San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said Wednesday he is considering implementing a controversial stop-and-frisk policy similar to that used in New York and other cities, where officers try to reduce violent crime by searching people they consider suspicious in an attempt to seize illegal weapons.
“This is under consideration as a way to make sure that we keep homicides and some of these other violent crime(s) down,” Lee told The Chronicle’s editorial board. “I think we have to get to the guns. I know we have to find a different way to get to these weapons, and I’m very willing to consider what other cities are doing.”
It’s a surprising move for a mayor who has described himself as “a progressive before progressive was a political faction in this town” and who leads what is viewed as one of the most liberal cities in the country.
Civil rights groups and others have denounced stop-and-frisk policies in various cities as a racist approach that disproportionately affects Latino and African American residents. Several thousand demonstrators marched through New York’s streets this month to protest the policy.
A recent report by the New York Civil Liberties Union found that the vast majority of people stopped by police there were black or Latino, and that of 686,000 people stopped in 2011, 88 percent of them had done nothing wrong.
Lee did not provide details but acknowledged he is considering tactics that “might be edgy” to reduce gun violence, particularly in the city’s southeastern neighborhoods and in public housing projects such as Sunnydale, the scene of four recent shootings.
“It’s controversial. I will be tagged—as the minority mayor of this city—for racial profiling,” said Lee, a former civil rights attorney. “But I’m going to let everybody know that if it works . . . I’m going to do something in that direction.”
Lee said he wants to explore the idea after having “a good conversation about stop-and-frisk” with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Lee said he will meet soon with the Rev. Amos Brown, president of the San Francisco chapter of the NAACP, to try to get him and other black ministers to join him in supporting a new policy in the city.
Brown said it’s true that gun violence in the city’s African American and Latino communities is “out of hand.”
But he said he will support a stop-and-frisk policy only if police officers will enforce it without using racial profiling and in a calm, compassionate way.
Shawn Richard, a former gang member who now leads the nonprofit Brothers Against Guns in the Bayview, said racial profiling would occur here, too. He’s doubtful that a white person driving through the Bayview would be pulled over under the policy.
“Who does that leave? People of color, right?” he said.
Richard said there are “a lot” of concealed weapons carried in Bayview-Hunters Point and that shootings in the neighborhood are rampant. He shared Brown’s feeling that the policy could prove helpful—but only if it’s applied without regard to race.