The news was expected to be bad.
San Franciscans for Police Accountability (SFPA), a civilian watch group, held a public forum in the Koret Auditorium of San Francisco’s Public Library. It was Saturday, Sept. 24, and featured D.A. George Gascón’s specially appointed Blue Ribbon Panel – the forum appropriately titled, “Making SFPD Accountable: A Community Conversation.”
At a forum Sept. 24 in San Francisco’s Main Library, the scathing report on the SFPD by District Attorney George Gascón’s Blue Ribbon Panel was discussed by panel members, SFPD and other City officials, family members of police victims and activists who have fought all year for police accountability so fervently that they pushed the highest paid police chief in the nation out of office. – Photo: Adilifu Fundi
And what a conversation this was – one I could not miss!
Locals know Gascón was compelled in May 2015 to appoint three retired judges, who volunteered their time to study SFPD’s system “and culture” – partly in light of extremely racist, sexist and homophobic texts and emails sent between several cops.
They’d review almost 4,000 case arrest reports filed by those “implicated” cops to determine if persistent “misconduct” charges – and the continued frequency of especially unarmed citizens being killed by local police – are connected.
Only two “texting” cops resigned of some 14 charged and implicated. The rest found a legal snag: Chief Greg Suhr had let the statute of limitations run out; all 12 remaining kept their jobs – and anonymity.
Most national news outlets, especially CNN, choose not to cover San Francisco’s incidents – a major U.S. city’s killings by cops selectively “blacked out.” A second round of texts did surface from yet another case but basically got ignored as well.
For those unfamiliar, I explain Gascón’s assembling the panel in an earlier blog. Ironically, the first repulsive cop “emails” had actually surfaced due to a then ongoing, totally separate federal investigation: SF cop corruption was already on trial – stolen evidence, drug dealing, falsifying records, etc. – where several got convicted.
This had set the momentum toward a need to finally call in “outside reviewers.”
Most national news outlets, especially CNN, choose not to cover San Francisco’s incidents – a major U.S. city’s killings by cops selectively “blacked out.”
Having released their “results” in July, the Blue Ribbon Panel’s 239-page report showed SFPD’s climate was not just bad, but absolutely horrendous – a damning exposé indeed! Seventy-two findings and 84 recommendations were made, related to eight critical “issue areas.”
Arriving to the forum for this two-part event, we greeted each other with heavy hearts – which were only about to get heavier.
The second half featured the “administrators” and their findings: Judge LaDoris Cordell, a Blue Ribbon Panel member; Panel Executive Director Anand Subramanian; Ray Marshall, Blue Ribbon culture lead; John Crew, police practices expert; Mawuli Tugbenyoh, Supervisor Malia Cohen’s rep; Cristine Soto De Berry, D.A. George Gascón’s assistant; and Alex Salazar, ex-LAPD Ramparts officer turned “whistle blower” – and now private investigator.
But the first half brought horrifying reality into the room. A panel of family and friends gripped us with the stories of these police victims: O’Shaine Evans, Luis Gongora Pat, James “Nate” Greer, Amilcar Perez-Lopez and Derrick Gaines. Reps of victims Mario Woods, Alex Nieto and others, like Jessica Nelson, were audience members.
No dry eyes in this house survived such a gauntlet. It packed painful substance on the raw bones administrators soon laid bare.
The gist of the official panel report’s findings emphasized this: SFPD’s arrests of people of color dwarfs those of whites; contraband found on whites also dwarfs others’; standard “stops” scream bias; cops have virtually no oversight; the department hardly collects or reviews cop “accountability” data; community trust is in the ditch – and all this in America’s “least transparent” – and second oldest – police department.
But the first half brought horrifying reality into the room. A panel of family and friends gripped us with the stories of these police victims: O’Shaine Evans, Luis Gongora Pat, James “Nate” Greer, Amilcar Perez-Lopez and Derrick Gaines.
