July 24, 2015
Charlene Muhammad is Special to the NNPA from The Final Call.
A recent study of ethnic disparities in San Francisco’s justice system shattered the notion that the racism and economic injustice against Blacks by police, courts, and the officials in St. Louis, Missouri is isolated to predominately small municipalities.
The W. Haywood Burns Institute for Juvenile Justice Fairness & Equity authored a near 300-page report titled, “San Francisco Justice Reinvestment Initiative: Racial and Ethnic Disparities Analysis for the Reentry Council.” The June 23 study was commissioned and released by the San Francisco City and County Reentry Council.
Researchers examined arrests, bookings, pretrial release, and convictions and sentencing.
“We weren’t surprised to find racial and ethnic disparities in the system in San Francisco, but the extent of disparities is something that’s noteworthy,” said Laura Ridolfi, director of policy for the Burns Institute.
“In 2013, there were a disproportionate number of Black adults represented at every stage of the criminal justice process. While Black adults represent only 6% of the adult population, they represent 40% of people arrested, 44% of people booked in County jail, and 40% of people convicted,” the report indicated.
It further stated that in 2013, Black adults were more than seven times likely as White adults to be arrested, and despite a significant overall reduction in arrests rates in San Francisco arrests of Blacks to Whites was increasing.
“One of the things that we noted in San Francisco that’s important for stakeholders to take notice is that we also found significant disparities in bookings to jail and disparities in convictions,” said Ms. Ridolfi.
Specifically, the report indicated, Black men and women are 11 times as likely as White adults to be booked into County Jail, and although 39 percent of Blacks with prior felonies were eligible for pretrial release compared to 26 percent of Whites, White adults were more likely to be released at arraignment.
“I think it sort of illustrates that this is a problem that starts with the first point of contact, which is law enforcement, but it’s a problem that all stakeholder partners have a role in fixing … I mean the decision makers that have discretion in who goes into the system and who doesn’t,” stated, Ms. Ridolfi.
“Our hope is that the decision makers in San Francisco will take a closer look at their internal policies and practices and how they’re disparately impacting people of color,” Ms. Ridolfi told The Final Call. The Burns Institute’s real hope is that the analysis provides a clear call to action for those responsible in the justice system to develop strategies that promote equity and reduce disparities, she added.
The institute’s study of race and ethnic disparities in San Francisco is part of the ongoing Justice Reinvestment Initiative through the Bureau of Justice Assistance, which is a leadership development and grant-funding arm of the U.S. Department of Justice, according to Ms. Ridolfi.
Their findings of discrimination against Blacks aren’t the first, noted Dorsey Nunn, co-founder of the All of Us or None Prison Advocacy Organization and executive director of the San-Francisco-based Legal Services for Prisoners with Children.
“We’ve been in this conversation about them dogging out Black people for 30 years,” Mr. Nunn stated. People talk about how liberal San Francisco is supposed to be, but as with the national trend, Blacks’ contact with the criminal justice system isn’t neutral, he said.
“Like when they say mass incarceration, they probably should be saying racial mass incarceration, because it would be as crazy talking about slavery assuming it was a race-neutral effect. It’s the most glaring practice of marginalization and racism that they can point to currently in this era,” Mr. Nunn told The Final Call.
That’s in part why he and other activists across the state helped research the “Not Just a Ferguson Problem” report, after the Justice Department issued a scathing indictment of St. Louis city officials, courts and law enforcement treatment of Blacks, Mr. Nunn said.
According to “Not Just a Ferguson Problem,” low-income Californians are being disproportionately impacted by state laws and procedures related to driver’s license suspensions. Increased fines and reduced access to courts leave more than four million Californians with suspended driver’s licenses and the state with $10 billion uncollected court-ordered debt, the report indicated.
“You know, White people like to call me a ‘racist.’ And we don’t have the power to discriminate. … ‘Race’ is a big factor in this present world as it stands. It’s still present in the school system; it’s still present in the system of jurisprudence (law),” said Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan during a June 11 in-studio interview on the Cliff Kelley Show on 1690 AM WVON Chicago.
“Ferguson was just a “dot,” or a microcosm of a macrocosm of injustice to Black people in the cities and towns of America,” he continued.
“Are we the only ones that speed? Are we the only ones that have a taillight that’s broken? Go downtown and see who’s at traffic court, see whose money is being siphoned out of the Black community so that the city government can continue to do what they do,” said the Muslim leader.
“This is done all over the country… Where are these cameras? Are they in the White communities stopping them as they speed through the lights and whatnot? Hell no! They’re in our community, to suck the life out of us,” Minister Farrakhan continued, calling the injustice done to Blacks multi-tiered. “You talk about “multi-level marketing”? This is multi-level tyranny.”
According to Student Minister Christopher Muhammad, Nation of Islam Representative in San Francisco, policing in the city is very intertwined with development. It is why San Francisco’s Black population has been decimated, he explained.
San Francisco rid itself of its Black population beginning back in the 1960s, when it destroyed the historic Filmore District which was once considered the heart and soul of the city because of its entertainment and culture, through the process of urban renewal, he said.
Minister Muhammad told The Final Call efforts continue today with rogue development facilitated through heavy handed policing policies that literally contradict the image of San Francisco as this bastion of liberalism. San Francisco is one of the most conservative, racists cities you’ll find anywhere in America, said Minister Muhammad.
“The study is telling you the future of Black people throughout America according to their plans. This is why the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan is calling for a national movement that will culminate with the 20th Anniversary of the Million Man March, 10-10-15, Justice or Else,” he said, referring to the growing momentum of the upcoming gathering in Washington, D.C.
Charlene Muhammad is Special to the NNPA from The Final Call.