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Police union targets black officer for vocal critique of racism in the department

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Sgt. Yulanda Williams. (Mike Koozmin/2015 S.F. Examiner)

A San Francisco police officer who publicly critiqued the department says she has been targeted by the police union for speaking out.

She now even fears for her safety while on patrol.

Sgt. Yulanda Williams was one of two black police officers mentioned by name in the series of racist text messages sent by a group of officers that emerged last year in court filings.

She’s also one of the only active duty officers who has publicly participated in the Blue Ribbon Panel on police bias formed by District Attorney George Gascon in the wake of San Francisco Police Department scandals. In addition, Williams is the head of Officers for Justice, an organization that advocates for black officers in the SFPD’s ranks.

Now Williams says she’s in hot water with the police union for speaking out.

The San Francisco Police Officers Association, which has pushed an agenda claiming no systematic bias exists among police ranks, has called out Williams specifically for her public comments on the subject.

In a Jan. 20 letter addressed to Williams and sent to the more than 2,000 dues-paying union members, President Martin Halloran wrote that the union doesn’t like some of the comments Williams made in front of Gascon’s Blue Ribbon panel on law enforcement bias.

“The POA is disturbed about some of your comments and accusations: For example, you claim that racism is ‘widespread’ within our department,” noted the letter. “The POA disagrees. While a handful of officers engaged in racist and homophobic text messaging — and were condemned for doing so by the [POA] and by me personally — there is no evidence that racism is widespread throughout the department.”

Williams told the panel on Jan. 14 that she has seen examples of bias in the department firsthand. Furthermore, she said the POA has been insensitive toward the black community.

“I’m black and I will never be blue enough,” Williams told the panel about how she felt after the racist texts were released. “I will never be able to prove to them that I deserve to wear the same uniform that they do.”

Williams, who works in the Richmond district, said because of the union’s letter she feels unsafe on patrol. She also wonders whether her fellow officers will support her on the street if her life is in jeopardy.

“It leaves me with a sense of uneasiness to the point that I am wondering how safe of an environment I might be in and if, when I call for backup, how fast will backup come.”

The union has been pushing its narrative of a bias-free department for some time, even paying for a commercial displaying the department’s “diversity.” Plus, the union pushed hard to defeat a Board of Supervisors resolution last year that supported Black Lives Matter protesters, saying the resolution conflated issues in places like Ferguson, Mo., with what happens in San Francisco.

Still, the letter did address Williams’ being targeted in the bigoted text messages.

“Yulanda, the references to you in the text message were disgusting. However, I find your testimony to the Panel to be largely self-centered and grossly unfair to the almost 2200 officers of this department,” the letter said.

But Williams says she feels the letter was an attack on her specifically — not simply another part of the union’s effort to make its point on an issue.

“It’s a personal attack against me and my constitutional rights of freedom of speech,” said Williams. “It sends a clear message that when you go against what they believe in you are then considered an outsider, an outcast and they attempt to slander your name.”

While she says she feels uncomfortable at work, Williams has yet to file a claim about working conditions.

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