Especially condemned was the San Francisco Police Officers Association (POA): They’re likened to thugs who actually control the department – shielding brutal, entrenched “old boys” cop culture from reforms every step of the way.
POA thwarted the Blue Ribbon investigation at every step: The fact that judges had no subpoena power, having to gain info through “civilian channels,” was a wake-up call exposing why impacted families get little or no info – or “results.”
Felicia Jones, leader of the Justice 4 Mario Woods Coalition, urges the press to push the Board of Supervisors to hold a hearing on – and implement – the findings of the Blue Ribbon Panel. Behind her is Archbishop Franzo King, also a leader in demanding police accountability, and at far right is Elvira Nieto, mother of SFPD murder victim Alex Nieto. – Photo: Adilifu Fundi
And Mayor Ed Lee, our city’s first Asian head, claiming he “backs” more transparency and is already implementing “reforms,” refused to fund the panel. Subramanian had to solicit an outside agency.
SFPD’s promise that cops would cooperate with interviewers was broken. All showed up with lawyers instead, refusing to testify – except one: Officer Yulanda Williams, president of Officers for Justice, a Black cop “support group.”
She reinforced Gascón’s own testimony that a strict “old boys” network rules, totally contradicting ex-PD Chief Greg Suhr, the only other officer testifying, who said there was no “cop culture.” Suhr was eventually fired by Mayor Lee, dogged by months of angry public demand.
Officer Williams now faces cop retaliation: threats not to get backup on calls. By the way, Williams had also been targeted and demeaned in that first batch of cop texts.
Administrators say San Francisco’s ordinances and state laws are set up to perfectly shield police from any retribution – period! Other states have far greater transparency and evidence access. Readers out there should check the laws where you are.
Panelists revealed a stone cold legal structure is designed to push back, while crafted to appear as if it works on behalf of cop accountability for the public good. The California Police Officer’s Bill of Rights ensures cops are “untouchable,” as key evidence relating to their treatment of civilian victims falls not onto a public record but into a cop’s personal file – itself made legally off limits to the public.
Mayor Ed Lee, our city’s first Asian head, claiming he “backs” more transparency and is already implementing “reforms,” refused to fund the panel.
It means that a precedent would have to be set. Hence this added sobering fact: Not one cop has been convicted in a civilian shooting case in this city’s 267-year history.
Such was the chilling tone awaiting a question and answer period for audience members. Family and citizen demands are the same as in other plagued cities: 1) All officers who’ve killed these civilians must be arrested and charged with murder. 2) An independent “pattern and practices” investigation of the SFPD must be made by the U.S. Department of Justice and the California Attorney General.
Cops were recently charged and arrested in Tulsa, South Carolina and Baltimore, but not one San Francisco officer has been arrested. D.A. Gascón still “waits” to charge any SF cops – even in light of autopsy reports and videos totally contradicting officer’s department backed versions.
We now know why.
Given the current state of things, audience members targeted three main areas: How can the people make the department more transparent and get the system to hand over more shielded case info? Can we at least get apologies for victimized families? And what can be done to defang the POA bully crew, which many say is not actually a union?
The Blue Ribbon Panel made one thing clear: Their research and findings are but a “tool” – one of many – for public usage in a public driven cause. Panelists only investigate and present their findings; they have no other action-taking authority or power; hence their lack of subpoena ability.
How can the people make the department more transparent and get the system to hand over more shielded case info? Can we at least get apologies for victimized families? And what can be done to defang the POA bully crew, which many say is not actually a union?
The public must use the tools on our own behalf. The panel’s knowledge in these matters – to be solicited – hugely bolsters this public tool.
It’s why the Justice 4 Mario Woods Coalition lobbied City Hall supervisors on Sept. 19, demanding they pass a resolution to convene a separate hearing before the full board to review the Blue Ribbon Panel’s full report. They pushed all responsible officials to take action on the 72 findings and 84 recommendations. Otherwise, they warned the report would just sit there on record, waiting for the discretion of some self-motivated supervisor to take action with it.
