My Open Letter to SF Police Officer Association President, Martin Halloran: The Intimidation and Hate Will Stop Today.

Note: This open letter is in response to Mr. Halloran’s most recent newsletter to his rank and file officers.

Dear Martin Halloran,

You and your mob-like leadership of the San Francisco Police Officer Association have proven to be a rotten influence in our beautiful city, preventing us from being the progressive champion we should be. The POA is a para-military organization that fails its creed of being a true union — proving its failure by threatening its members, the public, and elected officials; and taking pride in blocking necessary reforms of the police department. There are good officers that don’t stand with you in your hate-filled positions; and I know, if given the chance, these officers would stand with the community.

I write this letter in response to your immature and sad attempt to discredit an entire community and to suggest that recent killings of black and brown brothers and sisters are either inevitable or the fault of the victims. The letter you published in the June, 2016 edition of the San Francisco Police Officer Association Journal contains a number of lies, falsehoods and misrepresentations. I will address each one accordingly:

1. Victim blaming is not ok. You write: “the death[s] [of Jessica Williams (Nelson) and others] resulted from a failure to comply with lawful commands and an exhaustion by police of all reasonable options.” This is simply false. In every killing since Alex Nieto, all reasonable options were not exhausted. The death of Jessica Williams (Nelson) resulted as a direct consequence of Sergeant Ebd believing he had the right to execute another human being. Stuck in a crashed vehicle, Ms. Williams was attempting unbuckle her seatbelt before she was shot dead. Ms. Williams was 5 months pregnant, and for certain was not going to physically overpower two male police officers. If the officers suspected Ms. Williams had done something wrong, a reasonable option would have been to arrest her -- not to execute her.

We’ve all seen the video of Mario Woods’ execution, we’ve heard the eyewitnesses who saw Luis Gongora’s execution which happened within seconds of the officer exiting his vehicle, and we’ve read the autopsy report, showing the officers lied and actually shot Amilcar Lopez in the back. Each of these leave no doubt whatsoever that all reasonable options were neither attempted nor exhausted. None of these people were a threat to police officers, none of these individuals deserved to die. These are extra-judicial murders, individuals tried and sentenced to death not by a judge, but by the trigger of a police officer; therefore, these officers must be held accountable.

Allow me to provide some context, police in America have killed 479 peoplethis year alone. You and your officers have no right to kill unarmed citizens extra judicially, taking away their right to their constitutional right of due process, if these men were true criminals they should have been tried in court not at the hands of your police officers.

2. Chief Suhr did not deserve to keep his job. You write: “If you look at Greg Suhr’s record and service in the department, he has saved more lives on the street, offered more educational advancements to our youth, and has advanced this department into the 21st century with new tactics”. I’ve looked at Chief Suhr’s record. It’s appalling, truly appalling. It includes involvement in the death of Mark Garcia in 1997; two demotions; a fajita gate scandal and a personal harassment suit that cost the city millions of dollars; he hid two cases of extreme racist and bigoted text messages, did not act on the crime lab scandal within his department; and oversaw the murders of Mario Woods, Alex Nieto, Amilcar Perz-Lopez, Luis Gongora Pat, and Jessica Williams (Nelson).

No other leader could have such a disastrous record and keep their job.

All we’ve seen on the streets is the continuation of a systematic targeting of black and brown people, resulting in multiple executions at the hands of police.

3. The people of San Francisco are being pushed out of the city and you are contributing to the displacement. You write: That it was the “ vocal minority, who are mostly not residents of San Francisco” that were fighting for justice and the removal of Greg SuhrLet’s be clear, the majority of people who have been organizing against police brutality do live in the city, but what’s even more powerful is that people who have been displaced as a result of gentrification came back to fight for the city they believe in.

Your organization is at the front lines of a concerted and very deliberate effort to gentrify our city. From over criminalizing people of color and the poor, we have very few options but to be displaced or in jail.

In San Francisco, a black male is 11 times more likely than a white male to be arrested and charged for the exact same crime. Is it a crime to be a person of color in San Francisco? The data shows that unfortunately it is crime.

