Opinion

OPINION: The case against Tasers

The Taser x2 is not well tested

On Friday, November 3, 2017 at 5:00 p.m. at City Hall the San Francisco Police Commission will be holding its last public hearing on purchasing stun guns for San Francisco police officers. Although there has been much discussion on the topic, there remain many misconceptions about the weapon under consideration and its potential impact on policing in the city. 

I’ve heard many people – young and old – say that they’d rather be stunned than shot with a bullet. This is a logical response. Unfortunately it’s based on misunderstandings about how conducted electrical weapons (CEWs) work.

The Taser x2 is not well tested

Even the San Francisco Police Officers Association (POA) has repeatedly asserted after officer-involved shootings that SF police officers need CEWs to use as an alternative to guns. 

To be clear, CEWs cannot be substitutes for guns because there are inherent limitations in how they function that render them unreliable for being used in deadly force situations. 

The leading manufacturer of CEWs specifically states in its training materials, “CEWs do NOT replace deadly-force options.” Most departments that have CEWs instruct officers NOT to use them in deadly force situations because they cannot be relied upon to stop a threat.  Many factors can cause the CEW be ineffective – how thick the person’s clothing is, whether both probes hit the person, and whether the CEWs electrical charge captures enough muscle to incapacitate, to name a few.

The law permits officers to use their firearms in deadly-force circumstances, which involve a threat of death or great bodily harm. The manufacturer’s training materials advise officers that the optimal range for CEW deployment is seven to 15 feet. To use a CEW in a situation in which an individual is armed or violent or aggressive would require the officer to be just seven to 15 feet from the individual. Alarmingly, CEWs have been found to fail often, in fact the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) reported a 47% failure rate in 2015

The SFPD adopted a new Use of Force policy in December 2016 stating the commitment to accomplish the “mission with respect and minimal reliance on the use of force by using rapport-building communication, crisis intervention, and de-escalation tactics” including time and distance. Bringing in a weapon that requires officers to be within seven to 15 feet of an aggressive individual would undermine the tenets of the policy and the training that has been instituted. And, should the weapon fail, officers would be in jeopardy and would have no choice but to escalate to lethal force.

In considering adopting CEWs it is prudent to ask, “Have CEWs been shown to stop or reduce officer-involved shootings in other law enforcement agencies?” Recent reports from Los Angeles and San Jose, both cities that have deployed CEWs for many years, register significant numbers of officer-involved shootings. LAPD reports 34 officer-involved shootings to date in 2017, and San Jose registered its eighth officer-involved shooting in September. CEWs clearly do not prevent officers from using guns.

SFPD has had ongoing issues with disparate use of force, including deadly force, on persons of color. The findings of the DOJ Collaborative Reform Assessment of the SFPD and the Blue Ribbon Panel Report detail racial inequalities in many areas from stops, searches, and arrests, to officer-involved shootings.

San Francisco is not the only city with disproportionate use of force patterns.  Other cities that have similar problems report disparities in officer-involved shootings as well as CEW use.  For example, a 2016 Chicago study documented that Chicago officers shot and used CEWs on African Americans at disturbing rates, and a Houston study reported that CEWs were used disproportionately on African Americans. 

The question of CEW efficacy is further complicated by the fact that the weapon under consideration for purchase by SFPD at this time, the Taser x2, is a new model that has had very little study or research to verify its reliability. The City of Houston has had several incidents that raise serious questions about the Taser x2.  A lawsuit filed this year by Houston Officer Karen Taylor after she was severely injured in a failed Taser x2 incident details how the newer CEWs, while possibly less dangerous to suspects than previous models, are more risky for officers because they are less effective. In one weekend in March, 2016, in three separate incidents Houston officers shot suspects after failed Taser x2 deployments. 

