Should police chef Bill Scott apologize to the black community?
Chief Bill Scott.

Should the San Francisco Police Department issue a public apology to San Francisco’s African American community? 

That was one discussion on the table this week during a police bias reform working group at SFPD headquarters, and the short answer is: Yes. 

Such a concept is not outlandish: The department in August 2019 undertook a multi-hour “reflection and reconciliation” session with members of the LGBTQ community on the 53rd anniversary of the Compton’s Cafeteria riots. During that August meeting, Chief Bill Scott apologized to the LGBTQ community for its historically bad treatment and listened to its members’ concerns. 

Some in the working group on Monday said a similar session should be held with members of San Francisco’s black community — though only as a starting point for more meaningful and active changes. In interviews, other community members largely agreed. 

Before you try to fix things, acknowledging you did something wrong is important,” Rome Jones, 21, a youth commissioner representing the Bayview-Hunters Point, said later in the week. 

“A statement and apology will resonate with a lot of people,” he added, mentioning the SFPD’s August apology to the LGBTQ community. “But I think the discrimination against black people has been longstanding as well — and there hasn’t been much of an apology, and I think it would do something.” 

Jones grew up on 3rd and Revere in the Bayview and his experiences with the SFPD have not been positive. “I still fear for my life every time I encounter police officers,” he said, noting that the San Pablo Police Department shot and killed his 16-year-old brother in 2009.

He added that if and when he is stopped by police in his own neighborhood, their first question is always: “Are you on parole or probation?” 

Jones is not an outlier. From October to December of 2019, black men were on the receiving end of 39 percent of the SFPD’s recorded instances of use of force; black people make up around 5 percent of San Francisco’s population. Likewise, black people comprised 38 percent of all searches in the time period and 28 percent of police stops. 

Rome Jones is a city youth commissioner representing District 10.

These numbers have persisted since the department began releasing them in 2016. 

“My initial reaction is apologies are great, but if that’s not backed up by action — it means nothing,” said Lyslynn Lacoste, the executive director of the Bayview-Hunters Point Mobilization for Adolescent Growth in our Communities, or BMAGIC — an organization co-founded by the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, aimed at helping youth and families in the neighborhood. 

Others agreed. If the use of force is not down among black people, why would you want Chief Scott to come and apologize to the community?” said Phelicia Jones, the founder of Wealth and Disparities in the Black Community – Justice 4 Mario Woods.

She suggested that the SFPD could begin showing its seriousness by demonstrating more meaningful progress on the 272 recommendations that the U.S. Department of Justice gave the department in 2016. 

As of October, the department had completed only 11 percent of those recommendations.  

The police “have to be held accountable,” Jones said. “If we’re saying we’re gonna do the work of the recommendations, we have to do the work of the recommendations.”

Rebecca Young, a senior trial attorney with the Public Defender’s Office and a co-chair of the office’s Racial Justice Committee, acknowledged at the Monday meeting that the police department is taking steps to address racial bias, but she noted: “I don’t know it’s being felt on the street.” 

She agreed an apology was in order but suggested a more involved process than one grand pronouncement. 

The city, she said, should form a “truth and reconciliation commission” that takes place in the black community. These kinds of commissions have been formed in countries around the world with histories of civil-rights abuses and are aimed at revealing and seeking to resolve those abuses. 

This could happen in the form of quarterly “listening sessions” — in which the police will listen to historical and current concerns in the black community, said Angela Jenkins, an activist with SF Interrupting Racial Profiling, who sits on the working group. The police should then apologize to the community following those quarterly sessions — every year until the situation improves, she said. 

The apology itself is meant to be directional,” she said, noting that SFPD leadership should state during these sessions how they intend to mend relationships. 

Informal apologies by the police have happened here and there at various meetings in recent years, Lacoste of BMAGIC said. “But if you still do the same kind of actions that cause the apology in the first place, why are we having this apology tour?” 

“An apology and an action plan moving forward,” she said, “I think the community does want to hear about that.” 

Chief Bill Scott did not return a request for comment for this article — nor did Tony Montoya, the president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association, the department’s union.  