A report by the Coalition on Homelessness found that 70% of homeless people had been forced by law enforcement to move from public spaces -- what kind of heartless city do we live in? I’ll give you a prime example of how the homeless -- which are also San Francisco residents -- are being criminalized. In Luis Gongora Pat’s case, who by the way was also displaced, there is a video of police officers slashing the tents of homeless witnesses who would have testified to Luis’ innocence. This officer behavior rested on the grounds that the homeless were violating the “Sit/Lie” ordinance. This is a clear example of the criminalization and harassment of poverty that takes place every day in this city.

Mr. Halloran, you and your organization must start caring about protecting life more than you care about protecting property — which has become the sad reality in our city.

4. I lost 25 pounds in 17 days and I wish you would have joined us. You write: “We now have the “Frisco Five” who led a so called “hunger strike” and demanded that the Mayor fire Chief Suhr. They continued this “hunger strike” while they were being nourished by fellow activists at Mission Station.” After 17 days of not eating food we were hospitalized. I lost 25 pounds, suffered from serious emotional and physical issues, and am still recovering. But you are attempting to distract from what really happened— in 17 days, the city of San Francisco cleansed this city, at least momentarily, with pure love and showed that the power of the community, when united, can move mountains. What we did was not sole reason Greg Suhr was fired, he was fired because of the organizing and power showed by average people and the strength of the coalitions like Justice 4 Alex Nieto, Mario Woods, Amilcar Perez-Lopez, and Luis Gongora Pat.

The five of us went on a hunger strike not for political theatre, but to show that after Luis Gongora Pat’s death, we were not going to stand for any more. From the sounds of it, you seem intimidated by the strength demonstrated by the people who exercise their first amendment right — don’t be; those chants you hear are our ancestors speaking justice through us. We’ll all be better off as a result of justice, I promise.

Mr. Halloran, I wish you would have joined us on our spiritually cleansing hunger strike, perhaps you would have lost the heavy burden of hate that sits in your soul.

5. Finally, big money is running our city and you are their enforcer. You write: “Who is running this city and who are our elected representatives answering to? The squeaky wheel from a vocal minority of non-city residents, or from those who live and work and raise their families here and who have voted for our elected officials?” You even go on to suggest that we are “anarchists.” The anarchists here are the influential minority of big money interests who believe they can skirt the law everyday. Where are you when they break the law?

You say it’s wrong that elected officials are listening to the people who are exercising their first amendment right. So are we to not listen to conscious residents who fight for justice? Seeing the examples of your organization, maybe the answer to that is NO. Calling officers in SFPD “snitches,” who should actually be lauded as brave whistleblowers for standing up against racism in the department, is the culture of suppression and code of silence that perhaps you want everyone else to follow? That will not be happening.

We know that change only comes when the people speak truth to power; and power concedes nothing without demand.

To conclude, you end by asking “Okay San Francisco, now what?”

Let’s start with these:

  • The community have binding input on the next San Francisco police chief.
  • Independent investigations into everyone one of the killings at the hands police under Chief Suhr’s reign.
  • District Attorney George Gascón must indict and charge the police officers involved in the Amilcar Perez Lopez, Mario Woods, Luis Gongora, and Jessica Williams shootings. And if found guilty, these officers must go to jail.
  • Police Commission must adopt a new Use of Force policy requiring de-escalation and deadly force as absolute last resort. Additionally, Tasers must never be adopted in San Francisco — we will not allow another tool of abuse that has never proven to decrease killings by police.
  • Lastly, we must ensure that Ed Lee is either held accountable to the people of this city, because Jessica Williams’ blood is on his hands. He must actually represent the people, not the money, of San Francisco.

Let it be known, the POA cannot continue to bully our city. It ends today and I will make sure it.

Sincerely,

Edwin Lindo

Hunger Striker for Justice and Candidate, District 9 Board of Supervisors

Justice Is Not Radical — It’s Our Responsibility.

NOTE: This was written Feb. 13, 2016, in response to a question posed by Mission Local(a local San Francisco News Site) to all candidates running for Ditrict 9 Supervisor: Do the fatal police shootings of Alex Nieto, Amilcar Perez-Lopez, and Mario Woods warrant reform of the police department? And beyond general calls for de-escalation training, what would that reform look like?

