Activists and community members gathered in front of Mission Police Station on Monday afternoon called on the San Francisco Police Department to prohibit its officers from using weapons and force of any kind against civilians for the next 90 days.
Representatives of organizations advocating for homeless rights and against police brutality supported the moratorium and also called for a state of emergency declaration on the aftermath of a string of controversial police shootings in recent years that resulted in citywide protests and the ousting of former Police Chief Greg Suhr in May.
“Every 28 hours someone who looks like me is murdered in this country by law enforcement, security guards, and vigilantes – that’s an emergency,” said Bilal Ali, a human rights organizer with the Coalition on Homelessness, who is black. “Brown, poor and disabled people are targeted also – This is a [Hurricane] Katrina in a way.”
The activists’ radical demand for police disarmament stipulates that officers refrain from using “all use of force” in any line of duty, said Lisa “Tiny” Gray-Garcia, co-editor of Poor Magazine, who spearheaded the push for the moratorium.
Two officers watched over the protest at the corner of 17th and Valencia streets from the opposing street side, but kept their distance.
“They weren’t obstructing the sidewalk and they were peaceful, so we let them have their time,” said Mission Police Captain Daniel Perea about the protesters, but declined to share his thoughts on what impact disarming his officers for the next three months would have.
“Don’t have your employees carry weapons to kill us,” said Gray-Garcia through a megaphone pointed at the Mission’s police station.
The first of five meetings in a “community process” led by the San Francisco Police Commission seeking public input on the “qualities and characteristics” of San Francisco’s next police chief was held in the Bayview Monday evening.
While acknowledging that the moratorium would likely not be granted, Gray-Garcia said that community involvement in shaping the ongoing reforms to a police department in the midst of its search for new leadership is critical.
“We do believe that just like the people were able to get Greg Suhr fired, the people could demand at least a break in the killing of our black, brown and poor children and families,” she said.
Since Suhr’s resignation, the position has been filled in the interim by Acting Police Chief Toney Chaplin, who for the first time since stepping into his new role expressed interest on Thursday in taking on the job permanently – to the chagrin of the protesters.
“We hear that Chaplin wants the position, and 90 percent of City Hall agrees that he, as a ‘good’ Black chief, is a damage control measure,” said La Mesha Irizarry, mother of Idriss Stelley, who was killed by police in 2001.
Working to address police misconduct, Irizarry founded the Idriss Stelley Foundation in her son’s honor and has rallied behind the more recent shootings of Bayview and Mission community members. “But we are going to expose his report card today.”
Irizarry decried Chaplin’s move to suspend community meetings held after police shootings under Suhr’s leadership. Chaplin declared these meetings, held to ensure greater transparency for the public, “unproductive.”
“He is not that progressive cop – the first thing that he did when he was appointed interim chief was to suppress the community forums,” she said. “He has no intention of replacing them.”
Irizarry said that neither Chaplin nor any other applicant would be fit for the position of Chief of Police unless the department is subject to a complete overhaul.
While some officers have recently been equipped with body cameras in an effort to ensure greater accountability in encounters with the public, Irizarry said these would do little to address police brutality, and called for “systemic changes.” She and other activists demanding the moratorium stated that they would ultimately like to see the police department dismantled entirely.
“Unless we get rid of the problem, a new chief isn’t going to do anything,” said Darrell Rogers, of the Justice for Mario Woods Coalition. “What we have is a police department that’s totally out of control, with no kind of regulations on them, and they’ll remain that way no matter who becomes chief.”
Others too, were hopeful that the activist’s demands will affect true reform within the police department.
“A 90-day moratorium on use of force is actually the norm in certain places,” said Lisa Marie Alatorre, of the Coalition on Homelessness. “Even asking SFPD and city to take this seriously is a way for us of asking everyone to take seriously a paradigm shift in [policing].”