While San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott continues to sound like a progressive leader of a police department in public comments, data from a recent KGO/ABC 7 investigation shows that Black people continue to be pulled over by SF police at a much higher rate than white people — and higher than even a few years ago.
According to newly compiled data between 2014 and the first quarter of 2020, Black people in San Francisco were 4.4 times more likely to be stopped by a police officer while driving in the city than white people in the last two years — and that is up from the period between 2014 and 2017 when they were three times more likely to be pulled over.
Also, Black residents make up 25 percent of the total traffic stops made in San Francisco, despite only comprising around 6 percent of the city's population.
"A lot of innocent African Americans have been stopped over the years, based on a hunch or for no reason at all, and mainly because they're black," says Oakland-based civil rights attorney John Burris, speaking to ABC 7. "That is a horrible thing."
The data extends to police searches, with Black men being almost five times as likely to be searched by SF police than white men between 2018 and 2020.
Chief Scott tells the station, "We are not done yet. We have a lot of work to do in that regard." Scott has voiced his support for reducing the police department budget and making substantive changes. "We’re at a time in policing in this country where the whole world is speaking to us, and we need to hear what’s being said," he said back in June, per the Chronicle.
ABC 7 did a similar investigation of police data in Oakland last week, and found that between 2015 and 2018 (apparently the only recent years for which data was available) Black men were eight times more likely to be stopped by police there than white men, and three times more likely to be pulled over than Hispanic men. In Oakland, Black people make up 23 percent of the population, yet they comprised 55 percent of all traffic stops during that three-year period.
One Oakland resident, Najari Smith, tells the station that he was pulled over, arrested, and put in jail for two nights in August 2018 just for playing loud music while leading a youth bicycle group on a ride honoring the memory of Nia Wilson, the young woman killed at the MacArthur BART station the month prior.
When asked why he thinks he was arrested, Smith says, "Bicycling while Black, existing while Black... it's the reality here in America."
Burris calls these unnecessary stops "insulting" and "an infringement on [Black peoples'] personal dignity."
Following the death of George Floyd this spring, and the subsequent protests and Defund the Police movement, the city of Berkeley took the progressive move to propose a new city department that would handle traffic stops — taking this duty out of the hands of armed cops. It would be called the Department of Transportation and would be responsible for all "routine" traffic stops, and the city is beginning a public engagement process on the proposal. The city council has also voted on a goal of reducing the police department's budget by 50 percent.
"Most traffic stops don't really warrant a police officer," said one of the people behind the Berkeley proposal, Darrel Owens, the co-executive of local non-profit East Bay for Everyone, speaking to ABC 7 in July. "A minor traffic violation should not [result] in the murder of a black or brown body, but at the same time we can also re-examine the nature of punitive law enforcement and broken windows policing that makes traffic enforcement so deadly to begin with."
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