Community members gather for a community listening session hosted by the Human Rights Commission on what are known as pretext stops — traffic stops where police stop a driver for a minor infraction looking for something more serious. Photo by David Mamaril Horowitz
Community members gather at the Bridge Community Room in Potrero Hill on Nov. 9, 2022, for a community listening session hosted by the Human Rights Commission on what are known as pretext stops — traffic stops where police stop a driver for a minor infraction looking for something more serious. Photo by David Mamaril Horowitz


Terry L. Anders recalled one of the many times police pulled him over, telling him that his vehicle resembled a suspicious car involved in gang activity. After a search, they took him to jail, where Anders said he stayed for four to six hours in what police called “a detention, not an arrest.”

Police found nothing and sent him home. That would have been about 25 years ago. But Anders, a 78-year-old Black man who’s lived in the Bayview for more than 40 years and runs a nonprofit for at-risk populations, told Mission Local that it was one of well over 100 times police have pulled him over. Most often, they’ll tell him something is wrong with his car, or he looks like someone involved in a recent crime. 

It is those kinds of stops — called pretext stops, in which police stop a driver for a minor infraction while looking for something more serious — that the Police Commission would like to end. Data shows that Black and Brown drivers are disproportionately impacted by such stops. As the San Francisco Police Department revises its policy on traffic stops, some commissioners would like to disallow police from stopping drivers for a list of minor code infractions that can, instead, be ticketed by mail. Although such lists have been approved in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and in Virginia, the SFPD wants no list. 

Among the attendees, including a specific list of minor infractions in which police would not be allowed to make a stop was a no-brainer: Yes, there should be a list, they said.

“There are too many instances of being pulled over, personally speaking,” said Anders.

Anders said he sees pretext stops as both a parallel and a continuance of a history of Black people having their freedom restricted — from when slavery was the law of the land, to when the slaves were emancipated yet restricted, from moving where they wanted and were frequently pulled over, to the pretext stops of today.

“In my experience, there is no typical reason other than you are Black, so you are always mindful of the fact that the police, (with) the mindset they have, can pull you over for any particular reason at any given time, and would tell you any particular reason why they did pull you over,” he said in an interview after Tuesday night’s meeting. 

The sessions, run by the Human Rights Commission, are open to anyone, and this week Police Commissioner Kevin Benedicto attended both sessions, while vice president of the Commission Max Carter-Oberstone attended Tuesday’s. Anders was one of roughly 30 attendees — most Black, some young, some old — who spoke at one of the two listening sessions; one held Tuesday at the African American Arts and Culture Complex in the Fillmore, and the second at the Bridge Community Room in Potrero Hill. 

On Tuesday night, when the facilitator Cathy Mulkey Myer redirected the conversation to gauge support for the policy on traffic stops, some found the question absurd. 

“They want to ask us if we support stopping the police from harassing us?” said one of the attendees in reaction to a question about the policy. 

Accountability

Although statistical evidence already illustrates the racial disparity in such stops, some attendees suggested collecting even more data.

For example, Tracey — we’ll call her Tracey — wanted officers who bring in five Blacks and one white, to be accountable for why. And many were skeptical of police being accountable for anything. 

Carter-Oberstone told the group on Tuesday that the Police Commission is hiring a policy person who will “be able to help us do a lot of statistical analysis.”

Johnnie Ledbetter, an attendee at the Wednesday meeting, told Mission Local that if the pretext-stop policy is updated, he’d also like to see data that shows whether the new policy leads to progress, and he wants it publicized through the news media and community flyers.

In the 10-plus times that he has been pulled over, Ledbetter said that he recalls the officer immediately asking, “Are you on probation or parole?”

At the Wednesday meeting, Ledbetter spoke of the liberties he’s seen police take when they pull him over.

“Law enforcement, they tend to see what kind of music you’re listening to,” he said. “If you got registration up to date and everything, and then ask them, ‘what are you stopping me for?’ they pretend you’re getting smart, they get more aggressive.”

Ledbetter said he’s asked for a sergeant, only to be told to exit the car. When he said he didn’t feel safe leaving the car, Ledbetter said he was dragged out and told to stop resisting.

At the Wednesday meeting especially, the community members in attendance — all Black, and most of them residents of the 1101 Connecticut St. building in Potrero Hill — spent a long time dwelling on what they perceive as an overwhelming lack of police accountability. There was optimism and skepticism and, for at least one resident, a hopelessness that change would happen in their lifetimes.

Pamela Tanner, a resident of the Connecticut Street housing, expressed concern over how community members would know that officers violated a policy. Uzuri Pease-Greene, a Potrero Hill resident and the executive director of the Potrero Hill community nonprofit C.A.R.E., said that there needs to be a policy that informs people when police officers are disciplined.

“The community needs to know that there are consequences for officers,” Pease-Greene said.

Data, however, shows that officers are rarely disciplined. 

Lloyd Dilworth, a Pacifica resident who previously lived in Potrero Hill and the Bayview, is all too accustomed to being pulled over. He, too, doubted that would change in his lifetime.

“There’s no repercussions,” Dilworth said. “It’s going to go on, time and time again. We need to address the situation and keep on addressing it. It ain’t going to ever change.”

