San Francisco police commissioners seeking community input on proposed revisions to policies governing police use of force got what they asked for when a meeting on Wednesday was hijacked by group of angry protesters who offered their own take on what police reform should look like.
The young men and women, who entered the San Francisco City College’s cafeteria about 20 minutes into the meeting, accused the commissioners of putting forth “toothless reforms” and continuing to allow officers to act with impunity.
“We are taking over this meeting,” said Chris Rudd, stepping away from the podium where speakers were allotted two minutes each to give their input during public comment. “This is our meeting now, because we already know that they don’t care.”
Rapper and community activist Equipto called the community takeover of the meeting “beautiful.” In May, he was one of five hunger strikers who refused solid food for 17 days while calling for the ousting of then-chief Suhr and camping out in front of Mission Police Station at 17th and Valencia streets.
“The famous word is ‘reform,’” said Equipto. “They said the same thing to us many times, but we don’t have time for that. We want to see accountability.”
Following a string of controversial police shootings that most recently claimed the lives of an unarmed 29-year-old woman from the Bayview in May and a homeless man in the Mission, two revised versions of the policy were offered up for discussion.
Both proposals aimed to restrict officer’s use of force as a last resort, but varied in degree. The commission is likely to vote on the final revisions on June 22 following another community meeting.
But many of those who spoke out during the two-hour meeting said that they don’t want to see officers reaching for their guns at all. Instead, they called for de-escalation tactics to take priority in the general order’s revision, and demanded that consequences for officers involved in police-killings be included in the language.
“If there are no consequences for officers [written] in that ‘use of force’ policy, you won’t be able to stop any action prior to something going wrong,” said Darrell Rogers. “You must put some kind of meat behind every one of those statements.”
Following the December 2015 shooting of Bayview resident Mario Woods, police tactics have been heavily scrutinized. In May, former Police Chief Greg Suhr resigned after months of community protests calling for him to step down. Many are still focused on the Police Commission.
“I don’t think the citizens of San Francisco can take a Police Commission seriously until the racist, trigger happy cops that have murdered people for last two years and before are brought to justice,” said Jim Smith.
Drea Nieto challenged Commission President Suzy Loftus on the deaths at the hands of police officers.
“Since the drafting of [these revisions] two people have been killed. How are you being held accountable, Suzy?” Nieto asked Loftus, who directed the department to update its ‘use of force’ policies in December.
Loftus did not immediately respond, although she did sit down with community members after the meeting ended.
“I think it’s important that we get all perspectives,” she said then, adding that the meeting showed that many members of community viewed its structure as an “impediment to being heard.”
Loftus said that given the community’s distrust of the police, she is open to restructuring future community meetings.
“We can have more casual conversations, and we should do that as much as possible,” she said.
Police Commissioner Petra DeJesus called the criticism “good.”
“Sometimes it takes some yelling at to get it,” she said.
Acting Police Chief Toney Chaplin said the protesters were selling themselves short by taking the focus away from the ‘use of force’ revisions, which are meant to serve as a step towards ensuring accountability within the police department.
“They’ve got the attention but they are not willing to negotiate,” said Chaplin, though he did add that he agreed with some of the points brought up during public comment.
“I think that people are right on point talking about [that officers] should not be responding to some of these mental health folks,” he said.
Commissioners adjourned the meeting prematurely as the “disorder” continued, without reaching a decision about which version of the policy was preferred.