SFPD stations will hang Black Lives Matter posters
Protesters gather at Mission Station on Saturday, 5-30-20. Photo by Julian Mark

San Francisco police stations will soon display large “Black Lives Matter” posters, a move intended to show the police department’s “support for Black lives” and willingness to form policies to curb the SFPD’s ongoing disproportionate policing of the city’s Black community.

The Police Commission voted 5-0 Wednesday to pass the resolution that also commits the department to “make bias-free policing a reality” and improve its use-of-force policies. The department continues to disproportionately use force against, stop, and search people of color — especially Black people — according to department data.  

“This resolution is a small gesture to show that our department stands in solidarity for Black lives,” said Commissioner DionJay Brookter, who introduced the resolution. 

Despite overwhelming support from all five commissioners — as well as Chief Bill Scott — the San Francisco Police Officers Association objected to the move in a letter sent to the Department of Human Resources before the meeting on Wednesday. The union said it had “serious concerns” about the move, fueled by some officers contacting the union “expressing concern over the matter.” 

“Police stations are places for the citizens of San Francisco to seek help and assistance when they have become victims of crimes,” wrote Rocky Lucia of the Rains Lucia Stern St. Phalle & Silver law firm, which represents the union. “They are not places for political endorsements or alignment with political organizations.” 

Having read the letter earlier in the day, the commissioners expressed their disgust. “I don’t understand it,” said Vice President Damali Taylor. “I don’t get why the letter talked about it being political speech, which is absolute horseshit.” 

“If you have such a visceral reaction to a poster that says Black Lives Matter,” Taylor continued, “I want you to search your heart.” 

Chief Scott made it clear that he supported the move. “The department is fully committed to this resolution,” Scott said. “Black lives do matter and they matter to this police department.” 

In fact, it was Scott who had to ban officers from wearing “Thin Blue Line” COVID-19 face masks that the POA distributed to officers in early May. The masks were criticized for being symbolic of the “Blue Lives Matter” movement, which is a counter-protest to Black Lives Matter.  The masks were, indeed, political statements — and they were not approved by the Police Commission, which is the final authority of over department policy. 

“This letter is another reminder that the POA simply does not get it,” said Commissioner John Hamasaki. 

Although the resolution received overwhelming support, observers of the SFPD’s reform effort reminded the chief and the commission that commitment to the Black Lives Matter movement should not stop at hanging a sign. 

Brian Cox, a deputy Public Defender, said that the move must be followed with reforms that actually protect Black lives. “And these reforms should happen immediately,” Cox said. “Reform can’t take years and years while Black folks continue to be overpoliced and over prosecuted.” 

Indeed, in the first three months of 2020, Black men were on the receiving end of 31 percent of the department’s use of force — more than half of that force was officers pointing their guns at the Black men, according to department data. Meanwhile, white men were on the receiving end of 20 percent of the department’s force. Black people comprise only five percent of the city’s population.

While force continues to be used disproportionately on people of color, the department has not committed a fatal shooting since shooting and killing 21-year-old Jehad Eid in March 2018 at a barbershop in the Excelsior. However, an SFPD officer shot at and missed a Black man seemingly charging toward the officer in the Tenderloin in April of this year. 

Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Policy 

The Police Commission on Wednesday also passed a tentative version of a policy that will require police officers to provide interpreters to people who are Deaf and hard-of-hearing.

Although the policy passed unanimously and with little deliberation among the commissioners, the policy was more than two years in the making — a fraught process that began in late 2017 with complaints that a deaf domestic violence survivor had been wrongfully arrested because she couldn’t communicate with officers.

The delays rankled advocates and police commissioners in a process that they criticized as “dismissive” and emblematic of the SFPD’s reform process writ large.

And still, even with Wednesday’s vote, the policy remains unimplemented — as it now must be reviewed by the San Francisco Police Officers Association during a “meet-and-confer” session. Through these meetings, the union can weigh in on policy can drag the process on indefinitely if there are disagreements.

Nevertheless, policy experts, advocates, and commissioners were relieved that policy cleared the major hurdle as the commission voted 5-0 (with two unfilled seats) to pass it onto the union’s review. “This is a big deal,” said Paul Henderson, the director of Department of Police Accountability, which kicked off the policy-making process in November 2017. “When we talk about an inclusionary agenda for public safety, it’s legislation like this and decisions like this that make a difference.”

