Last week two major reports demonstrated once more that San Francisco, regardless of its “progressive” façade, remains a city deeply anti-Black and anti-poor. The report commissioned by the San Francisco Public Defenders Office entitled “Examining Racial Disparities in Criminal Case Outcomes among Indigent Defendants in San Francisco,” and another report released by San Francisco’s Treasurer, José Cisneros, point to the deep institutional racism and class bias that exist in SF’s “justice” system. As the peoples’ movement has forced opened political space for such critical discussions to take place in the halls of power, what we see is that statistics validate the lived experience of the most oppressed and marginalized in San Francisco.
The first report by the SF Public Defenders Office is based on the review of 10,753 cases from 2011 to 2014. Based on the study, Black people on average spend 62 percent longer in jail than white people. In addition, they are 60 percent more likely to be convicted than whites. The report makes clear that these disproportionate rates are largely due to the handling of charges during the booking stage done by police.
Once again, such reports expose a truly racist organization, the SFPD. Not only do we know that they kill and get away with murdering Black people like Jessica Williams, Kenneth Harding, O’Shaine Evans and Mario Woods, they also give more serious charges to people of color during the initial booking stage. These heavier charges lead to heavier charges by the District Attorney and prosecutors largely due to the administrative automaticity of the cases.
As the study points out, “The additional felonies that are added by the District Attorney’s Office to the cases of [B]lack defendants can be explained by differences in police booking decisions. There appear to be certain booked charges made by the police that are more likely to cause an assistant district attorney to add further charges.” It should be noted that San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón has offered superficial statements on behalf of his office to family members and the community in the aftermath of SFPD’s long unpunished record of murders, while craftily maneuvering to take no public position that is politically unsafe to him and his career.
Racism of bail system
Along with facing a racist police force that has it out for Black people, the equally racist “justice” system then further exploits them through the anti-worker and anti-poor bail system. San Francisco’s Treasurer José Cisneros reported that the vast majority of SF residents post bail by paying a portion of their fees to be released. The residents are largely people of color and they pay up to $15 million in non-refundable fees. As the SF Chronicle notes, “In the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood, residents post more than 500 bonds a year, costing $1 to $2 million, the report says. Residents of the Tenderloin/Civic Center area post more than 350 bonds a year, totaling $1 to $1.5 million.”
In addition to the exploitative wage theft of capitalism, Black people and the poor are super-exploited by laws and fees such as these. Given that racist police forces are rampant in the United States and that the bail bond industry is a multi-billion dollar industry, it is not hard to imagine that this trend is a common one throughout the country’s major cities. Racism and white supremacy is in fact institutional and systemic.
July 22, “Mario Woods Remembrance Day”
These reports can be added to the horrific inequality faced by Black people in San Francisco. Not only did the population of the Black community drop from a high of 13.4 percent in the 1970s to less than 6 percent today. Those who remain have a median income of $27,000 compared to $89,000 for whites. This disparity is twice the national average. And for all the lip service, little has been done to reverse this trend. As always, it is the Black community and its allies that have taken matters into their own hands.
An event that united Black leaders and a wide range of communities and organizations was the horrific killing of Mario Woods. Woods, a San Francisco native and resident of Bayview-Hunters Point understood the link between poverty, racism and state oppression as noted in a video interview. Tragically, he was murdered in his neighborhood on December 2, 2015. The SFPD shot him more than 20 times. Through many marches, community forums, public hearings, the disruption of events in the lead up to the 2016 Super Bowl and a major hunger strike, the people were able to fire the notorious police chief Greg Suhr. The case made national headlines and initiated the federally run “Blue Ribbon Panel,” which issued reports on the racist nature of SFPD.
On July 22, San Francisco will have an opportunity to participate in the 2nd Annual “Mario Woods Remembrance Day.” The event will be held at Martin Luther King Jr. Park, 5701 3rd St. This day, a day officially recognized by the City of San Francisco, was won solely due to the enormous efforts of great organizers and community organizations that forced city officials to recognize the birthday of Woods. Mario Woods Remembrance Day, is a day to reflect and come together with others who are living the reality of the city’s racist, anti-poor policies. We must continue to build the power necessary to not only put a halt to the injustice, but to work to reverse the harm and compensate our Black family for the indignities forced upon them by this system.