With the backdrop of a country in flames over the issue of police brutality and San Francisco’s own slow progress in implementing reform, the Rules Committee of the Board of Supervisors voted 2-1 to reject Mayor London Breed’s two moderate nominees for the Police Commission.
It was a dramatic conclusion to a seven-hour meeting in which mayoral appointees Nancy Tung and Geoffrey Gordon-Creed were grilled by the supervisors and then sat through hours of public comment in which they were occasionally lauded for their public service and keen minds — but mostly found themselves belittled, called mediocre or accused of being cozy with the police.
It was clear from the onset that Supervisor Hillary Ronen, the chair of the committee, would not settle for adding moderates to the Police Commission. By the end of the meeting, her rage was clear.
“I, like the people screaming in the streets, want to see real radical change,” said Ronen. Added District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar: “I would support Supervisor Ronen’s motion to reject the nominations. We need police commissioners that can be bridge builders, but particularly that can have the trust and really deep relationships with the communities most affected by our criminal justice system.”
Only District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani, who represents the Marina, supported the mayor’s two nominees: “Are they the perfect people for the community who has been involved? Probably not,” Stefani said, clearly exhausted and worn down by Ronen’s impassioned arguments. “But are they the people that can get this done? People who are passionate and people who are focused and people who have shown them to be people who care about the community? ” Clearly, Stefani and the mayor believed that to be the case.
In the end, the supervisors voted 2-1 to remove the word “approving” from the “motion approving/rejecting” Tung and Gordon-Creed for four-year terms ending April 30, 2024. The Police Commission nominees next go before the full Board of Supervisors, where each will require six votes to be confirmed — as opposed to nominees on some other commissions, in which eight votes are required to reject a mayoral appointee.
The path to confirmation would appear to be steep.
The meeting might have gone differently a month ago, but in a post-George Floyd world, the mayor’s moderate nominees proved inadequate. The vote will surely be viewed as a challenge to Mayor London Breed’s vision of the seven-member Police Commission, which votes on reform measures and considers police disciplinary cases.
Ronen set the tone at the start of the meeting. “The bottom line is, our policing in the United States of America has to fundamentally change,” she said. “Our broken criminal justice system can no longer operate as is. We need a radical change.”
San Francisco’s reform efforts have been neither radical nor swift. Only 40 of 272 federal reform recommendations made in 2016 have been completed, Nancy Beninati, the state Deputy Attorney General supervising the reform effort, wrote in a March letter to Police Chief Bill Scott.
The same letter referred to the “persistent disproportionate use of force against African American and Latino individuals.”
Ronen and other commentators raised questions about Tung and Gordon-Creed’s ability to effectively propel the reform process forward.
Tung, who came in third in the District Attorney’s race as the field’s “law and order” candidate, and Gordon-Creed, a private attorney who has served on the Ethics Commission and in the City Attorney’s office, proved far from radical in their responses to Ronen’s questions.
Ronen asked both nominees to name the racial justice organizations that they had met with after being nominated to the Police Commission. The Rose Pak Democratic Club, both responded. That was it.
Commentators were incredulous that the nominees had not met with the many groups working on police reform issues or engaged directly in the SFPD reform process that has been underway since 2016.
It did not help that Tung had taken a $500 contribution from the conservative Police Officers Association during her run for District Attorney. Nor did it help Gordon-Creed that he could not recall the details around key police shootings and legislation.
“I’m sure he is a good lawyer and has great intentions,” said Sunset resident Patrick Kirby, referring to Gordon-Creed. “But he very clearly doesn’t have any experience necessary for this role. And, as he told us here today, he doesn’t know enough about two of the most brutal and well-known SFPD killings in recent years to even form an opinion on them.”
Neither nominee thought that the officers responsible for the December 2015 shooting of Mario Woods or the officer-involved shooting of 29-year-old Jessica Williams, in May 2016, should have been prosecuted. District Attorney George Gascón reached a similar opinion — but Tung also rejected the suggestion that the officers should have been fired. Gordon-Creed could not recall enough of the details to have a fully realized opinion.
While some of the more than 100 commentators called Tung’s views “layered” and “complex” or referred to Gordon-Creed as having a good analytical mind and being a good friend, the majority of commenters found them wanting.
Alison Silking, who described herself as an Asian American resident of San Francisco, said, “ We need independent commissioners to hold police officers accountable who do not have long-standing cozy relationships with the police, who advocate for policies that will protect all vulnerable communities against the use of force, not drive it forward.”
At the end of the long meeting, Stefani defended her support for Tung and Gordon-Creed, arguing that she was taking the mayor’s advice and that Gascón had not filed charges against the officers involved in the Mario Woods case because the legal standard at the time had made it impossible.
Now, she said, AB 392 has changed that standard. Earlier, officers were entitled to use force when it was “reasonable.” Now they can only use deadly force when doing so is “necessary in defense of human life.”
But Ronen was having none of it. “When George Floyd was killed, you and both of our candidates had no problem saying that they should be prosecuted and fired and perhaps officers who were just standing around and watching should be, too,” she said. That was not the case with Mario Woods.
She reminded Stefani how “Mario Woods was shot down by officers while he was up against a wall holding a kitchen knife while the entire thing was being recorded, when no one with common sense could possibly believe after watching that video that six officers couldn’t take down one man with a kitchen knife and instead had to shoot him dozens and dozens of times.”
She understood Tung saying she would not have prosecuted because of the legal standard, but she failed to understand why Tung would not have fired the officers or why Gordon-Creed “did not have an opinion.”
“That is not good enough for me,” Ronen said. “Enough is enough. It is time to stop killing black and brown people.”
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