But Acting Captain Yulanda Williams — speaking in her capacity as a vice president San Francisco’s NAACP chapter and president of the Officers for Justice, a union that has fought for equal treatment of women and minorities in the department — said she has wondered why an apology has not happened yet.

“I think it’s time the olive branch be extended,” she said, emphasizing that she was invoking her First Amendment rights in speaking with Mission Local. “We need to show we support reform, and if that means apologizing — that’s the least we can do.”

Williams said an apology should be accompanied by a greater change in the way police officers approach interacting with black community members.

“Not that we have to give up officer safety, but at the same time, we have to find a point in time when we blend in with the community,” she said. “The community really needs us at this point in time — they need to know they can trust us and we respect them.”

Julian Mark

Julian grew up in the East Bay and moved to San Francisco in 2014. Before joining Mission Local, he wrote for the East Bay Express, the SF Bay Guardian, and the San Francisco Business Times.

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17 Comments

  1. If black people commit crimes at 15x the rates of whites, but only get arrested at 10x the rate of whites, we definitely have a racist system but not in the way your typical San Francisco liberal thinks.

    So the one statistic that we never hear is: how much more likely are black men to commit a violent crime than other ethnicities? To what extent do their arrest rates reflect this reality? Why do we ONLY EVER talk about ONE SIDE of the equation?

    And keep in mind, I am not saying that is the case. And we may well have a police system that discriminates against blacks. But WE DON’T KNOW because the shoddy journalism and selective social ‘science’.

    1. Tables 41 through 43 of the DOJ/FBI annual unified crime statistics UCR will reveal all. Those tables indicate crimes by race. The author of this story will not want to look at that annual report. No, they won’t want to see that. 13% of the population, blacks, commit 53% of the murders, 51% of assaults and on and on. There’s 60 years of data for all to see, for free! No, this author will not want to see that

    2. Really I don’t think those percentages are correct, however could they be? Whites in San Francisco are committing just as much violent crime, or any other type of crime as any race in the city. And they are always speaking on the discrimination, and profiling of black people because it’s the most common

    3. Your point is well taken & their is an element of truth in what you posted, but submit these journalists who give you stats perhaps seek to look for answers themselves & challenge the public at large to do the same, are the most wide read & boast the largest following Even EuroAmericans who may e slightly biased against black folk, but hope for a better tomorrow cringe at the thought of themselves or there children reading racist journalism like ” stormfront “

    4. There is also the issue that police aren’t necessarily going after different types of crime on an equal basis.

      We sometimes see crime statistics on how many arrests the SFPD has made for crimes like assault, burglary, homicide, etc., as well as for things like prostitution, drug sales, and weapons possession which are not even real crimes because there are no victims.

      I suspect the SFPD devotes far more likely to devote their resources to these kinds of “street” crimes, which tend to be committed by relatively poor people, who are more likely to be African American, than to “white collar” crimes such as embezzling, mail fraud, overcharging customers, failing to properly deliver on government contracts, etc., that tend to be committed by relatively wealthy people, who are more likely to be Caucasian.

      When was the last time you saw any SFPD crime stats on people arrested for financial crimes? It seems likely that the police system may be discriminating against poor and black folks in a major way that nobody is talking about, because the press is not paying attention to police priorities on this “meta level”.

  2. When any law enforcement organization, SFPD or otherwise, responds to any one individual or groups’ bad or dangerous, threatening behavior, why should they apologize? Frankly, as a white native San Franciscan, there are areas in my City that I would not venture into because those areas, like parts of the Bayview, are very risky. LOTS of homicides on a very regular basis, drive-by shootings, etc. etc., mostly involving the ‘black community’. Who responds to those horrible situations? SFPD, of course. This is why ‘racial profiling’ goes on still, and will continue. No community of people, be they black, brown, yellow, white are inherently bad, but some groups just seem to have a larger group of ‘bad apples’ that make it hard for EVERYONE, no matter what color. No apology needed to the black community, but how about one from them?

    1. The public places in San Francisco that I would feel most afraid to enter are public places where there are police officers restricting entry, whether it’s a building, a parade route, a party or event, or just some part of a public street, park, plaza, or what-not.

