The pressure against San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr is ratcheting up, and it is unclear whether he can lead the force effectively with high-ranking elected officials now joining months of protests calling for his ouster.
Mayor Ed Lee has been steadfast in his support of Suhr up to now. The mounting pressure should force him to reconsider.
A group five of hunger strikers calling for the removal of Suhr ended their fast on Saturday, after 17 days, due to medical concerns, but that apparently was not the end of their fight. The night before violence broke out at City Hall, as protesters echoing the demands of the hunger strikers refused to leave the building. Scores were arrested, and numerous people were injured.
The past week has been a quick escalation of a dangerously serious moment for San Francisco.
Calls for reform of the San Francisco Police Department and replacing the chief stem from the controversial fatal police shootings by San Francisco police in recent years — most recently of Luis Gongora, a homeless man in the Mission District, on April 7.
The protesters have done their part to keep the issue burning and the pressure on. And now we may be seeing some results as elected officials find they can no longer sit on the sidelines.
Last week, Supervisor John Avalos issued a list of concrete suggestions to improve the SFPD use-of-force policies, including calling for a U.S. Department of Justice human rights investigation into department practices, establishing clear consequences for officers who violate procedures, and building connections with families of those killed by police. They were a direct result of the protests’ pressure.
This week started with a further blow to the troubled SFPD when District Attorney George Gascon announced results of a year-long independent study, finding the department biased in its policing of communities of color and lacking in holding officers accountable for misdeeds.
On Tuesday, Board of Supervisors President London Breed joined many of her colleagues in an unusually pointed session of grilling Mayor Lee on the speed and efficacy of police reform in San Francisco. “The community is in pain. Protesters are demanding the removal of the chief,” Breed said to Lee. “How do we bring The City together?”
Earlier Tuesday, when asked by the San Francisco Examiner about protesters’ call for Chief Suhr to step down, the mayor said something curious. Lee said, “I have never rejected it outright, but I have always said that I am not ready to make that change.”
For the first time in public, Lee seemed to allow for the possibility that Suhr’s days as chief may be numbered. Whether his comments were spurred by any change of heart or just the acknowledgement of Suhr’s approaching full pension and possible retirement was unclear.
Then on Wednesday, Supervisor Jane Kim became the first high-level city political official to call for the removal of Suhr. Her call was quickly seconded by supervisors Avalos, Eric Mar and David Campos.
“It is time to launch a search for a new chief who can implement fundamental reform,” Kim said.
Hopefully, the tide is turning and the pressure of the protests will bring needed change to the SFPD and to The City.