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Examiner column sparks protest by local groups

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Members of local community groups gather in front of the San Francisco Examiner office on July 28, 2015, to protest a column written by Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez. (Michael Ares/Special to S.F. Examiner)

When San Francisco Examiner staff writer and columnist Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez opined in Tuesday’s newspaper about the local Democratic Party’s weak-kneed approach to police reforms, he struck a nerve with some residents.

The column centered on last week’s decision by the Democratic County Central Committee to endorse a slimmed-down version of a resolution written by the Public Defender’s Office. Had the resolution in full been endorsed, it would have suggested the Police Department make every effort to have officers who live in minority communities patrol those same neighborhoods.

A version of the resolution at one point included a section saying: “The Police Department shall make every effort to assign patrol duty in minority communities to minority officers.”
However, that section was revised in the final version that went before the DCCC, then altered to read, “The Police Department should make every effort to assign patrol duty in black and brown communities to officers who live in those communities.”

Fitzgerald Rodriguez made no claim in support of the measure itself. His column said the DCCC bowed down to the politically powerful Police Officers Association union, along with well-heeled influences, and was concerned that only a fraction of the original resolution passed.

Still, the column prompted about 20 people to rally in front of the Examiner’s office Tuesday afternoon, arguing the piece supported “segregationist policing” tactics.
The protesters — from the A. Philip Randolph Institute and Aboriginal Blackmen United community organizations — demanded the Examiner issue a retraction.

“I think the column was supporting separate [but equal] and that’s a problem,” said James Bryant, western regional director for the Randolph Institute.

Protesters demanded the Examiner retract the story and issue an apology for publishing it.
Public Defender Jeff Adachi said the proposal came from his office’s Racial Justice Committee, which met with police brass and Black Lives Matter organizers to craft a nine-point plan for improving community policing.

“The one point of controversy I suppose is that officers who come from diverse backgrounds and diverse communities should be assigned to diverse communities,” Adachi said. “It makes a big difference when you have an officer who knows the community. They’re going to be much more effective at their job.”

Adachi also pointed out that the proposal has no binding effect and is “simply a policy document.”

Several protesters said the resolution’s language, however, would revert policing in The City to 1960s-era tactics, when segregation was legally sanctioned within the U.S. and enforced by police.

The Randolph Institute protesters also took issue with the resolution’s authors, who they said were two white women. But the resolution was introduced by Petra De Jesus, a Hispanic woman, and Hene Kelly and Kelly Dwyer, who are both white. And the nine-point plan was written by Rebecca Young and Chris Hite at the Public Defender’s Office, who are Asian and black, respectively.

“Our idea was to highlight what our Police Department was doing,” said Kelly. “Nobody said a word about why they took the whole thing out. The basic thing was the police chief can assign anybody anywhere.”

To read the Rodriguez’s On-Guard column click here.

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