Mohawks as a group promoting creativity. However, growing up just across the street from the park has made Zero and protective over how people use the public space, especially if drugs are involved.
“We X them out,” Zero says, which referes to going over someone else’s name or group logo in the area. It’s a graffiti term, Zero explains, that organized groups use towards other groups to let them know they are keeping a watchful eye. All Mohawks wear a handmade, patchwork Mohawk vest (pictured above) making their presence in the park well known to others. They also study martial arts as a form of mediation and self-defense.
“Mohawks belong in District 5,” Zero affirms. “We are a gang, yes, but we promote legal activities. We don’t drink or do drugs in public.”
“I don’t care if you shoot heroin in your eyeball at home, but when you are in public, you need to be right,” he continues, emphasizing that children who frequent that park should never be exposed to such lewd behavior. Zero frequently updates chalk murals outside of police stations and said he has establised a good rapport with a couple of officers over the years.
The 35-some members also collaborate to create a monthly magazine of art, poetry and people, also known as One Zine. “They are no editorials, no politics, no hate talks; just a place to give other creative people an outlet to submit their work and get a pulse on what’s out there,” Zero described the publication. “It’s a way for us to help others become creative.” Just about everyday, you can find Zero out in the panhandle drawing or teaching kids how to skateboard.