Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Department of Justice Begins Review of San Francisco Police

Acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California Brian Stretch, left, speaks next to San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, center, and San Francisco Chief of Police Greg Suhr during a news conference regarding the San Francisco Police Department Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, in San Francisco. The U.S. Department of Justice launched a review of the San Francisco Police Department, an agency facing scrutiny over the shooting death of a young black man and the emergence of homophobic and racist text messages exchanged between officers. Photo: Ben Margot, AP / AP

On December 2, 2015, 26 year-old Mario Woods was shot to death by five officers of the San Francisco Police Department. The police said Woods, a suspect in a stabbing incident, possessed a knife which he would not put down. This supposedly prompted the officers to fire at Woods. Bystanders captured the shooting on video. According to them, as well as the video, Woods was not holding a knife and had his back against the wall.

Since Woods was black and the officers caucasian, many civil rights groups have become involved in protests against the police department. Woods' family has since filed a civil rights lawsuit for wrongful death. Many local residents and civil rights groups, have called for the federal government to look further into the case, particularly the video footage. In response, the U.S. Department of Justice has launched a review of San Francisco's police.

This event is particularly relevant considering how close the shooting was to us. We hear stories of police brutality and discrimination in other states, often across the country. For some, the concept of a corrupt or racially biased police force may seem far-fetched considering the diverse area in which we live. Think about our interactions with police officers up until now. For many of us, the only police officers we've dealt with have been those who work at our schools, be it middle school or here at Aragon. Some of us may have visited a police station for a volunteer exercise or for Boy Scouts—something along those lines. For these cases, the officer was most likely friendly and seemingly harmless. This definitely plays a role in shaping our views of police. This is not to say that we are not influenced at all by the news we hear of police brutality, nor does I mean that we are completely unaffected by events that occur more than a block away from our homes. I just think it is an interesting point to consider.

What about you? What are your thoughts on the matter?

We just learned about the recent growth of the media, particularly electronic media and the use of the Internet as a means of informing the public. What effect does this growth have on coverage of police-related stories? Do you think police brutality has truly increased, or has this issue become more apparent due to the current nature of the media?


Juliana Stahr said...

I really like your post TJ! I strongly agree with you. Yes, we see awful police shootings on the news and believe this could never happen to us. Because we live in such a diverse community, even more so. I believe the situation is terrible, however, the bottom line is something needs to change. Is it creating stricter rules? Is it better training? In my opinion, I believe that we are all a little racist. The larger problem, as the New York Times suggests, are the people "who consider themselves enlightened, who intellectually believe in racial equality, who deplore discrimination, yet who harbor unconscious attitudes that result in discriminatory policies and behavior." I think that rather ignoring the fact that racism exists, we must confront it. In various training programs, I strongly incentivize police agencies to talk about racism in their trainings and educate officers on the consequences of succumbing to quick, unconscious beliefs. We need to address the issue rather than avoid the issue and this has been our mistake all along. This is why the media craves these types of stories is because these mishaps keep reoccurring and no congressmen seem to want to discuss the issue. Receiving CNN notifications on the hour on a smartphone is interesting. There are both pros and cons to such access. Knowing the what is going on in the world is helpful in staying updated with current events and staying educated about our daily problems. That, however, can be disastrous when the same police-related stories keep reappearing on these notifications. The general public, because of the thousands of stories that have been reported, are beginning to protest in the streets and are asking for reform. I think this greatly pushes Congress to prioritize certain bills over others, however, chaos such as the Ferguson riots can also result. The Ferguson riots were awful and many people died and many homes were lost as a result. We need to remember that we are one nation and that we must work together and not against each other. Sometimes the media has that power in pitting certain groups against each other rather than supporting each other. The media will go a long way for more viewers and often the negative attention tends to lure them in. Lastly, I think police brutality has decreased over the years. I think the media's constant coverage of police brutality sometimes skews people's perceptions of today's more prevalent issues. I do think the media should cover these stories, but not to the extent that they do. We want to spread awareness of the police brutality, not spread hate or racism. Sometimes, the public turns the media's message into a race or a competition rather than an issue that America needs to fix with the support of the people.


Crystal Lee said...

One thing I agree with Juliana on: TJ, great post!

Juliana–Let me illustrate police brutality as I see it. The continuation of our bigoted society from years in the past. People of non-white, non-Christian, non-"standard" or non-privileged backgrounds suffering, largely in silence, as they were repeatedly worked against by the people who were not only supposed to work with them, but also protect them. They could not speak out. What authority figure would listen to them? Who would they go to? The police? Then, a specific story of brutality reaches the public eye. The national eye. It gains national attention. Finally, almost, they have a way to fight back. There is hope. Story after story after story floods the news. When will it stop? Why is Congress not acting against police brutality?

I don't think the answer to this is to lower the amount of media coverage of police brutality.

I'll grant you that there are many other important topics; I would dispute that they are necessarily more important, or even unrelated. How do we fight ISIS/ISIL when our racism, yes, in our police force, helps push ever more people towards extremism? How do we make solid immigration policy without involving people's racist tendencies; would these immigrants even be safe in a country where police both have immense power and, as it would seem, immense capacity to abuse it? Does police brutality help push more minority youth onto a worse path, thus worsening the wealth gap as these people come out of prison with little to no way to make a living on their own anymore without turning back to crime? Are we supposed to make an "economy that works for all," in the words of Bernie Sanders, without considering the very racial elements of our current wealth distribution and the factors that contribute to it?

I understand that the riots are terrible; they are dangerous things that harm more than they help. But WHY do people riot? Maybe the "media" (I use quotes because, as Mr. Silton mentioned, it's a little bit of a vague term these days) aggravates sentiment, creates more room for people to bond and fight back, even if those methods aren't the greatest. But there has to be sentiment in the first place. There has to be that hidden anger, that boiling emotion under the surface. This is a slightly flawed and definitely controversial statement, but if this is the price of addressing the issue and coming to a solution, should we not accept it? Rather than putting a lid on the expression of the issue by limiting media coverage, shouldn't we put a lid on the problem through other methods?

Also, finally: I know that I've spent most of this comment basically disagreeing with you, but I'd also like to add my two cents of appreciation for your connection between not addressing the issue and Congressmen almost being afraid to talk about it. Honestly, it's not what I thought of as a Congress-solvable problem before, and your statement gave me a new point of view on the issue. Thanks!