      I would feel safer walking by the Sunnydale apartments at night than walking into such an SFPD-guarded place, even if it were a place my tax dollars helped pay for and they had no legitimate reason to keep anyone out, because their organization seems to have enough “bad apples” that I would worry one of them might harm or try to kidnap me, even though it would be a grossly disproportionate response to someone merely attempting to use a public space.

      I’ve seen some of them respond with threatening behavior and even physical violence when people don’t immediately follow their orders, even when those orders are plainly unreasonable. And of course there have been many SFPD homicide victims such as Mario Woods, Alex Nieto, Idriss Stelley, etc.

  3. I have a sneaky suspicion that blacks make up more than 6% of violent crime in SF. Can somebody post those numbers. Talk about disparity.

  4. May I please give you one White woman’s position on this?

    Regarding the shooting tragedy of Mr. Jones’s brother. The role of the police is to apprehend suspects and take proper actions so that the suspect can appear before a judge for proper legal review and due process. Anything less is a failure.

    But we live in an imperfect world and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

    Did Mr. Jone’s brother get shot because he was Black, or was he shot because he just took part in an armed car jacking and was fleeing from the police, first in the stolen car and then on foot? During the foot chase he ignored repeated commands to stop. During the car jacking one of the suspects fired rounds towards the house of the family that was peering out the window.

    So I think it is awful that his life ended that day, but if we could just stay away from armed car jackings….the likelihood that something terrible will happen goes up dramatically when you commit an armed crime and then run from the police.

    1. In response to ” one white woman’s position on this ” I LOVE the way you begin your post with a seemingly nuetral “devils advocate ” ambiance, indeed, an enlightened liberal &then end sounding quite stuffy & Victorian, & yet in your zeal to exonerate the police force for gunning down a 16 year old boy never once did you provide a justifiable reason for their actions he “took part”? Or was he there? Neither action justify his death, while on foot he ignored “commands” to stop. Any kid of any race would have most likely done the same thing, One of the suspects fired rounds at a family peering, clearly it wasn’t him for you surely would’ve let that be known. Yes I think it’s more than awful his life ended that day, & even more so that he was shot in the back, don’t you” white woman who enthusiastically wants her position to be known “

  5. African Americans commit 85% of the strong arm robberies in San Francisco according to an article on SFGate. Will the African American community apologize for that? Of course not. Not all African Americans are committing crimes. It is ridiculous. It is the same as not all police officers are targeting us.

  6. Rome’s focus should be on fixing the fatherless, welfare-dependent, crime-ridden, broken black communities of SF, Oakland and Richmond.

    I’ve spoken with several of my North Beach and Chinatown neighbors across a diverse group of racial and socioeconomic backgrounds….many are terrified of the groups of black youths that run around the area causing disturbances, intimidating and harassing elderly people. These kids have zero accountability in their lives as they have been born into generations of poverty, prison and government dependence. While I feel empathy for them, I’m also on guard when a group of them approaches my family on the street.

  7. It’s time to make the criminal take Responsibility for his or her actions regardless of skin color! The city needs to stop with this BS and they need to get a real DA that can get the job done unlike the one they have now. Criminals need to start paying for their crimes and in SF all they do is get a slap in the hand or are found to be incompetent! Total bull shit!

  8. Hmm, police go where the crime is and the stats back that up. But if it’s an apology tour that’s being called for, will someone in the black community apologize to the asian community for all the black on asian attacks? Has any black politician done this because it hasn’t been reported.

  9. I think seeking a blanket apology now is misguided, putting form far above substance. A apology now while unaccountable force continues, will only stoke more anger and resentment when future incidents of wrong officer behavior happen. And they will happen.

    SFPD has a large reform agenda on its plate. As the article points out, apologies are being given now when specific incidents occur that SFPD takes accountability. That’s a result of some reforms being put in place. Once enough reforms are thoroughly embedded into the culture and practices of SFPD, a blanket apology will be meaningful and truly sincere. Realistically, that will take decades.

  10. SFPD should not apologize to the SF Black community. Every White police officer should. And as a Black man I apologize for a lot of the crime one of my now late brother has committed in San Francisco.

  11. all police officers would be made less ignorant of black people by working with black children the innocent people. So when they are in the presence of black adults they would remember the children and how wonderful they are. and not hurt the adults they children love and depend on.

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