Dennis Cunningham, a longtime civil rights lawyer whose work also included representing gay men who were attacked by police in the infamous "Castro Sweep," died March 5.
He was 86.The New York Times reported that Mr. Cunningham died at his son's home in Los Angeles. The cause of death was cancer.The Times obituary noted that Mr.
Cunningham successfully sued the government on behalf of the Black Panthers, Atticus prison inmates, and others. He was known in San Francisco as someone who was a straight ally before the phrase was coined.On October 6, 1989, San Francisco police cleared the streets in the Castro, seemingly in retaliation for a protest against federal inaction on the AIDS epidemic that occurred earlier that day near City Hall at what is now called the Phillip Burton Federal Building at 450 Golden Gate Avenue.The Castro Sweep deepened divisions between the LGBTQ community and the police, which had already been frayed by decades of harassment in bars, the assassination of gay Supervisor Harvey Milk by former police officer and disgruntled ex-supervisor Dan White in 1978, and the subsequent White Night riots the following year, the Bay Area Reporter noted in a 2019 article on the 30th anniversary of the sweep.The downtown protest was put on by the local chapter of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, or ACT UP, a national group of predominately gay activists who used theatrical demonstrations to call attention to the plight of gay men during the darkest years of the epidemic.Tensions between the protesters and police rose throughout the march until it reached the Castro, when some demonstrators sat down in the middle of the street as part of a "die-in.""What they were doing — it was a peaceful protest," Terry.