Tragically, CEWs, the “less lethal” weapons, kill far too often. In a series published this past summer a Reuters Report examines 1,005 deaths since 2000 involving Tasers and states, “Many who die are among society’s vulnerable – unarmed, in psychological distress and seeking help.” In the city of San Jose alone there have been eight deaths after CEWs have been used – some linked to the CEWs, and some from other contributing factors. In all of the cases, use of the CEW did not result in safely taking a suspect into custody. 

Would we support our city purchasing new, untested cars for employee use that reputedly fail nearly 50% of the time, that randomly kill people (particularly vulnerable populations and people of color) even when used as directed, and would certainly result in costly lawsuits? Of course not.

Before obtaining a new problematic weapon that would most likely be used disproportionately on people of color and vulnerable populations, the city and the SFPD must focus on de-escalation of force and ensuring that policing in San Francisco is equitable and fair and functions at the stated SFPD “highest priority (of) safeguarding the life, dignity and liberty of all persons.”  SFPD General Order 5.01 Use of Force

 

Barbara Attard is a police accountability consultant, former president of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement (NACOLE), and co-author of the Police Misconduct Complaint Investigations Manual

OPINION: Let’s abolish Columbus Day

He didn't sail for Italy, he didn't discover America -- and he was part of a pattern of genocide

It’s a simple proposal: Abolish Columbus Day and find another way to honor Italian contributions to this country.

That’s what more than 50 Italian academics, artists and activists are currently proposing. I’m one of them. We’ve signed on to two letters, one to Italian American community leaders asking them “to facilitate an open discussion within their communities in order to explore more appropriate ways…to acknowledge and celebrate the legacy of sacrifice and generosity that Italian Americans have given to this nation.”

He didn’t sail for Italy, he didn’t discover America — and he committed atrocities.

The other calls on the Italian American Congressional Delegation “to open a dialogue with members of the Native American Congressional Caucus, leading to the abolition (and/or replacement) of Columbus Day as a federal holiday.”

I’m Southern Italian, but I feel no pride in a man who happened to be born in the Republic of Genoa 400 years before there was even a nation called Italy. A man who sailed for Spain. A man who committed numerous atrocities and was eventually called back to that country to answer for those crimes.

Columbus Day became important for Italians in this country for reasons that should be familiar to many other ethnic groups. When we arrived at Ellis Island, Anglos didn’t exactly roll out the red, white and green carpet. They considered us barbarians of a separate race who would topple Anglo culture. Employers openly discriminated against us, running newspaper ads that made it clear we couldn’t apply. In the south, Italians were lynched because we weren’t seen as white. The largest of those lynchings took place in 1891 in New Orleans.

In 1924, Congress severely cut back on how many Africans, Italians, Jews and Eastern Europeans could enter the country and outright banned Asian and Arab immigrants, thereby closing any open borders the country might have had.

Faced with conditions that mirrored their homeland, many Italian and Sicilian immigrants became leaders in the worker strikes of the early part of the last century. Two such labor organizers, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, were executed in 1924 for a murder they didn’t commit. In the courtroom, the judge referred to them as “dagos,” a derogatory term for Italians. Worldwide protests could not stop the execution.

During WWII, thousands of Italians were relocated, deported or jailed after the government abandoned a plan to place us in internment camps. Joe di Maggio’s father was restricted from visiting the family business. Opera star Enzio Pinza was arrested by the FBI. 

Associating Italians with Columbus Day was a way to gain acceptance and whiteness. It was a whiteness won, in this instance, on the backs of native peoples who, as the recent fight against the North Dakota pipeline once again demonstrates, are still mistreated on this, their land. A whiteness that has robbed us of our language and much of our culture and history, and left us with right-wing public figures such as Frank Rizzo, Rudolph Giuliani and Joe Arpaio. 

It’s time for us to embrace the real heroes, such as Vito Marcantonio, the Harlem congressman who, in the 1940s, pushed for black civil rights and a federal anti-lynching law. Or 14-year-old Camella Teoli, whose scalp was torn by a spinning machine and who bravely testified before Congress in 1912 about the abuses in the textile mills.

