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Breed’s Police Commission picks draw criticism from Chinese community

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Mayor London Breed’s two nominations for the Police Commission will be heard by the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee Thursday. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Mayor London Breed is facing criticism for not choosing a Chinese American to serve on the Police Commission ahead of a vote on her nominations Thursday at a Board of Supervisors committee.

The mayor nominated former prosecutor Damali Taylor and community organizer Dion-Jay Brookter to serve on the commission last week. Sources with knowledge of the selection process said Breed also considered longtime Chinese community leader Rev. Norman Fong for one of the seats.

The Board of Supervisors Rules Committee is slated to vote on the nominations Thursday morning as pressure mounts over the lack of Chinese representation on the police oversight body. None of the sitting members are Chinese American or have close ties to the Chinese community.

“That’s a very valid and important concern considering that the Chinese population makes up… 30 percent of the residents of San Francisco,” Supervisor Sandra Fewer said of the makeup of the Police Commission.

Jeff Cretan, a spokesperson for Breed, declined to comment on Fong and the selection process but said the mayor is committed to working with the Chinese community on “all aspects of her administration.”

“The commissioners she has nominated have been reaching out to leaders in the Chinese community at her request to build and strengthen those relations,” Cretan said. “She wants them to be connected to all communities and the Chinese community is an important part of our city.”

Fong, the executive director of the Chinatown Community Development Center, declined to comment through a representative.

Critics of the nominations argue that elderly Chinese residents are known to fall victim to crimes like blessing scams and muggings on Muni and therefore need a representative on the commission. They also note the shortage of bilingual officers in the San Francisco Police Department.

“It’s my sense from speaking with a variety of folks in the community that there is disappointment,” former Police Commissioner Doug Chan, who sits on the Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach Board of Directors, said of the nominations. “This is a community that has a very strong and abiding interest in public safety.”

Chan called the situation a “missed opportunity” on the part of the mayor and the Board of Supervisors, which approved the appointments of Police Commission members Cindy Elias and John Hamasaki in June. Hamasaki filled the traditionally Asian American seat on the commission but is not Chinese.

The Rose Pak Democratic Club, named for the longtime Chinatown power broker, also expressed disappointment in the nominations. The committee is run by Jen Low, aide to Supervisor Norman Yee, and CCDC organizer Rosa Chen.

“While politicians like to lobby our base during elections, we are not offered meaningful roles in shaping policies that impact our day to day lives,” the committee said in a statement.

The statement urged the mayor to, “uphold her campaign promises to ensure real and valuable empowerment of our community not just token seats at the table.”

But critics stopped short of criticizing the candidates as individuals.

Taylor, a partner with O’Melveny & Myers, is a former prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and San Francisco District Attorney’s Office.

Brookter is a deputy director with Young Community Developers, which provides job training for youth in the Bayview.

Neither could be reached for comment.

While there are no Chinese American members on the Police Commission, the commission also lacks representation for the black community, which is disproportionately impacted by policing from arrests to police shootings. Both mayoral nominees are black.

“Go down to the jail and look, see who’s there,” Rev. Amos Brown, a prominent leader in the African American community, said of the racial disparities. “I think the two people they chose are excellent choices. They are connected with the community and they are professionals.”

The Police Commission is in charge of discipline and policy in the San Francisco Police Department. Its members have pushed for police reform in recent years in the wake of a racist and homophobic text message scandal among officers and the high-profile shooting of Mario Woods, a young black man, in December 2015.

Former Police Commissioner Angela Chan, of the Asian Law Caucus, said in an email she is most concerned about “ensuring that appointed commissioners are dedicated to providing vigorous, independent, and thoughtful oversight of the police department to prevent misconduct and corruption.”

“That is to the benefit of the community and SFPD,” she said. “Sadly, this hasn’t been the case over the years regardless of the racial makeup of the commission.”

Taylor and Brookter are the first nominations Breed has made to the Police Commission to replace former members Sonia Melara and Joe Marshall.

Then-Mayor Mark Farrell nominated Melara and Marshall for reappointment before the June election, but the Board of Supervisors rejected them amid concerns that the next mayor should decide on the seats. Melara and Marshall were also criticized for being too close to the conservative police union.

Farrell nominated Marshall and Melara a second time, but the board rejected Marshall again and Melara dropped out of the running.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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