We deserve better. Growing up in San Francisco’s Mission District and Bernal Heights, I grew up being intimidated by SFPD and safety was not the first thing that came to mind when we saw the red and blue lights filling the sky. Our police department should appreciate that crime prevention does not come from the police department. The police department stands on the principles of “protect and serve,” not prevent crime. Almost always, the police arrive after the crime occurs, not before. Crime prevention is found when we invest in our community’s welfare, education, and create jobs for those that need them.

Just For Alex Nieto March, San Francisco. Taken by Edwin Lindo

I grew up around the corner from Alex Nieto. His parents knew my parents and grandparents - Alex Nieto and I were less than 1 year apart in age. It does not escape me that I am Alex Nieto. It could have been me, a 28 year-old Latino SF Native with a red 49er jacket. A piece of me was stolen when I learned of Alex’s death.

Another piece of life was ripped from me when we lost Mario Woods. I went to middle school and am childhood friends with the cousin of Mario Woods. We are also close in age, young men of color who were just figuring out how to maneuver this world and this city. Amilcar Perez-Lopez was also shot and killed just a block from where I went to elementary school. It all hits close to home and is personal for me.

Multiple people of color are being killed every day in this country at the hands of law enforcement. As we see, even the most “progressive” city is not immune to the institutional racism and oppression that we see in other parts of the country. We may want to believe we are not Ferguson, Baltimore, or Cleveland -- but all the evils found in those cities are here in San Francisco, whether we like it or not. The data is very clear: we overcriminalize our poor communities and communities of color, we militarize our police force to “protect” against peaceful protests, and we have a police force that doesn’t reflect the diversity of the communities they serve. The racist, sexist, and homophobic text messages also shows the hate-filled culture within the police department.

Let’s be clear - there are more than a handful of openly racist and bigoted officers in the police force, but I believe there are many more individuals that stand for the creed to “protect and serve,” with the heart to do what’s right and we need them to stand with us. But it’s deeper than the individuals, it’s the institution of law enforcement that creates the ugliness we see on a regular basis. It is the systemic shackles we must break to prevent overcriminalization, the consistent use of excessive force, and the permeating racist attitudes in the police department that are bold enough to influence others in law enforcement. We must be more bold and work towards creating a department that is part of the solution, not the problem.

 

Millions March San Francisco. Dec 2014

Millions March San Francisco. Dec 2014

Organizing with our justice warriors in San Francisco, from #BlackLivesMatter members, CCSF BSU, SFSU BSU, organizers for Millions March, organizers for Justice For Mario Woods Coalition, and organizers for Justice For Alex Nieto has been my heartbeat and has given me life. I’ve been told that it’s political suicide to stand with our community demanding justice from our city and police department. I’ve been told that I shouldn’t go up against the Police Officer Association. I’ve been told that people are surprised to see me at rallies and marches for our fallen brothers and sisters because I’m a candidate for supervisor - that candidates aren’t “radical” when they are running. What we are doing is not “radical,” we are seeking justice for the terror our communities face everyday -- there is nothing radical about seeking justice, it should be our responsibility, even when it is uncomfortable. It is my duty to stand for justice -- when my grandchildren are sitting on my lap and they read the horrific stories of Mario Woods, Amilcar Perez-Lopez, Alex Nieto, or Mike Brown and Tamir Rice, and look up at me and ask, “Abuelo, what did you do when they were killed?” I cannot bring myself to say, “Nothing.” It would haunt me if I didn’t stand up for justice in our communities; because I wouldn’t be paying the price of my absence and passiveness, my grandchildren will.

When I think of this, I am reminded of the powerful Navajo Proverb that reminds us of our responsibility to our children, “We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children.”

We win when we fight for the love of our people, not by hatred towards a system. I am stepping up to run because of the unconditional, radical love I have for the people in my neighborhoods. Our community is ready for fundamental change and I am ready to stand with them to achieve what we deserve. And let’s never forget that organizing is power for our communities, and that fundamental change will only come by organizing in unity.