Or the thousands of activists who took to the streets to win us the rights all of us workers often take for granted, including the 40-hour week, vacation and sick time, and work place conditions that don’t put our lives at risk.

Arrivederci, Cristoforo Colombo. P.S. Take the damn Blue Angels with you.

Strange rumblings in local news media

Ex Editor Michael Howerton will be an aide to London Breed

Strange rumblings in the local news media. First SFist is bought by a right-wing outfit that is already changing the flagship Gothamist in New York City. The owner of the company, DNAinfo, is a billionaire whose family gave $1 million to elect Donald Trump and whose son has been tapped for a job in the Trump Administration.

Already, Gothamist has deleted some not-so-flattering posts about Ricketts

Ex Editor Michael Howerton will be an aide to London Breed
Ex Editor Michael Howerton will be an aide to London Breed

And then we learn that the editor of the Examiner, Michael Howerton, who presided over a scrappy newsroom with a generally progressive approach, has left to take a job as chief of staff to Sup. London Breed.

The news so far has made little mention of SFist, which has been an interesting and fairly reliable aggregator of local news whose writers have a typically edgy and sometimes snarky twist.

I’ve always had minor issues with SFist, mostly around the failure of its writers to look beyond the surface in political stories. But it’s been a part of the local media landscape, and we need all the voices we can get, and I always read it. Sometimes, not too often, the blog even deigns to link to 48hills stories, and I appreciate that.

Ricketts, for the moment, seems focused on New York and Chicago. In New York, Gothamist, once an independent voice, will become “the official blog of DNAinfo,” which covers neighborhood-level news.

There’s no DNAinfo operation in San Francisco, so for now, it appears that SFist won’t change. Politico notes that Ricketts is so focused on national politics that his influence on neighborhood blogs is pretty minimal.

I emailed Jay Barmann, the editor of SFist, to ask about any possible changes, and he didn’t get back to me. (It’s always a bad sign when a journalist doesn’t answer questions.) Maybe that’s company policy now. I haven’t seen anything in SFist about the change in ownership, but I miss things.

Gothamist reported the news with great excitement, saying that while the founders of the operation disagree with Ricketts on politics (and baseball), “We all believe that unbiased reporting is important for our democracy, especially in these times.”

Also:

What this means for DCist, LAist and SFist: DNAinfo has been interested in expanding more cities, and these sites are the perfect way to help launch that next phase.

So maybe the Trump supporter will move into San Francisco, and offer “unbiased” neighborhood coverage in a city where there is no such thing as unbiased reporting on neighborhood issues, particularly in the Trump Era.

Good luck, Jay. I fear this may not turn out well.

 

Then we go to the Examiner, where Howerton is leaving one of the best jobs in San Francisco journalism to become a City Hall aide. Yes, “chief of staff” sounds glamorous, but there are only three people on a supe’s staff, so for all practical purposes, he will be Breed’s policy aide.

And he will take a pay cut to do it.

I had a long conversation with Howerton about his move. I told him he was doing a good job at the Ex, that he was helping set the direction for competitive news coverage, and that it all seemed a bit odd to me.

I met Howerton when he was a Bay Guardian intern 20 years ago, and I was happy when he got the Ex gig. He’s a real journalist, someone who believes in the independence of a newsroom. He’s the one who stood up to the corporate overseers and refused to allow them to order a positive cover story on an advertiser. He was, at an outfit where the ownership side wants to push to make editorial do more with less and suck up to the money, the firewall his reporters could count on.

Now all of us in the local press and local politics are wondering: What happened?

Howerton told me that he had no intention of leaving the Examiner, that all was going well (or as well as it could be in a world of limited revenue, questionable business models, and constant financial pressure.) “This is nothing I was looking for,” he said. “But the longer I’ve been a journalist, the more interested I’ve become in public policy. I feel like I just don’t know enough, and this seems like a wonderful opportunity for education. I’m excited for that.”

He said the election of Trump made him want to “take more direct action, and I hope I can make a difference” at City Hall.

