by Kevin Bliss
The U.S. Supreme Court made targeting by law enforcement of people based on race unconstitutional over 130 years ago, yet the practice still runs rampant in police departments nationwide, says Ezekiel Edwards, director of the ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project.
He said San Francisco has a particularly long history of race-based policing. The San Francisco Police Department (“SFPD”) collaborated with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the Northern District of California in 2013 and 2014 to carry out a drug enforcement operation in the Tenderloin district. This is an area known for the selling of drugs from people of all races, yet the operation netted 37 arrests, every one of them black.
In fact, one video shows an officer flat out refusing to buy drugs from an Asian woman to wait on a black dealer, Edwards stated. This evidence was presented to the district court judge. With it, he found that the evidence suggested racially selective enforcement, and the district prosecutor promptly dismissed all charges. Edwards said seven studies have recently been written detailing SFPD’s race-driven enforcement practices.
In addition, it was reported that several SFPD police officers were found to be texting racist messages to one another in 2015.
Racist practices were found to exist with respect to traffic stops, officer use of deadly force, and criminal proceedings and outcomes. All of this led the Blue Ribbon Panel on Transparency, Accountability, and Fairness in Law Enforcement of San Francisco to conclude that the SFPD was “in urgent need of important reforms.” Moreover, Edwards stated that this was not just a problem in San Francisco, but that it is a nationwide scourge. Racial disparity occurred from drug possession arrests to seat belt infractions, from New York City to Maricopa County, Arizona. He said, “It is time for the SFPD — and police departments across America — to shed its shameful past … to make transformative changes to its training, practices, and cultural competency. And most importantly it is time for the SFPD to respect the dignity of all people it is sworn to protect.”
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