A federal judge has ruled that there is “substantial evidence of racially selective [law] enforcement by the San Francisco Police Department.” The holding came on Thursday in a drug-related case, and as several SFPD officers are under investigation for allegedly sending racist and homophobic text messages. That’s the city’s second police texting scandal, and after a record year for fatal police shootings, it serves as more troubling background to the reform efforts following the firing of police chief Greg Suhr.
US District Judge Edward Chen ruled in favor of 12 defendants arrested during Operation Safe Schools, a series of drug stings carried out in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood by the SFPD and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in 2013 and 2014. All 37 people arrested during the stings were black. The defendants maintained they were the victims of racial policing. Noting that ethnicities of drug dealers in the Tenderloin vary, Chen’s ruling signaled he would dismiss all charges if the defendants could prove civil rights violations, and allowed them to seek further information, presumably on the races of arrestees and the agencies’ profiling policies, from law enforcement for the next steps of the trial, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Trial evidence included video of an undercover informant declining to buy drugs from an Asian dealer and waiting for another one, who was black, before making a purchase, according to the Chronicle. In a second video, an officer involved in the sting could be heard saying “fuck BMs”—a law enforcement term for black men—the officer holding the camera offered a warning: “Shhh, hey, I’m rolling!”
The ruling “sends a clear message to the government that racial discrimination and selective enforcement will not be tolerated,” said San Francisco’s chief public defender Jeff Adachi. Adachi has said that if the information obtained by the defendants shows a pattern of racism, it could be used to seek dismissal in other criminal cases.
Under new interim police chief Tony Chaplin, the SFPD has undertaken several reform efforts. Recently, the city’s Police Commission unanimously approved a new use-of-force policy that mandates officers attempt to deescalate conflicts before using force. The department’s policies and practices are also under review by the Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing.