The year was 1987. A 17-year-old African-American boy named Carl Thomas was beaten unconscious in front of a crowd at a Halloween party in Virginia. According to authorities, Thomas had been threatening people, but he maintains that this wasn’t the case.
As Thomas’ ordeal played out, the San Francisco Police Department described him as having “sentropic outbursts of furious rage” and witnesses pointed to a spear sticking out of his back.
After Thomas was hospitalized, he was taken into custody and charged with three counts of assault. He was found guilty of just one count and sentenced to two years in prison.
Why the charges?
A police report detailed “hundreds of such incidents of volatile behavior by Thomas,” and claimed his previous behavior had landed him in psychiatric care.
“This is how people thought back then,” said then–San Francisco supervisor Angela Alioto, who pushed for a legislative change that led to these types of profiling reports becoming legal. “It takes even more courage to speak out now. It’s sad to say that at that time, you were called a criminal for something as heinous as destruction of property.”
Fast forward to today, and not much has changed. In San Francisco alone, black Americans face racial profiling and state-sanctioned violence at an alarming rate, according to a report released Thursday by the city’s own human rights commissioner, a move the majority of the commission voted against.
The report outlines racial disparities in the city’s policing in a decade-long investigation — the most comprehensive ever conducted in San Francisco.
Armed with court records, police report from the 1980s, neighborhood maps, city information and homicide records, the Commission found a trend in which white victims are more likely to encounter violent encounters with police than black victims.
“There is a consistent element in most police contact with young black males in this city where they speak about violence,” the report’s author wrote, adding that this is especially true of interactions where violence is not necessarily pointed out to the police. “This is the pain of stereotyping.”
Indeed, San Francisco and its other large American cities are plagued by unjust and disproportionate policing. According to the report, which specifically focuses on incidents since 2010, only 8 percent of reported incidents of police use of force against people of color in San Francisco were related to suspected criminal activity.
Over 5,000 people were arrested during that same period.
The study found that “in 2010-2016, 93 percent of the people stopped by San Francisco police, by far the largest number in the city, are white, but 79 percent of the people cited for possible felonies after the initial stop are black.”
And the police’s use of force is overwhelmingly against people of color.
A third of San Francisco police stops occur outside of bars or nightclubs. Minorities are 3.5 times more likely to be stopped on campus than white students, the report found. The commission labeled these “youthful indiscretions.”
Those numbers are on par with the majority of the study, which noted that racial inequity exists among local police forces nationwide, despite historical racial distrust.
According to a recent study, “Police violence has overwhelmingly affected people of color” and that “police targets minorities in a disproportionately disproportionate fashion to whites.”
At a public meeting Wednesday, when the report was released, commissioners spoke of optimism and progress. And according to the report, San Francisco is taking steps toward repairing the very relationships in racial disparity it laid out in its report.
The city has adopted new policies that it will call upon law enforcement to use when making stop-and-frisk determinations, and has created a task force to explore ways to improve these existing policies, as well as recently initiated a “case review” program in response to discrimination lawsuits.
“Progress is constant,” Alioto told The Guardian. “We are a good city, and every time someone speaks up, it changes the conversation.”
“[This time] we will speak out,” she added. “It was our duty.”
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Racist Halloween-night assault is an example of what black San Franciscans endure in their day-to-day lives