San Francisco Criminal Justice Leaders Push for Change at Race Summit

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A seven-member civilian panel acts as the San Francisco Police Department’s disciplinary body. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

In a city with law enforcement agencies wracked by a string of scandals involving bigotry and corruption, heads of San Francisco's criminal justice system gathered Wednesday for a conference on race and reform hosted by Public Defender Jeff Adachi.

Adachi opened the conference with a list of statistics from recent studies on racial disparities in San Francisco's criminal justice system. The latest data came from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, which found black women in San Francisco were 13 times more likely to be arrested than their counterparts of other races. The city's arrest rate of African-American women is about four times the state average, according to the report (read below).

A graph showing the multiples of likelihood that a black woman would be arrested in San Francisco, compared with women of other races, from 1980 to 2013.
A graph showing the multiples of likelihood that a black woman would be arrested in San Francisco, compared with women of other races, from 1980 to 2013. (Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice)

"We really haven't heard any explanation for why the city is so out of line for the rest of the state, and as far as we can tell, the rest of the country in terms of its disproportionate African-American arrest rates," CJCJ senior researcher Mike Males told KQED in an interview. "And another thing is they've gotten worse over time."

The disparity in San Francisco's arrest rate for black women has more than tripled since 1980, according to the statistics compiled by the center.

Along with the data that describe San Francisco as an outlier in arrests of black people, talk of racist and homophobic text messages traded by a group of current and former SFPD officers hung over the conference.

Sgt. Yulanda Williams, president of Officers for Justice, was one of at least two black officers mentioned in text messages recovered from former Sgt. Ian Furminger's cellphone. The texts were released after he was sentenced for federal fraud and conspiracy charges.


"I joined what I thought was San Francisco's finest," she said. "It doesn't feel like that today. It doesn't feel like that to many of the minority officers."

Listen to an execrpt of Williams' comments below. At one point she says the content of the text that mentioned her by name, which used graphic and offensive language.

Williams said she viewed it as a betrayal that Police Chief Greg Suhr never addressed the scandal with rank-and-file officers, and Mayor Ed Lee never responded to her requests to meet. She said she'd heard rumors that the text messages were going to come out and called Suhr the day before they did.

"I was assured that my members had nothing to worry about and that I had nothing to worry about," she said. "You don't do that to your family. You don't do that to people you love. Because I'm black, I can never be blue enough for you? Shame on you. Shame on all of you."

Suhr didn't attend the conference, but sent newly promoted Cmdr. Toney Chaplin.

"I'm in the unenviable position of being African-American and being a cop, and this is a tough time for most of the members of the San Francisco Police Department," Chaplin said. "There's a lot of African-American officers that are doing some self-reflecting about people they call friend."

Williams said Officer for Justice is launching a "Not on My Watch" campaign that encourages officers to explicitly say what they will not tolerate in the department.

"It's time for us to take swift action," she said. "We need an inoculation. This is a cancer."

The conference also heard from Galia Phillips, the assistant federal public defender in San Francisco, who said her office is challenging arrests in joint narcotics sweeps of San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood conducted by San Francisco police and federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents in 2013 and 2014. "Operation Safe Schools" resulted in 37 arrests in San Francisco for drug sales within 1,000 feet of a school.

"Every one of the 37 people that were charged were black," Galia said.

Suhr said previously that racial bias didn't factor into those arrests, and that all the defendants were selling drugs near schools.

But Galia's challenge to the case cites police surveillance video in which an officer disparagingly refers to black males before being reminded by his partner that the camera is rolling, and another instance in which a confidential informant passes up an offer from an Asian dealer to wait for an African-American.

"Our challenge is not focused on whether or not any particular defendant was innocent or guilty," Galia said. "Our challenge is focused on whether or not the operation is fair."

Read the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice report below:

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