Howerton is close with Conor Johnston, who is leaving the position that Howerton will take over, and “he suggested it,” Howerton said.

It’s an interesting choice for Breed: Howerton freely admits that he has no background in public policy — but he’s got a lot of background in news media. And if Breed is contemplating a run for mayor in 2019, that would be helpful to her (perhaps more so than a serious policy-wonk aide). She’s ambitious, and if it’s not the mayor’s race it will be something else — I don’t see Breed settling comfortably into a low-profile job when she’s termed out.

For the record, the Ex endorsed Breed for supervisor over progressive challenger Dean Preston this fall.

Reporters, sad to say, are leaving jobs in the newsroom all the time these days to become press secretaries and spokespeople for politicians and city agencies, and in some cases are moving into lobbying the political consulting world. It’s sad not because there’s anything wrong with being a press secretary or lobbyist but because there used to be long-term careers in journalism, with decent pay and pensions, and that’s slipping away. So people do what they have to do, and I totally understand.

I also understand journalists wanting to get into public policy. I have been doing that for 30 years, but I’m lucky: I’ve been working for publications that have no problem with reporters delving into, proposing, pushing, and taking a stand on policy issues.

But this makes me nervous on a lot of levels. I get that Howerton wants to learn about policy. I get that he’s friendly with Johnston, who wrote for him. I hope this is not a sign that he realizes his job at the Ex wasn’t a long-term prospect, either for financial or political reasons.

And Howerton, who is used to the role of a journalist who is supposed to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted, is moving to the role of supporting someone who is very much a part of the local power structure. Breed has empowered the conservative members of the board with her endorsements and her committee assignments, and is known to be caustic with reporters who criticize her. (See: me.)

Gregory Andersen, the current managing editor, will take Howerton’s job. I wish him luck. I worry this may not turn out well.

 

 

 

 

OPINION: Some SF ballot measures Donald Trump would love

This November, the nation will face the possibility of electing a ruthless real estate developer whose rhetoric is filled with reactionary outbursts, misogyny, racism, and xenophobia.

But here we always had the myth to fall back on that “we are in San Francisco,” a liberal bubble that marches to our own tune no matter what the national mood. We take pride in our storied history of protest and radical acceptance.

48hillspu2

Of course, we know it’s more complicated than that, and, in truth, we are no more immune than the rest of the nation to the sneaking chill of bigotry. Only a few years ago, San Franciscans passed Sit-Lie, a measure to criminalize homeless people simply for being on the streets.

Today, four more bad-smelling policies that would make Trump proud are before local voters. In these measures, we face similar attacks against those who are different, who are more vulnerable, and who are poor and working class. And we are also given false solutions that promise to provide more for some by taking away from others.

Props Q and R –criminalizing poverty

Propositions Q and R take the heart of Donald’s hate-filled rhetoric and try to implement it in San Francisco. The mean-spirited Prop Q would confiscate people’s tents. Even its name, “Housing Not Tents,” reeks of deception, as it would provide not a single penny for housing nor require housing for anyone forcibly removed from an encampment, offering only the measly single night in a shelter. San Francisco-style fear mongering is much slicker, but no less obvious.  Today’s politicians use clever language that stirs visuals of an animated tent with ferocious teeth, raping and pillaging pedestrians. This vitriol is a central component of the “Trump” tactic of fear mongering meant to drive conservatives to the polls – and it’s taking place right here in San Francisco. They type of anti-homeless propaganda leveled in Prop Q creates the conditions that result in increased hate crimes against homeless people, and worse, get in the way of forging real solutions to the housing crisis that is slowly killing so many forced to remain on the streets.    

Prop R is another measure with a misleading title, “Neighborhood Policing,” which would actually take police out of neighborhood stations and create homeless policing units. Homeless people received more than 27,000 citations last year for being poor, and we spent $20.7 million enforcing the 23 anti-homeless laws on the books in San Francisco. The Budget and Legislative Analyst suggests this was a futile waste of money. Prop R sets this bad practice in stone.

