The San Francisco Police Department is officially seeking a new leader now that Chief Greg Suhr announced his resignation Thursday. Hours earlier, a local officer shot an unarmed 27-year-old black woman sitting behind the wheel of a stolen vehicle as officers attempted to arrest her.
Mayor Ed Lee asked Suhr to resign after local unrest due to multiple officer-involved shootings and scrutiny for excessive use of force.
"The progress we've made has been meaningful, but it hasn't been fast enough — not for me, not for Greg," Lee said. "That's why I have asked Chief Suhr for his resignation. And in the best interest of the city he loves so much, he tendered his resignation earlier today."
Lee isn't the first to question Suhr's leadership. Edwin Lindo, a candidate for the city's District 9 supervisor seat, was on a two-week hunger strike to pressure Suhr to step down, in response to the city's issues with police brutality following several noted deaths at the hands of SFPD officers:
- Alex Nieto, 28, was racially profiled in his own neighborhood after a new resident reported him for suspicious activity and police mistook the Taser on his hip for a gun, in March 2014.
- Mario Woods, 26, was shot 20 times while holding a knife in December 2015.
- Luis Gongora, 45, was a homeless man who was reported in April for holding a knife. Officers shot him seven times within 30 seconds of approaching him.
The name of the young woman shot by officers this week has yet to be released, but yesterday's shooting was only the latest example. "This is a systemic problem," head of the San Francisco chapter of the NAACP Rev. Amos Brown told ABC News. "You cannot lay that at the feet of one person."
Implicit bias in policing is real and has serious consequences
In addition to the string of fatal confrontations, the SFPD is also facing two separate racist texting scandals.
At the end of April, Suhr was pressured to released the full transcripts of texts exchanged between a few of the department's officers. Among the texts were photo caption challenges regarding a city fire as "Korean BBQ," LGBTQ slurs, and messages mocking officers shooting black people. The latest texting scandal emerged as the Department of Justice probed the department about other racist texts that surfaced a year ago.
Suhr then announced that all officers in the department would be required to complete anti-bias training, and assured that the officers' activities in the recent scandal were "the actions of a few" in his department. But these circumstances are neither novel nor inconsequential.
The police brutality and texting scandals in San Francisco reflect a shared mistrust of police among citizens, especially among people of color, due to racial bias. In Los Angeles County, the sheriff's chief of staff, Tom Angel, recently resigned over racist emails profiling Muslims and racist jokes about Mexicans and African Americans.
Following the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, at the hands of local police officer Darren Wilson, the US Department of Justice launched an investigation of biased police practices there. Not only did the report yield a history of disproportionate punishment against Ferguson's black citizens, it also revealed several racist "joke" emails, including those that compared President Barack Obama to a monkey.
Studies have shown these attitudes have a direct impact on policing. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology revealed that white, male officers largely tend to dehumanize African Americans. Research has also shown that racist stereotypes make it far more likely for Americans to mistakenly shoot a black person comparison with a white person.
The San Francisco District Attorney's Office is already reviewing 4,000 cases that are connected to the officers involved in the first texting scandal. Another 200 cases will now be added to the docket.
"For the last many months, every day, I have asked myself, 'Is the path to reform best advanced by our current department leadership?" Lee told reporters.
For the SFPD, Suhr's resignation may be a start. But it is just the first step to repair the broken relationship the department has with communities of color who are witnessing one example after another that show their lives can be readily taken by those tasked to serve and protect them.