A police union advertisement claiming that San Francisco police officers don’t racially profile is being blasted by a black officers association as “inaccurate” and a “denial of any responsibility” for what they have called systemic racism.
The ad campaign comes after a rough year for the department that saw several high-profile police corruption convictions, and then a racist text scandal that involved a handful of officers who sent bigoted text messages to one another.
Early last month, the radio ads that argued San Francisco police do not racially profile appeared. The advertisement is part of San Francisco Police Officer Association’s efforts to counter misinformation about The City’s police force, said union head Martin Halloran on television.
Over the past year, as Black Lives Matter activists have put police conduct front and center in the national conversation, the POA has reacted, framing much of the public debates over police use of force as anti-law enforcement sentiment. The POA even helped defeat a supervisors resolution on the subject late last fall because the organization said the language made it sound as if San Francisco police are racially biased.
But the department’s black officers association, Officers for Justice, say the ad and the POA’s efforts to combat negative public opinion of police, will only serve to create more distrust.
The “message being publicized is brash, callous, overbearing and inaccurate,” said a Sept. 6 letter sent to the POA by Officers for Justice.
“The selected words, voice and dialogue comes across as telling the community what they need to know as an indisputable ‘matter of fact.’ It demonstrates a lack of experience in conferring with minorities, reflects denial of any responsibility for strained relationships with members of the black and brown communities; this verbiage will continue to lead to additional misunderstandings,” the letter stated.
The letter went on to say that there are better approaches to building trust in communities of color. That means admitting there is systemic racism that exists in the department as it does in many other places.
“Marty, I urge you to reconsider airing this message, for I think that the damage it will cause will put us all in a harsher situation than we are already facing,” wrote OFJ President Sgt. Yulanda Williams.
Halloran replied with his own letter Sept. 10, saying that union leadership had polled the general membership and the majority backed the ad. He added that Williams’ letter was only her opinion, and not proof there is racial profiling in San Francisco.
He then pointed out that the ad would be aired without any changes and that it would not negatively impact police officers.
“The POA did not conduct community surveys before making any of the aforementioned statements in the past year, and our message is clear. The POA message cannot be based on surveys or polls. The message must be what the membership and the Association believes — not simply what the public wants to hear,” Halloran said in the letter.
Black people make up 6 percent of San Francisco’s population. According to the San Francisco Police Department’s analysis of arrest records from 2009 to 2014, black people were 47 percent of all people arrested.
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