He caught himself.

“One day it might change for our kids, for my kids,” he said.

Residents uttered in agreement.

“I’m praying for it to change,” Dilworth said.

Education

At Tuesday’s meeting, one group recommended having the proposed new policy advertised on television and YouTube, said group facilitator Hatim Mansori.

The group also suggested that police help by handing out explanatory pamphlets during community engagement and during traffic stops.

Community members gather at the African American Arts and Culture Complex in the Fillmore on Nov. 8, 2022, for a community listening session hosted by the Human Rights Commission on what are known as pretext stops — traffic stops where police stop a driver for a minor infraction looking for something more serious. Photo by David Mamaril Horowitz.

Cecilia, a Western Addition native at Tuesday’s meeting, said her group recommended educating people on the policy changes through flyers, mailers and workshops at community centers and high schools.

“We can change the law, but police officers, a lot of the time, they take advantage of the person they’re stopping’s lack of knowledge about what the law is,” said Mansori as he summed up his group’s thoughts.

Trust 

Despite attendees’ clear distrust of police, it was evident at both listening sessions that residents wanted to improve the relationship between officers and community members.

Pease-Greene, one of the Potrero Hill residents on Wednesday night — and also a longtime community member of the procedural justice training required of SFPD by the U.S. Department of Justice — suggested that police invite community members to the police academy for honest conversations with officers while they’re learning and in training.

Cecilia, the Western Addition native, said her group recommended having police officers learn urban slang to help interact with youth.

“A lot of officers don’t have people skills — normal people skills, common people skills — how to talk to somebody,” she said.

Police commissioner Benedicto, who listened and answered questions with commissioner Carter-Oberstone on Tuesday, said after the meeting that residents want a clear policy. A few residents mentioned a need to appropriately and clearly define the exceptions, so that officers won’t be able to side-step them. 

“I think a lot of members of the community have undergone stops like this and have felt disrespected by what they perceive to be biased stops,” Benedicto said. “Hopefully this policy, if it reduces the biased stops, can improve that relationship.”

Toward the end of the Wednesday meeting, Pease-Greene glanced at two very young Black girls in the room.

“Hopefully, those little ones over there don’t have to have the same conversation we’re having.”

You can take the pretext stop survey here.

There are two remaining community listening sessions on Nov. 15 at the Samoan Community Development Center (2055 Sunnydale Ave.) and on Nov. 16 at Booker T. Washington Community Service Center (800 Presidio Ave.) from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

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David Mamaril Horowitz

David’s one of those San Francisco natives who gets excited whenever City College is mentioned. He has journalism degrees from there and San Francisco State University, graduating from the latter in May 2021. In college, David played five different roles as an editor at student news publications and reported as an intern for three local newspapers, mostly while waiting tables at the Alamo Drafthouse. His first job was at Mitchell's Ice Cream.

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  1. 1. Sometimes the person of interest looks nothing like the person pulled over.
    2. There are too many black and brown people arrested and jailed. The black population is around 5% of the city but the arrest rate is higher than their percentage of the population.
    3. CRIME IS PROFITABLE. POLICE, LAWYERS, JAILERS, JUDGES, AND BAILBOND COMPANIES ARE ALL MAKING PROFITS FROM THE STOP AND FRISK TACTICS.

    There’s too much of this in our “democracy”.

  2. If the police are stopping someone because they match the description of someone that was involved in a crime, they might be doing so because they have reasonable suspicion to believe that person was involved in criminal activity. That is not a pretext stop. And the policy discussed here, if passed, would not prevent the police from making such a stop. Mr. Anders, and the author of this article, don’t seem to understand that. The extent to which people do not understand basic elements of things like the fourth amendment is sad.

    1. Hello Mitch,

      We don’t say pretext stops are when a driver matches a suspect description. The transition in the paragraph you’re referencing could have been more precise, but people can figure this out because we define pretext stop in the sentence you’re talking about. The point of the example should have been clear — that being pulled over well over 100 times is a ridiculous thing and clearly impacted by race, and these are the kinds of stops the proposed policy change aims to reduce.

      Thank you for reading.

      Best,
      David

    2. @Mitch – “Matched the description of a suspect” is used a pretext stop all the time. “They might be doing so because they have reasonable suspicion” you say, but they might be full of shit.

      Familiarizing oneself with the basic elements of the 4th Amendment will enlighten anyone to the fact that “reasonable suspicion” is nowhere to be found, and “probable cause” was written with a much higher threshold than later interpreted by the SCOTUS.

      Justice William O. Douglas knew the Terry v Ohio decision was wack. Love that dude.

      1. It’s absolutely used as a pretext, I agree. My point was that Mr. Anders, and the author, seemed to be lumping that kind of pretext stop together with pretext stops involving minor vehicle code violations, and suggesting this policy will address them all. It won’t. I don’t think this policy would do as much to reduce or eliminate pretext stops as people seem to think. It falls way short of what is actually necessary.

  3. David, are you aware of a latest ruling by the Canadian Supreme Court re DWB? (Not that the American Supreme Court as presently constructed is concerned with injustice.)