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Judge finds “substantial evidence” of even more racial discrimination by San Francisco police

Racial bias in policing isn’t isolated — it’s systemic.

The San Francisco Police Department is facing numerous racism allegations.
The San Francisco Police Department is facing numerous racism allegations.
Justin Sullivan via Getty Images

It just got a lot harder for the San Francisco Police Department to deny allegations of racism: A judge ruled on Thursday that there was “substantial evidence” of racial discrimination displayed in the department’s handling of drug stings.

US District Judge Edward Chen refused to dismiss claims of police racism filed by 12 black people facing drug charges after being arrested in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Records show police officers were overheard making racist references to black men and women. Evidence also showed selective arresting practices, including a videotape of officers arresting a black woman just after allegedly refusing a drug sale offer from an Asian-American woman nearby, whom they did not arrest.

“The evidence shows there are substantial numbers (and a substantial proportion) of drug dealers in the Tenderloin who are not African American; yet they were not stopped or arrested,” Chen said.

If found guilty of their actions in the Tenderloin, the officers in question could face dismissal. But recent scandals plaguing the department show these issues aren’t isolated — they’re systemic.

A series of officer-involved shootings and scrutiny for excessive use of force led to the resignation of former San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr last month. The department is also currently under scrutiny for two separate racist texting scandals.

Sure, these allegations make the police department look bad. But the racial biases Judge Chen identified have real consequences in policing and impact how police interact with the various communities they are expected to protect and serve.

The police brutality and texting scandals in San Francisco reflect a broader 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, resigned days before Suhr 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 into biased police practices there. Not only did the report yield a history of disproportionate punishment against Ferguson's black citizens, but 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 in general to mistakenly shoot a black person compared with a white person.

The San Francisco District Attorney's office was already reviewing 4,000 cases that are connected to the officers involved in the first texting scandal. Another 200 cases are potentially being added to the docket for the second scandal.

Before his resignation, Suhr announced that San Francisco’s law enforcement officers will be required to undergo anti-bias training. As more evidence surfaces, that may be the least the embattled department can do if it wants to save itself.

Watch: The racism of the US criminal justice system