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.
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.
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.
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 Force. If 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.