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San Diego Councilmembers Discuss Ongoing Racial Disparities In Policing

The San Diego Police Department headquarters is shown in this updated photo.

Credit: Milan Kovacevic

Above: The San Diego Police Department headquarters is shown in this updated photo.

The San Diego City Council met late into the night Tuesday to discuss ongoing racial inequities in policing.

Councilmembers heard from Samuel Sinyangwe, who authored a 2019 report that revealed racial disparities in stops, arrests and searches by San Diego Police Department officers.

“There’s not another way to put this, but every single way you slice the data it indicates that there is a problem that there is indeed anti-Black bias,” said Sinyangwe, who is co-founder of Campaign Zero, a nationwide advocacy organization focused on police accountability.

In his analysis of nearly 160,000 stops by San Diego police officers and Sheriff’s deputies between the summers of 2018 and 2019, Sinyangwe found Black people were twice as likely to be stopped than their white counterparts.

Reported by Cristina Kim

At the City Council meeting, Singyangwe provided an updated analysis of the San Diego Police Department’s reported use of force during 2019 and 2020.

“We see restraints and control holds increasing somewhat [and] we see particularly use of force involving firearms being pointed at a civilian increasing more dramatically during that time period,” Sinyangwe told councilmembers.

The data also showed the use of carotid restraints -- also known as chokeholds -- dropped to zero after the City of San Diego banned the use of them last June.

Although it’s clear some progress in San Diego policing has been made, Singyangwe noted, “The big picture still needs to be addressed.”

San Diego Police Captain Jeff Jordon, who attended the meeting and listened to Sinyangwe’s presentation and public comment, disagreed with Campaign Zero’s findings.

“Some of the language that Sam [Sinyangwe] used to describe this I take issue with,” said Capt. Jordan. “When you see things like anti-black bias and extreme level of policing in the report that’s typically not something you see in a report without doing further review or investigation. It’s inflammatory.”

Jordon did say, however, that he believes everyone can work together to end disparate treatment and reach consensus.

In response to Capt. Jordan’s feedback, Councilmember Sean Elo-Rivera spoke to the issue of anti-Black bias directly.

“We have a Stanford educated researcher here presenting to us and I am going to be honest the language of anti-Black bias has to be a lot less inflammatory to us than actual anti-Black bias,” said Elo-Rivera. “That behavior and that conduct needs to be what inflames us to do things, to take action.”

Fifty-seven people from across San Diego called in during the public comment period to urge councilmembers to adopt reforms.

Jeffrey Alonzo Karahamuheto, a lead organizer with the San Diego Organizing Project, called into the meeting to share his personal experience.

“Everytime I start my car, I acknowledge it might be my last ride. I cherish every moment of life,” Karahamuheto said. “This is juxtaposed with the stark reality that due to the color of my skin my right to live a full life can be stolen from me during a pretext stop to police violence. One bad day means my life is gone.”

The pretext stops Karahamuheto refers to happen when police officers pull over motorists for traffic violations or equipment violations, such as driving with a broken brake light, in order to conduct a search without probable cause. These stops also disproportionately impact people of color.

San Diego police were 44% more likely to search Latinx people and 133% more likely to search Black people than white people after pulling them over for a traffic violation, according to the Campaign Zero report.

Looming over the council meeting was the shooting of Daunte Wright this week by a Minneapolis police officer after being pulled over a traffic violation.

Malcome Morgan of Pillars of the Community told councilmembers: “It’s bias policing and use of force that caused the death of George Floyd and Mr. Daunte Wright.”

Morgan, like the majority of the callers during public comment, urged the council to adopt PrOTECT, a community-generated ordinance that would end consent searches and pretext stops in San Diego.

Over the past week San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria’s proposed a new set of police reforms and an Empowerment Policy Plan for San Diego’s Black Community. It includes fully funding the city’s independent Commission on Police Practices and exploring limits to pretext stops.

On Wednesday, Gloria told KPBS he recognizes there’s going to be “robust dialogue” around defining and ending pretext stops.

Councilmember Monica Montgomery Steppe, who chairs the council’s Public Safety and Liveable Communities Committee, said committee members will consider the PrOTECT platform as they work to create policy changes.

“I am ready to do this work,” Montgomery Steppe said.

Listen to this story by Cristina Kim.

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Photo of Cristina Kim

Cristina Kim
Racial Justice and Social Equity Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover racial justice and social equity issues – an expansive beat that includes housing, health, criminal justice, and education. I am interested in unpacking how systems reproduce inequalities and highlighting the ways communities of color are pushing for greater equity.

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