Dayna Hill is a freshman hospitality management major.
In San Francisco, relations have recently been strained between law enforcement and communities of color, especially after two controversial shootings involving SFPD n the past six months. One of the shootings involved stabbing suspect Mario Woods, an African-American man. The situation was caught on camera, and critics accused the police of using their weapons too early on Woods. On May 19, San Francisco police chief Greg Suhr resigned due to questions regarding his leadership with the force. His officers were discovered exchanging racist and homophobic messages on top of the controversial shootings. Hours before Suhr’s resignation, SFPD shot and killed a woman by the name of Jessica Williams. Williams was suspected of fleeing from officers in a stolen vehicle. Her death caused tensions between the police force and the city’s communities to erupt, putting protesters right at the doors of city hall.
Upon the announcement of Suhr’s resignation, Mayor Ed Lee named Deputy Chief Toney Chaplin the acting police chief while the city searches for a new, permanent official to take on the position. Since Suhr’s resignation, questions have arisen as to what type of police chief the SFPD should hire and what kind of qualities they should possess to serve the community responsibly. City officials as well as members of the community are equally important in the selection of a new police chief.
Community support is crucial when choosing a new police chief, especially considering the public disagreement that arose with the previous standing officer. Lee chose to support Suhr, a USF alumnus, through the insulting text messages, as well as the controversial shootings involving suspects of color, despite the community’s outrage. Protests were held at City Hall by dismayed citizens; many carried the protest as far as going on hunger strike, putting their political values before their personal health. It’s difficult to truly please one hundred percent of the population, but the city can do better by hiring a police chief who has the leadership skills which embrace the culture of San Francisco, while also maintaining the safety of the community.
San Francisco has a diverse community that is accepting of the many races, religions, and sexual orientations which have come together to live in the city. A proper chief would recognize this diversity, and train his or her officers to cultivate a culture of tolerance and acceptance. A proper chief would train officers to avoid racial assumptions behind interrogating, arresting, or even shooting an individual. Any officer who is assumed to have acted upon racial motivation should be reprimanded accordingly, whether that be a demotion, suspension, or removal from the force.
The community should feel safe with their law enforcement. Law enforcement must protect people from harm, not make citizens feel as if they are in danger of being shot because of their skin color. Racial equality was first recognized during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. We are now in the year 2016; we should not have to doubt our safety as citizens of color in the United States. Officers should only be motivated to act when an individual harms the community or breaks the law. It’s about the quality of the individual’s actions, not their physical appearance.
Similarly, the police chief’s race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation should not matter for their job qualifications. The new chief should be evaluated upon their outlook on public safety. Additionally, it is important to examine the new chief’s past experiences with the metropolitan character of the city; their thoughts on communities of color are important when considering the diversity of San Francisco’s culture. History of the chief’s decisions on the homeless population is equally important as well. According to sfgov.org, the city had 7,539 unsheltered and sheltered homeless in the year 2015. Law enforcement ultimately handles the approach toward the homeless population, under direction of the police chief.
The community is calling for new leadership in order to implement police reform. They want a leader who can instill trust between the force and communities of color, so both groups can work in harmony with each other. We as citizens do not want to feel targeted, but rather safe and protected by our city’s law enforcement.