A central component of the policy requires officers to provide a “communication card” that allows a Deaf person to point to their preferred method of communication, such as American Sign Language or a pen and paper. An officer must provide that form of communication, including an interpreter. The card also allows a person unable to communicate through speech to point symbols indicating what the person may need help with.

“This is just the beginning,” said Samara Marion, the DPA’s policy director, explaining that policy also commits the department to implementing the Language Line app on the officers’ cell phones, which can call up a video American Sign Language interpreter on-demand.  

Since 2015, the DPA received seven complaints from Deaf individuals about negative interactions with police, according to Marion, who helped to write the policy and spearhead the reform effort.

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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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  2. Are the posters promoting Black Lives Matter the for profit organization or is it just a statement? Cause the city shouldn’t be promoting any kind of political organization. If they are promoting the statement that black lives matter then who cares? Promote away.
    I would like to see signs for LGBTQ as well.

    1. Seeing as how BLM is a NON-profit movement, yours is obviously a trick question.

      Secondly, the SFPD and their unions have always OPENLY supported political organisations and candidates running for office. (Have you never seen a political ad in your life?)

      Finally, the SFPD did fly rainbow flags every PRIDE year… until they were banned from the (non-existent) parade this year, as the PRIDE organisers stood in solidarity with BLM. (That, and the SFPD’s long history o harassing and attacking LGBTQ+ people almost as much as Black people).

    1. It is time to re-form police. Hanging up signs is a start but we must re- educate and talk about our biases.
      All lives do not matter until Black lives matter. Let us become allies and hold space to truly listen and learn. Be curious and ask questions. Learn about others. Lead with our hearts instead of our egos. When we do this, ALL lives will be better than they are now. Love is the answer- period!
      Have compassion!

  3. Everybody should watch police commission meetings to get a feel for who they are before any judgement is made on any matter regarding the police. If I am not mistaken it is a violation of the police general orders to display anything political anywhere in a police facility. The General Orders would have to be changed before this signage could be implemented.

  4. The commission could change the name to the Department of Black Lives Matter for all I care if they could just get the police to actually do things like arrest criminals, bust drug dealers, and hand out some traffic tickets.

  5. Wh does the police commission get RO decide that Black Lives matters, which is a political statement, is ok to hang in the district stations, but controversial all lives matters, Hispanic lives matters, asian lives matters, blue lives matters is not?

    All they did was find a way to “punish” the police department. You then went on a rant about how you believe the Pd is racist for not wanting to display the poster. No. The station is a neutral ground and this is a political statement you are forcing the stations to condone. Irregardless, it’s the same as the stations displaying blue lives matters- which is not allowed and frowned upon. The officers also ant display thin blue line flags- which they have abided by. But now you’ve come in saying they SHALL display black lives matters. That is a political statement that not all people rally around because some find that some groups have used that slogan while they cause property damage and loot stores- just like how you’ve all stayed that some groups have taken the blue lives matters/thin blue line slogan and used it during their anti BLM protests.

    No politics should be displayed in the stations to further anyone’s agenda, or you need to be fair and allow everything to be shown. You do not get to pick and decide which one is “better” and which one is not “racist”, because a lot of people believe in the blue lives matters movement too.

    My life matters just as much as black lives matters. This is a slap in my face.

    1. If you can’t agree that BLACK lives matter, then you DON’T really believe that “all lives matter”. The only reason you (or anyone) have a problem with the term “Black Lives Matter” is because you don’t believe those three simple words.

      The only “slap” is your own prejudice hitting you in the face.

      1. While I agreed with the original movement behind black lives matters, a small subset of people took that slogan and used it to further their political agenda. I personally do not agree with some of the goals of black lives matters. This does not mean that I don’t believe all black lives matters, or that I am racist.

        I have watched in person as hundreds of the protestors from some of the BLM protests, which started off peaceful to promote their movement, turned to hate. I watched propel carrying BLM signs vandalize store fronts in San Francisco, loot stores of their merchandise, damage small businesses( a lot of then owned by persons of color- of which I am. I am a person of color.) I watched as some of those people shouted derogatory terms at officers that were making sure those people could protest peacefully.

        BLM now supports defunding the police based on the actions of some officers. They want to fully defund the police department, abolish other departments, based off the actions of a few. Yes, there are some bad cops. There are a whole lot of good cops as well.
        I joined my police department to be a part of the change. Change starts from within. We are hiring. We could always use more good cops. There should be more training and more oversight in order to root out the bad cops. Too often, officers are given basic training and then left to their own devices.

