Addressing Racial Bias in the District Attorney's Office

The NLGSF is a member of the Coalition for a Safe San Francisco. Below is an open letter from the Coalition.

Dear Office of the District Attorney, City Mayor, Board of Supervisors, Human Rights Commission and Police Commission:

We were troubled by recent reports of inflammatory statements made by a top Assistant District Attorney during a training for San Francisco prosecutors on the subject of 4th Amendment searches. Various media outlets have
reported that Assistant District Attorney Jerry Coleman chose to dress up in Middle Eastern attire and imitate an Arabic accent as part of a lesson comparing legal protections against searches in different countries.

This behavior is not only insulting but also unbecoming of an official who is obligated to serve community members regardless of race, religion or creed. We are especially concerned about these comments, given the fall out of similarly inflammatory statements made by George Gascón last year in his capacity as the police chief. Such statements from top decision makers in the Police Department and the District Attorney's office convey a message
to residents that those in particular communities are less likely to receive equal treatment from city agencies tasked with protecting and serving all San Franciscans.

The District Attorney's ("DA") office is supposed to be able to help protect community members from harm, and to hold accountable people that may harm SF residents. Instead, community members with heritage that is Middle Eastern (or misperceived to be Middle Eastern) are likely to feel even less safe as a result of such biased comments. If the very people that are charged with prosecuting those who would harm them are making sweeping
racist comments about their culture and heritage, this will undermine their sense of security and trust. We are very concerned that such views and policies will or already have trickled down to impact individual investigations and prosecutions, or worse, that such behavior is characteristic of generally accepted behavior in the DA office.

On February 24, 2011, the San Francisco Human Rights Commission ("HRC") adopted a report, Community Concerns of Surveillance, Racial and Religious Profiling of Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian Communities and Potential Reactivation of SFPD Intelligence Gathering ("the Report"). The Report is largely based on a September 23, 2010, HRC hearing on Racial and Religious profiling by SFPD, when hundreds of community
members packed the hearing room to share their stories and concerns regarding unconstitutional police activities.

On April 7, 2011, in a unanimous 10-0 vote, the Board of Supervisors voted to pass a resolution sponsored by Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, and co-sponsored by Supervisors David Chiu, Eric Mar, David Campos, and John Avalos, to endorse the HRC Report and its recommendations. A task force has been formed within the HRC to work on implementation of the Report's recommendations.

In a time of growing racial and religious hostility towards U.S. Americans from Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian ("AMEMSA") backgrounds, it is more important than ever that law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies in San Francisco take seriously their obligations to challenge racism as it appears, not cover it up.

Even though California is a very diverse and multicultural state, Islamophobic and other racist attacks against members of AMEMSA communities are on the rise. On March 8, in Elk Grove, California, an unknown person or persons gunned down two elderly Sikh men walking in their own neighborhood, presumably because the attacker believed that the Sikh men's turbans were symbols of Islam. In February, 2011, at a charity event held by an Islamic group
at a community center in Yorba Linda, California, a crowd of hostile people gathered to yell at, harass, and threaten patrons of the event, organized to benefit local low income residents. Even more disturbing was the participation and encouragement of elected officials in promoting the hateful protest rally, including local city councilpersons, and members of the state legislature.

Last week, the Federal government announced, in an effort to make amends to AMEMSA communities targeted by by racial and religiously discriminatory practices and policies, that it is removing all countries from the NSEERS special registration program list. This is a good first step to building trust and confidence with members of AMEMSA communities. We send this letter as a call to action, to ask your offices to take important state and federal Constitutional protections against racial and religious profiling seriously.

The serious concerns raised by complaints of racism and racial profiling in the DA's office and SFPD bring into question governmental compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination, and the International Convention of Civil and Political Rights, international human rights treaties which, having been adopted by the U.S., are, according to the U.S. Constitution, "the supreme law of the land." On August 29, 2010, California adopted ACR 129, to publicize these treaties and submit reports on compliance to the U.S. Department of State and to UN Committees administering the treaties.

Not only does racial bias in the DA's office violate international human rights treaty law, it also flies in the face of the spirit of local laws and policies that prohibit racial profiling.

The DA's office and the City now have an opportunity to demonstrate that they are serious about addressing racism and religious profiling in the City agencies, and upholding our local, state, and national governments' responsibilities to eliminate racism and protect the civil rights of all San Franciscans.

We are requesting that District Attorney Gascón, the mayor, and representatives from the Board of Supervisors meet with representatives of the Arab and Muslim community and the HRC task force implementing the Report recommendations to discuss appropriate ways to address racial bias in the District Attorney's office, and to discuss steps to move forward from this incident.

We look forward to working with your office to coordinate this meeting.


Coalition for a Safe San Francisco

CC: the San Francisco Chronicle, The San Francisco Bay Guardian, The San Francisco Examiner

Members, Coalition for a Safe SF
Alliance of South Asians Taking Action (ASATA)
American Muslims for Palestine (AMP)
Arab American Chamber of Commerce
Arab American Cultural Center Silicon Valley (AACCSV)
Arab American Grocers Association (AAGA)
Arab American Union Members Council (AAUMC)
Arab Cultural and Community Center (ACCC)
Arab Film Festival (AFF)
Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC)
Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Bay Area (AABA)
Asian Law Caucus (ALC)
Bay Area Somali Community (BASC)
Bill of Rights Defense Committee (BORDC)
Council on American Islamic Relations San Francisco Bay Area (CAIR-SFBA)
National Association of Yemeni Immigrants
National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Bay Area Chapter (NLG)
OMID Advocates for Human Rights
San Francisco State University Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Initiative (AMED)
UC Berkeley's Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project
United States Palestinian Community Network (USPCN)

Ally Organizations, Coalition for a Safe SF
Afghan Advisory Board
Afghan-American Bar Association
Afghan Elderly Association of the Bay Area
Afghan Professional Network (formerly Society of Afghan Professionals)
Afghan Cultural Center
African Advocacy Network (AAN)
American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California (ACLU-NC)
American Muslim Voice (AMV)
Bay Area Association of Muslim Lawyers (BAAML)
Coalition for Civil Liberties
Culture and Conflict Forum
Defending Dissent Foundation (DDF)
Iranian American Bar Association
San Francisco Immigrant Legal and Education Network (SFILEN)
Southwest Asian and North African Bay Area Queers (SWANABAQ)
South Asian Bar Association of Northern California (SABA-NC)