Supervisors did take up the findings in the board’s Oct. 4 board meeting. There Judge Cordell gave a blistering 79-year review, from 1937 to the present, of SFPD misconduct – jaw-dropping, vicious attacks and violations against multiple population segments and individuals – cop disciplinary action being nil.
Judge LaDoris Cordell, long a preeminent Bay Area advocate for justice, testifies Oct. 4 before the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, delivering a history of police misconduct in San Francisco since 1937.
Many of those SFPD attacks targeted the gay community. Given this – and SF’s history of proud gay rebellion – it is bizarre that mainstream gays remain detached from this investigation and have even attacked Black Lives Matter. Aside from individuals like me, no outward coalescing comes from notable groups – or celebrity LGBTQ fundraisers.
Maybe that explains this: One of the cops implicated in the racist, sexist and homophobic emails was “openly gay” white male Michael Robison – a darling of the Castro. He was one of the only two cops who resigned.
Back at Saturday’s forum, panelists say the City will not apologize to families unless they promise not to sue, as they fear it’s an admission of guilt which makes them liable.
Some SF cop transparency rules do exist, yet are under-implemented. But here’s a shocker:
Last February “openly gay” white state Sen. Mark Leno introduced (SB 1286) that would expand critical public access to information on cops. “Openly gay” white SF Supervisor Scott Wiener staunchly voted against it – towing Supervisors Mark Farrell and Katy Tang along.
SB 1286 would have expanded SFPD transparency, making civilian related evidence, investigation results and cop records accessible – just what SF families, as well as assaulted gays, need. But in May the bill was killed in appropriations – not getting a discussion or a legislative (or public) vote.
Back at Saturday’s forum, panelists say the City will not apologize to families unless they promise not to sue, as they fear it’s an admission of guilt which makes them liable.
Wiener’s Senate run against Jane Kim for Leno’s seat is backed by none other than who you’d expect – the San Francisco Police Officers Association. Remember this in November!
So to weaken POA’s thug-like control, civilians must use this same tool: legislation. Laws could be passed to make huge changes – but for obvious reasons panelists scoffed at the probability.
Michael Robison was one of only two SFPD officers who resigned after their racist, sexist, homophobic texts were revealed. Ironically, Robison, popular in the Castro, is openly gay. – Photo: Adilifu Fundi
POA is a well established, well oiled, big moneyed, fierce political lobbying force in this city. So are other cop forces in the state – leading lawmakers by their noses. In essence, panelists believe our general public is too apathetic, weak-willed and complicit, or sold out, to politically challenge them; they pooh-poohed our even trying, although anything that’s possible should at least be attempted – if not just to call attention.
Case in point: Last December, as Black Lives Matter protests flooded the Bay Area, Supervisor John Avalos proposed a toothless resolution – coauthored by Black Supervisor Malia Cohen – merely backing the protesters’ cause. A furious, ego wounded POA sent – particularly the Black supervisors – thinly veiled threats, and all reversed their support, backing a gutted version instead.
As for a new San Francisco police chief, all panelists agreed: Current Black Acting Chief Toney Chaplin, a local, is not the one!
At the Oct. 4 Board of Supervisors meeting, Chaplin demonstrated typical “blue code” protection when confronted about Blue Ribbon findings. Supervisor John Avalos excoriated him! The unaccountable chief constantly wobbled!
Many peppered Chaplin with questions about the false appearance of his employing panel recommendations – especially Jane Kim and “openly gay” Latino David Campos – while “white gay” Wiener remained silent. Remember this also in November.
POA is a well established, well oiled, big moneyed, fierce political lobbying force in this city. So are other cop forces in the state – leading lawmakers by their noses.
And here, a sobering warning: Not one U.S. city has achieved the level of deep police reform needed without hiring a total outsider. No insider chief has ever done so.
Here’s a thought:
San Franciscans steadfastly use grassroots tools: rallies, press conferences, marches, demonstrations, civil disobedience, lobbying pressure on officials, self-sacrifice, such as the historic Frisco 5 hunger strike etc. The message of them all: The U.S. public is dealing with systemic “monsters.”