        No. I do not support all of the goals of BLM. I do not support defunding the police department. I do not support the hate that some BLM protestors throw our way. I do support that their lives matter.

        Let me ask you this. Where was the outrage from BLM when that innocent black child was murdered in the Bayview by a black man? Where were the protests? There weren’t any. His life mattered.

        BLM is now a political statement, just like the thin blue line. I don’t show any political support while on duty, and I don’t believe we should be promoting these signs in the stations when they publicly support defunding the police department and lumping all officers as bad.

        You want to be ignorant and call me a racist? Go ahead. I explained why I don’t fully support the movement, because I don’t believe in all of their goals. I believed in the beginning of the movement, not what it has turned into.

        1. No, I’m calling you a racist because you’re a racist – one who doesn’t adhere to fact

          FACT 1: PoC – Black people in particular – are disproportionately more likely to be profiled, harassed, and killed by police.

          FACT 2: BLM’s message has been to combat that discrimination and has not changed since those three words were uttered.

          FACT 3: Black people have ALWAYS been complaining about the violence in predominantly-Black neighbourhoods, only to get the cold shoulder from cops, politicians, city officials, Washington, the press, and everyone in the entire world. The only time – and I mean THE ONLY TIME – White people ever give a shit about it is when they want to use it as a bad-faith means of justifying White people (mostly cops) killing Black people.

          Then you complain about Black people getting angry about the lack of support from you? To quote 2Pac’s “They Don’t Give a Fuck about Us”:
          “I toldja last album/
          We need help ’cause we dyin’/
          Give a chance/
          Help us advance, ’cause we tryin’/
          Ignored my whole plea/
          Watchin’ us in disgust/
          Then they beg when my guns bust/
          They don’t give a fuck about us”

          And yeah, 2Pac once shot two (off-duty) White cops who were harassing a Black motorist with their service revolvers.

          FACT 4: the “violence” at the recent worldwide BLM protests has, in each incidence, been instigated BY THE POLICE.
          (Vox: “The protesters had to deescalate the police.”
          Deadspin: “I Watched Dozens of Cops Race Past My Whiteness to Assault Blacks in Times Square”
          The Daily Beast: “Minneapolis Police Launch ‘Unprovoked’ Attacks on Protesters”)

          FACT 5: I’m Black and I come from a family full of cops and military… all of whom have have been harassed and attacked by cops at one point or another. Yes, even the ones who were cops. ‘Cause when the uniform comes off, they’re still Black, and that alone is a something police consider a threat.

          So don’t go playing the victim are crying about mixed messages for things that have remained clear FROM THE VERY BEGINNING. The same anti-Black violence from police that led tothe NAACP, Martin Luther King, and the Rodney King uprising is the same anti-Black violence from the police that has led to BLM.

          YOU are not the victim. YOU are the problem. And yes, you ARE racist.

          1. That’s cute. Since I don’t agree with you I must be “racist”. Since I don’t fully agree with blms message I am “racist”.

            Nice try. Don’t lump all cops and all white people into one category. That’s actually very racist of you, not all white people are the same lol. Just like how not all black people are the same. Until you understand that, and you understand that skin color doesn’t make someone act the same and doesn’t make them racist.. you just won’t understand. And that’s ok. You are ignorant, and you need to educate yourself.

            By the way, the news only reports on what it wants to report on. You will rarely read a news story on the good things cops do. You will barely find a news report regarding the shootings that have been going on in the city lately, and the suspects race will not be covered. There’s barely any news coverage on the innocent black child that was murdered. Barely any news coverage on all of the murders in Chicago. If you dig around, you’ll find it.

            But hey, continue to call me a racist and stay ignorant.

  6. Jeez, this is hardly surprising. Does anybody in his/her right mind think the San Francisco Police Commission is remotely fair … or even approaching balanced?

    There are two vacant seats that will probably never be filled due knee-jerk Progressive politics. Commissioners John Hamasaki and Petra DeJesus seem to harbor such deep-seated contempt for police officers. Sadly, they are not alone on the Commission.

    “The mission of the Police Commission is to set policy for the Police Department and to conduct disciplinary hearings on charges of police misconduct filed by the Chief of Police or Director of the Office of Citizen Complaints, impose discipline in such cases as warranted, and hear police officers’ appeals from discipline imposed by the Chief of Police.”

    Should we add “and require the Police Department to display politically correct posters in precinct stations” to that list?

    1. All law enforcement even in liberal cities like Minneapolis, San Francisco and Berkeley are criminal gangs of racist Republican thugs but the police unions are the worst.