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The larger message from the Henry Hotel…

May 14, 2011

Which one wears the gang colors?

When the SFPD used master keys at the Henry Hotel to stage raids on drug dealers…when they manhandled a suspect at the Jefferson Hotel, allegedly stole a duffel bag and then lied about it in their police report…when they illegally entered that apartment in the Richmond…it all sends a bad message to San Francisco and its residents. Simply put, in the pursuit of those whom the police deem to be criminals, the laws the police have sworn to protect become optional.

Search warrants? Probable cause? Dignity for all people and the truth?

Mere details…

The police are supposed to be public servants. They are supposed to be the authorities we citizens call on for help in times of trouble, trust to do what’s right and have our best interests at heart. They are supposed to be above the criminals on the street, function as the gun-toting barrier between us and them, but when they choose to break the law, even in pursuit of criminals that barrier becomes blurred.

This is especially a problem when it comes to the Tenderloin, because the SFPD can’t change the neighborhood without community participation and if the police aren’t trusted, the people who live there are more inclined to keep quiet and walk away.

Personally, as I’ve written before, I have a love/hate relationship with the semi-lawlessness of these 50 square blocks or so, but I also recognize my beliefs are not the only ones to hold sway…there are families here, children, artists and activists who would like the neighborhood safer.  When attending neighborhood meetings with the SFPD, Tenderloin residents hear so much about how we’re all on the same team in trying to solve these problems, how the community functions as the eyes and the ears of the police department, but what are we to do when the SFPD operates as just one more law-optional gang of thugs in a neighborhood already full of others?

When their truth is suspect, we can’t take them seriously as leaders, nor can we trust them to protect the laws designed to protect us, especially when they themselves appear to see these laws as more of a suggestion. We shouldn’t have to count on Jeff Adachi to call them out on their bullshit and criminal activity, for the respect of their department, they should root out problem cops from within.

The SFPD has had enough past problems darkening their doorways, one might think they wouldn’t be so intent on creating more by taking these shortcuts.

And I can already hear it…who cares? They are going after drug dealers. If you don’t do anything wrong, you don’t have anything to worry about, right?

Wrong.

When a police force in a city supposedly as liberal as San Francisco feels they can act without following the laws, nobody is safe, not from a police officer with a vendetta, not from a cop who wants to shut down a club, an art show, or anything else they decide is causing too much of a problem. How are we to trust them not to violently crack down on protesters…oh yeah, right, we can’t trust that already.

If I get on the stand to refute the allegations of an officer, and the jury takes the word of an officer over mine, simply because he or she is an officer, this can open a number of doors for a police department who doesn’t follow the law, and none of those entryways will benefit the public.

Being law-abiding for the most part, I should expect to be left alone by those meant to enforce the law, but if they operate in a climate of legal grey areas, then we are all in a position where we no longer get final say on what it is we do, within the law.

The police will make that decision.

I might suggest to any member of the San Francisco Police Department who wants to be able to enter any home, apartment or SRO room whenever they like, they should move to Indiana. There, the state Supreme Court just decided their police can do exactly that…but Indiana is not San Francisco, not yet and until then, the SFPD really shouldn’t take such liberties, especially considering they don’t allow such behavior from us.

A badge or a gun should make no difference, nor should officers be able to count on protection from their crew at 850 Bryant. That isn’t law, that’s a Dirty Harry movie or maybe a Law and Order episode.   

If the police want to clean up the Tenderloin, they need the cooperation of those who live there. To get that cooperation, they need to be leaders, not armed assholes driving the streets behind mirrored sunglasses choosing which law to follow…

I don’t get that choice unless I risk arrest, and for the police it should be no different.

Finally, if everything I’ve written above seems as overreach or perhaps an exaggeration of any potential problems, well…congratulations!

You’ve obviously never had to personally deal with the SFPD.

Have a nice day.

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