EDITORIAL It's bad enough that the federal government is aggressively infringing on the rights of three Bay Area journalists, the sovereignty of California, and the freedom of San Franciscans to choose — through the elections of our district attorney, sheriff, and mayor — how laws should be enforced in this city. It's even worse that the San Francisco Police Department has actively invited the feds in to abuse the city's citizens.
Now is the time for Mayor Gavin Newsom and Police Chief Heather Fong to strongly, clearly, and publicly spell out when the officers under their control are permitted to federalize investigations rather than turning them over to the District Attorney's Office. Particularly during this dark period when the Bush administration has shown a flagrant disregard for the rule of law, those in positions of public trust within San Francisco must safeguard the rights and liberties that generations of Americans have fought hard to win.
Specifically, Newsom and Fong should join the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in calling for a federal shield law similar to the one enshrined in the California Constitution, which allows journalists to protect their sources and unpublished notes and other materials. Until that happens, it should be the policy of San Francisco to refuse to cooperate with federal prosecutions of journalists, an action that would be similar to existing police policies of refusing to take part in raids on marijuana dispensaries or in operations targeting those suspected of vioutf8g immigration laws.
Instead, in the case of videographer Josh Wolf — who has been jailed for refusing to turn over his work to a federal grand jury — it appears that the SFPD was the agency that used a dubious interpretation of the law to bring in the feds for this unconscionable witch hunt. This is a disgrace and an affront to local control and basic American values.
As Sarah Phelan reports in this issue (“The SFPD’s Punt,” page 10), the cowboys who run the SFPD have been so intent on nailing those responsible for injuring an officer during a protest last year that they have deceptively morphed the investigation into one involving a broken taillight on a police cruiser. The idea was to argue that because some federal funds helped purchase the cruiser, then it was legitimate to turn this case over to the feds — which was simply a ruse to get around the California shield law. Perhaps even scarier is that it was done under the guise of fighting terrorism, even though the cops knew they were talking about homegrown anarchists who have legitimate concerns about US trade policies.
Over and over — in openly defying local beliefs about drug and sex laws and the death penalty — SFPD officers have shown contempt for San Francisco values. Even Newsom and Fong said as much during last year's police video scandal, when they chastised officers for making videos that mocked Bayview residents, the homeless, Asians, and transgender people.
Yet that incident wasn't as obscene as the decision by the SFPD to turn the murder investigations of Bayview gangs over to the feds rather than allow them to be prosecuted by District Attorney Kamala Harris, with whom the SFPD has feuded. The still-high murder rate in this city is a problem that will only be solved when we come together to address it as a community, rather than simply calling in heavy-handed outsiders.
It's no wonder that communities of color in this city don't trust the SFPD, which bypasses the black woman we've elected as our district attorney in favor of the US Justice Department and its facilitator of empire, Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez.
Newsom has already demonstrated that he's willing to stand up to unjust state and federal laws, as he did on same-sex marriage, pot clubs, and illegal wiretapping by the Bush administration. Now it's time for him to say that we're not going to invite unjust federal prosecutions into this proudly progressive city. SFBG
PS We also must strongly condemn the federal prosecution of Chronicle reporters Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada. They are facing jail time for refusing to reveal how they obtained grand jury information that indicated San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds knowingly took steroids. Journalists must be allowed to fully investigate important stories, particularly those involving public figures, without fearing they will be jailed for their work. Again, this case strongly begs for a federal shield law.
PPS Peter Scheer of the California First Amendment Coalition summed up the argument well in a commentary now posted on the Guardian's Web site, www.sfbg.com , calling the prosecutions "a wholesale usurpation of state sovereignty. The Bush administration, which has been justly criticized for attempting to enhance executive power at the expense of Congress, is now eviscerating states' rights in order to expand the power of the federal government. William Rehnquist, the conservative former chief justice of the US Supreme Court and intellectual champion of American 'federalism,' is no doubt turning over in his grave."