Activists Demand San Francisco Defund Police, Reinvest in Black Community

“We will fight the whole system to fight racist injustices in our community.”

On Friday, an activist group called Wealth and Disparities in the Black Community held a press conference on the steps of City Hall and directed specific demands to the San Francisco Police Department, the Police Commission and the Department of Police Accountability in the wake of the recent surge of Black Lives Matter protests and conversations around racial justice.

The demonstration comes a month after George Floyd’s killing at the hand’s of Minneapolis police. In the immediate aftermath of Floyd’s death, protesters took to the streets in San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, and many more cities around the country, and the world, to call for an end to police brutality and systemic racism. As public protests inevitably wane from their early-June peak, actions such as WDBC’s June 26 press conference will be essential in the fight for meaningful change.

The group’s demands include de-funding the police and redirecting those funds to San Francisco’s Black community; implementing the federal government’s 272 recommendations for reforming the SFPD; and accountability for racist remarks made by the Police Officer’s Association and its members. 

“Where you spend your money shows you what you value,” said Kaylah Williams at the event. Williams is the co-president of the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club and founder of the San Francisco chapter of the AfroSocialist and Socialists of Color Caucus. “When we look at our budget in San Francisco, what do we see? Hundreds of millions going into the police budget to militarize and police our Black community in San Francisco. We are here to defund the police and immediately reinvest it into the Black community here in San Francisco.”

The first demand, redirecting police funds to the Black community, could be already underway, after Mayor London Breed and Supervisor Shaman Walton announced their intention to pursue such a policy. However, the amount of money diverted, and what programs it will fund, remain to be seen.

Phelicia Jones with Wealth and Disparities in the Black Community – Justice for Mario Woods speaks at a Black Lives Matter rally at City Hall on Friday, June 26, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Meeting WDBC’s second demand — the complete implementation of the 272 recommendations made by the U.S. Department of Justice — may be a little harder. As of March 2020, only 40 of the DOJ’s 272 recommendations had been fully implemented. 

The 2016 review was begun after then Mayor Ed Lee and former Police Chief Greg Suhr asked the DOJ Office of Community Oriented Policing Services to “assess the department’s policies and practices.” This request was made in regards to two separate instances of SFPD officers sharing racist, sexist and homophobic text messages, allegations of sexual assault involving an SFPD officer and several fatal and controversial officer-involved shootings.

Between May 1, 2013 and May 31, 2016, nine of the 11 individuals shot and killed by SFPD were people of color. One of these individuals is Mario Woods, a 26-year-old Black man who was shot and killed by SFPD in 2016. Fighting for justice for Woods and other victims of police violence is WDBC’s guiding mission.

Speakers at Friday’s event also brought up a 2016 incident where the San Francisco police union published a photo of a black labrador with a sign that said “Black Labs Matter” (referring to the dog breed) sitting next to another dog, a labrador with a lighter coat, with a sign that said “All Labs Matter.”

People hold signs to defund the police at a Black Lives Matter rally at City Hall on Friday, June 26, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

At the press conference, Phelicia Jones, the founder of WDBC, said the progress made on the implementation of the DOJ’s recommendations is “too slow.”

“The San Francisco Police Department, the Police Commission, the Department of Police Accountability, y’all ain’t working together to pass nothing,” Jones said. “This is why we must defund the police.”

Getting accountability and apologies from the POA, a notoriously polarizing organization, could be activists’ most difficult task. The POA frequently clashes with city officials and racial justice activists. Due to the POA’s track record, WDBC said in a release promoting their event that it does “not acknowledge any truth or sincerity in their current commitment to reform.” 

Racial justice advocates hope to see much more from the POA, the SFPD and the city government. 

“We will no longer allow the POA […] to indirectly or directly give racist statements, be racist to our people,” said Rico Hamilton, a speaker at the press conference who is involved with the Street Violence Intervention Program. “We will fight the whole system to fight racist injustices in our community.”

Benjamin Schneider is a news writer for SF Weekly and Hannah Holzer is an intern covering news and culture.

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