Thursday, June 02, 2016

Our occupying army and the community it fails to serve

A police chief is out, but San Francisco still has a police force that, over the last two years, has shot five people of color, (3 Latino men; 1 Black man, 1 Black woman) in circumstances that look like wanton murder. No officers have been brought to trial or even disciplined internally (as far as we are allowed to know -- see below.) In two other, separate, cases, racist text messages between officers have come to light. Something is rotten in the SFPD; the mayor can make promises, but words won't cut it. This militarized force acts like a hostile occupying army, instead of as protectors of the public safety.

And so, citizens have to keep up the pressure. Here Daniel English from Faith in Action and Fr. Richard Smith of Saint John Episcopal Church deliver a banner and signs to the ongoing Wednesday evening vigil outside the Mission police station. Activists and neighbors are demanding that District Attorney George Gascon bring the officers who shot Amilcar Perez Lopez to trial. Despite the autopsy evidence that Amilcar died from six shots in the back, the hope for a trial of the shooters seems a long shot. Since 2000, the SFPD has killed 40 civilians; no officers have been charged.
Meanwhile family members of the dead, their friends, and their communities are struggling to assert detailed demands for police reform that will have meaningful impact and a chance at success. With five recent victims, multiple political authorities at the city level with some jurisdiction over the police, and calls for outside investigations by both the state Attorney General and the federal Department of Justice, winning policy improvements seems a complex business that will probably proceed by fits and starts, if at all. The Police Officers Association stonewalls reforms. Cops feel under siege; perhaps they might be more secure if policy demanded they de-escalate rather than dominate.
Meanwhile, at the state level, craven Democrats (and most Republicans, but hey, this is California where Dems run the legislature) deep-sixed a police transparency bill that would have pried information about police encounters with citizens from secretive departments. The pols were scared to buck the police unions in defense of their constituents. It's worth contemplating the sort of information the bill sought to order departments to release -- and which aggrieved Californians are still barred from asking for from law enforcement agencies. Had this become law, citizens might have sought:

(A) A record related to the investigation or assessment of any use of force by a peace officer that is likely to or does cause death or serious bodily injury, including, but not limited to, the discharge of a firearm, use of an electronic control weapon or conducted energy device, and any strike with an impact weapon to a person’s head.

(B) A record related to any finding by a law enforcement agency or oversight agency that a peace officer or custodial officer engaged in sexual assault, an excessive use of force, an unjustified search, detention or arrest, racial or identity profiling, as defined in subdivision (e) of Section 13519.4, discrimination or unequal treatment on the basis of race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, religion, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, or mental or physical disability, or any other violation of the legal rights of a member of the public.

(C) A record related to any finding by a law enforcement agency of job-related dishonesty by a peace officer or custodial officer, including, but not limited to, perjury, false statements, filing false reports, or destruction or concealment of evidence.

If sworn "peace" officers are going to engage in these practices, it does seem we ought to know about it. In theory, they work for us. But apparently not.

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