I’ve brazenly said this in blogs: America’s 500-year social pressure cooker has churned out monsters designed to menace the people. For some, that’s a jolting reality – but of course you already know!
It was clear as I stood on Oct. 7 outside D.A. Gascón’s office during an angry rally. The Mario Woods Coalition had irate families, including the mothers of Oscar Grant and Mario Woods, pleading: Don’t dare wobble. Charge cops who kill our children!
Oscar Grant’s mother Wanda Johnson speaks at a rally outside the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office demanding that DA George Gascón, who convened the Blue Ribbon Panel, charge SFPD officers who have murdered Black and Brown young men with impunity. – Photo: Adilifu Fundi
We know the police are groomed to contain social progress, protecting a privileged club by threat of the sword – threats we all know are willingly and unhesitatingly carried out.
Ex-LA cop Alex Salazar ripped apart “Uncle Toms” on forces betraying their own “corralled” people. Caring folks are crippled by fear – rendered inactive to the cause.
Panelist Ray Marshall said that absent, faltering and corrupted leadership is the top socially derailing factor. It explains why a ton of Black preachers and their congregations didn’t flood that room. There were only about 100 frontline attendees in a 235-seat space.
It also tells why Scott Wiener would sit on Dr. King’s Freedom Day stage at Yerba Buena, looking officious but not address the crowd – or explain the notion of a white gay cop involved in racist, homophobic text scandals. Remember! Jane Kim in November!
And elite leaders like this Blue Ribbon echelon fighting for us in judiciary ranks also must stay personally in touch – “grounded” – as they were sternly reminded by Frisco 5 striker Ilyich Sato. He stressed not seeing any panel members visit the Frico 5’s hunger strike battleground.
Panelist Ray Marshall said that absent, faltering and corrupted leadership is the top socially derailing factor.
My vested trail moves me back to what I said at the start of this article: We must push for a stronger national connection – cleverly and methodically. National pressure moves mountains, while one local radar bleep gets lost in the fog.
We know that without a consistent national spotlight, highly rare cop arrests would not have been made in Baltimore, Tulsa or South Carolina. San Francisco groups steadily push for local unity, but a few starter actions can begin to thrust further out – to reel in this “greater tool.”
Some national reach-out techniques are simple:
What’s needed are basic grassroots campaigns: no community left behind!
Brave mother Gwen Woods and the Mario Woods Coalition, organized after Mario’s execution by a SFPD firing squad last December, have made extraordinary progress by forming an alliance between Blacks and Latinos strong enough to force the resignation of Chief Greg Suhr. – Photo: Adilifu Fundi
And because monsters are already entrenched in the system, allies on the civic payroll are sabotaged by sharks running the bureaucracy. Creating independent public services – not beheld to agencies – must be revisited with a visionary astuteness like that of the Black Panthers and Dr. King.
I believe it was Cadine Williams, sister of SFPD murder victim O’Shaine Evans, who afterwards said to me, “We must have broad self-determination services and operations to make this work.” She is right!
San Franciscans for Police Accountability itself is an excellent model.
Brave, compassionate, invested frontline multicultural advocates hit the forum room that day. True leaders from all levels who’ve stepped out from the larger business-as-usual pack are these San Franciscans – squaring off against a monstrous legacy.
There’s a long way to go – and we all know we can’t and won’t stop until justice is won!
A renaissance man describes the professional singer, actor, dancer, educator, historian, spiritual advocate and published author Fundi, a 25-year resident San Franciscan and native of San Diego. Trained in cross-cultural and general social repair, Fundi spent the past 42 years utilizing lectures, workshops and performance in the social trenches, aiding the Black and general American, mainstream gay and lesbian, gay people of color and Black LGBTQ segments with creating viable community. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This story first appeared on his blog, Adilifu Fundi, Renaissance Man.