May our brothers Alex Nieto, Mario Woods, and Amilcar Perez-Lopez Rest In Power.

Millions March in San Francisco, Dec 2014. Taken by Edwin Lindo

Millions March in San Francisco, Dec 2014. Taken by Edwin Lindo

So what actions must we take now?

Federal Civil Rights Investigation into SFPD. A thorough federal civil rights investigation must be conducted of SFPD, not one that only looks at procedures to provide recommendations. Substantive changes will only come with a consent decree.

Anti- Racist and Anti- Oppression Trainings of Police Officers. Our officers should not only go through implicit bias trainings, they should be exposed to Anti-Racist and Anti-Oppression practices to understand the effects of their actions and the devastating historic nature of racism and oppression in our communities.

Demilitarization of Police. We must require that our police department divest and return the excessive military weapons and equipment we have purchased from the federal government. Standards must be set, with community input, for when military grade weapons and equipment are used.

Revisit and Removing Discriminatory Gang Injunction. The San Francisco gang injunctions have overstayed their welcome and have served as licenses to harass communities of color. A prime example is this past Holiday Season when community organizations came together on 24th and South Van Ness to bring “Christmas In The Mission,” where toys, bikes, haircuts, and food were being given away. Soon after the event began, the police came to question and intimidate some of the individuals who were giving away free toys to children because they were supposedly on the gang injunction list. This has become another exercise of overcriminalization communities of color -- to a point, where toys and family fun couldn’t even be enjoyed.

Remove Secretive Grand Jury Process for excessive force. It has been rewarding to serve on the Bar Association of San Francisco Social Justice Taskforce where we address and recommend policy positions on a number of criminal justice issues, which include: transparent data collection, on-body cameras, police training & hiring, and the judicial process. One of the issues I’m proud to have been a part of with our task force is that of advocating for and lobbying for the removal of the secretive grand jury process in deadly use of force cases by police officers. We won this battle, but more is needed. We cannot allow secretive grand juries to decide police involved excessive use cases. As we see, overwhelmingly, officers are not indicted for the killings of civilians. But we need to eliminate the grand jury process entirely in excessive use cases, whether deadly or not, and bring those cases to the public jury trial process. This allows for more transparency and accountability.

African-american / Latino Community Oversight Committee. We must implement an oversight committee that is represented by and speaks for our African American and Latino communities -- the communities most impacted by police brutality and overcriminilazation. This committee should have authority to make binding recommendations

Use of force Standards. Use of force standards must be established to create consistency and proper protocol.

Independent investigation For Excessive Use Of Force incidents. Upon excessive use of force or deadly use of force cases, there should only be independent investigations and prosecution of the incident. Those independent teams should be equipped with sufficient and independent resources.

Stop Criminalizing Everything“Broken Window” laws and similar non-violent crime laws are a direct attack on communities of colors. On a local and state level, we are witnessing an increase in petty crime laws. Last year, California alone created 1,000 new crimes in the past 25 years. Reports estimate that officers spend less than 10% of their time on violent crimes and over 80% of their time

Diversifying The Police ForceIf hiring is to take place within the police department, there must be efforts to diversify the classes and recruits. Increasing diversity also increases perspective, with effective training as discussed above.

Effective On-Body Cameras. On-Body cameras are not the solution to all of our problems, but I am confident they will, if recording protocols are transparent, decrease the use of force by police officers. They will also create accurate accounts for us to see the truth of an incident - protecting residents and officers.

Collection of accurate data to expose the truth of our situation. Effective data collection will allow the police department, the public, and the city to see the true practices of the law enforcement agencies. The data will allow us to point to the disproportionate criminalization or harassment of certain demographics. Though we see and feel the disproportionate behavior, the data will draw a very clear picture on how severe it is and can be used as a tool to address poor behavior.

These proposals come from organizing on the ground with community advocates, brainstorming and researching with legal experts, and researching police departments that made similar changes and saw positive results. However, the first step for our department is to acknowledge that there is a problem. Once we reach that point, we can begin to heal and make progress.