San Francisco Police Under Fire for Racist, Homophobic Texts

Paul Elias, AP, May 15, 2015

The original charges were shocking: Six San Francisco police officers were accused of stealing from drug dealers. Then federal prosecutors released racist and homophobic text messages.

Those texts have now turned a small-time police corruption case into a racially charged scandal, thrusting a diverse and liberal city into the national debate over policing in minority communities.

“We now know this can happen in San Francisco,” San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon said. “We’re certainly not immune to the problems that we have seen in Baltimore, Staten Island, South Carolina.”

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{snip} Three Fort Lauderdale, Florida, police officers were fired last month and a fourth resigned after they were found to have exchanged racist messages about colleagues and the predominantly black neighborhood they patrolled.

In San Francisco, Police Chief Greg Suhr has moved to fire eight officers, two of whom have since retired. Six others also are facing some kind of discipline.

The district attorney, meanwhile, is looking into whether the department’s racial problems run deeper than the officers implicated.

“In the process of looking at the text messages, increasingly I became uneasy that this may not be localized to the 14 officers that were being reported, but that we may have some systemic issues,” Gascon said.

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The San Francisco police department hasn’t faced widespread allegations of discrimination since Officers for Justice, a group of minority officers, sued the department in 1973. After the Department of Justice joined the lawsuit, the department settled the case in 1979 and agreed to hire more minorities and women. Nearly half of the sworn officers are minorities today.

News of the racist texts prompted outrage among community leaders. The Rev. Amos Brown, president of the NAACP’s San Francisco chapter and minister at Third Baptist Church, said he wasn’t surprised.

“We have seen this. We have lived this. We have breathed this discrimination,” he said.

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At least one of the accused officers, Michael Robinson, is white and openly gay. Another, Sgt. Ian Furminger, is white. Police officials have so far declined to release the racial composition of the other implicated officers.

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{snip} Investigators twice searched Furminger’s cellphone, unearthing numerous offensive and racist texts with fellow officers. They included slurs against blacks, Mexicans, Filipinos and gays, and feature officers repeatedly using the phrase “white power.”

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