Much like Donald’s bombastic claims, these measures appear to be largely politically-motivated, an attempt to forward political careers without providing any real solutions. At a time when the national debate is filled with reactionary rhetoric, San Francisco cannot afford to take the low road. Harvey Milk, who as a Castro activist fought to repeal the sit-lie laws that existed in his day, would be horrified at the prospect of our city of open arms turning in on itself like this.

Props P and U – developer giveaways that divide San Franciscans

Following a similar pattern of divisiveness, Propositions P and U come directly from the SF Realtor’s Association, with a war chest of more than a million dollars paid for by the state and national Realtor’s associations. They are developer and real estate giveaways that Donald would love, and will hurt everyday San Franciscans.

Proposition P claims it will “lower the costs” of building affordable housing, but it could end up killing the kind of affordable housing for which San Francisco has paved the way on a national scale: services-enriched supportive housing for homeless individuals and families, housing for transitional-aged youth, and housing for people with disabilities or for victims of domestic violence. While in most cases the city already receives three or more proposals for each new project, in the case of hard-to-build projects such as those for the homeless, or in communities where specific language or cultural competencies are critical, there may be less than three qualified proposals. Prop P would not allow affordable projects to move forward unless three proposals are received, and would force the city to accept the “best-value” proposal regardless of quality, service program, experience, or cultural competency.   

In reality, Prop P fits with Donald’s model of neo-liberal privatization: paving the way for big out-of-town private developers to build shoddy projects on precious public land, with no accountability to the communities in which they build or who they are meant to serve.

Proposition U cynically tries to undo SF’s affordable housing gains while giving developers and Realtors huge windfall profits.  This past June, voters overwhelmingly supported expanding the requirements for mixed-income communities with Prop C, called inclusionary housing, by requiring private developers to include homes affordable to middle-income as well as low-income San Franciscans. The Realtors’ Prop U would remove all the low-income units, and only allow units for people earning up to $80,000 (110% of median). The Realtors claim this creates more affordable housing for middle-class families, but Prop U really robs Peter to pay Paul, taking housing options away from the city’s families who are most at risk without creating a single additional affordable housing unit. And more insidiously, Proposition U would also apply retroactively to almost 1,000 existing affordable homes, allowing landlords to double the rents on vacated units and setting the stage for evictions. This is the kind of divisive measure that we should not stand for, pitting middle-income against working-class families.

These attacks on inclusionary laws are not tangential to Trump’s candidacy. In fact, last summer, one of the principal enemies of inclusionary housing, LA-based real estate developer Geoffrey Palmer, emerged as Donald Trump’s single largest donor (since eclipsed). Palmer is notorious in the Bay Area because of his lawsuit which hamstrung cities from enacting stronger inclusionary policies.

You gotta give ‘em hope, said Harvey…

While we must fight back against those attacks that seek to divide San Franciscans and promote hate and fear, we must also redouble our efforts towards the only solution to the housing crisis: preserve and produce real affordable housing.  The progressive vision is one of hope, in contrast to the bitterness of the Realtors and others cribbing from Trump’s playbook. This November’s crowded slate has a number of innovative propositions that truly seek to expand housing options for low- and middle-income residents, including:

  • Prop C, the Housing Preservation Bond, which will provide loans to make safety upgrades to apartments and preserve them for all existing tenants, low-income and middle-income, as permanently affordable housing.
  • Props J & K, a 1/2 cent increase to the sales tax (still below many Bay Area cities) and set-aside to dedicate funding for homeless housing and services and equitable transportation improvements.
  • Prop M, the Sunshine for Housing ordinance, which creates transparency and public oversight for the city’s housing and development decisions.
  • Prop S, which will reinstate hotel tax allocations for cultural arts funding and funds for ending family homelessness.

This November is a chance to prove that San Francisco is still a City for All, no matter what the national mood. Say no to Trumpifying San Francisco, and vote NO on Props P, Q, R, and U.