Heather Knight, San Francisco Chronicle, March 26, 2010
Police Chief George Gascón offended some Arab Americans when he spoke about the potential for terrorist attacks on the Hall of Justice.
A breakfast to tout the importance of passing an earthquake-safety bond measure on the June ballot wound up sending shock waves through San Francisco’s Arab American community after Police Chief George Gascón made controversial remarks about terrorism.
Gascón reportedly said the Hall of Justice at 850 Bryant St. is susceptible not just to an earthquake, but also to members of the city’s Middle Eastern community parking a van in front of it and blowing it up.
The chief was addressing a crowd of about 150 City Hall officials and members of the building trades Wednesday and was one of several speakers discussing the $412 million bond to seismically retrofit a number of city buildings, including moving some Police Department functions out of the decrepit Hall of Justice and into a new Mission Bay facility.
Chief cites countries
Despite some reports to the contrary from those in attendance, Gascón on Thursday said he never referred to Middle Easterners or Arab Americans.
He said he instead singled out those from Yemen and Afghanistan as posing potential terrorism risks–especially in an iconic city like San Francisco with large numbers of residents from those countries. He admitted to saying they could park a van in front of the Hall of Justice and blow it up.
“There was no need to single out the two countries, and I recognize that, but it’s not because it was not accurate,” he said. “The reality is this is the area where we’re seeing most of the international terrorism coming from. . . . I think certainly in this case, people are reading too much into it.”
Commitment to diversity
Mirkarimi [Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who is of Iranian descent] said Gascón is a quick study who’s unlikely to make the blunder again. But he added that it’s poor timing considering City Hall plays host to a Persian New Year celebration tonight.