Racial profiling is a focal point for activists, some of whom have lost loved ones, triggering calls for overdue reforms
Officers who undergo training at the San Francisco Police Department Academy must complete 52 hours of "cultural diversity" training, according to SFPD spokesperson Sgt. Dennis Toomer, which includes a mandatory four-hour intensive geared toward preventing racial profiling. State law mandates just 16 hours for such training for law enforcement agencies, Toomer told us.
But despite supplemental police training and the efforts of grassroots organizations that carefully monitor police activity, the Bay Area has witnessed a number of fatal shootings at the hands of police since Grant's death, and many draw a link between these cases and the broader issue of racial profiling.
When asked about the outreach efforts of the Oscar Grant Foundation, Johnson began to rattle off a long list of names — mostly young black men, from places ranging from Oakland to Vallejo to Stockton to San Leandro — who were killed by police, and whose families his organization has reached out to.
They have also been in touch with several families in New York City who lost loved ones in similar situations, Johnson said. In many cases, the individuals were killed despite being unarmed, and officers later explained their actions by saying they'd mistakenly believed the shooting victims had firearms.
After several years of taking an up-close look at the investigative and legal proceedings that unfold in the aftermath of officer-involved shootings, Johnson has reached the conclusion that from case to case, "The playbook is pretty much the same. The officer first alleges he felt threatened — it's all about the thought process of the officer. It's always found to be justifiable because the officer feared for his life."
One long-term goal of the Oscar Grant Foundation is to build up a coalition that can mount a meaningful challenge to the California Peace Officers Bill of Rights, a law enacted some 30 years ago that affords special protections for law enforcement officers facing misconduct charges. Johnson and others are critical of provisions such as officers' rights to keep confidential information out of their personnel files, which can prevent significant information from being disclosed during a criminal trial. Meanwhile, others throughout the Bay Area seem primed to push for change in the wake of the Zimmerman verdict. "On Sunday, every black church in the nation was talking about what? Trayvon Martin, and what we need to do," Andrea Shorter, a member of the San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women, said during the July 16 rally. "Two weeks ago, and we were all standing here as San Franciscans to rejoice ... because we knew that LGBT people could be treated as first class citizens. The job is not done." San Francisco NAACP President Rev. Amos Brown, who organized the rally, vowed that his organization "will push for a civil suit to bring this Zimmerman gentlemen to justice." The national NAACP is petitioning U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to open a civil rights case against Zimmerman. Sups. London Breed, Malia Cohen, Jane Kim, and David Campos also delivered speeches at the rally. "For the first time in my life, after growing up and going to funeral after funeral after funeral after funeral, of all boys and black men throughout my life, I see people in this audience who are not African American, who are just as hurt as I am, who are just as sick of this as I am," Breed said. "And we are all in this together. We have got to work together if we want to change it."