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San Francisco police targeted only black residents in drug arrests, lawsuit asserts

ACLU says the arrests of 37 people for selling small amounts of drugs are part of a pattern of racial profiling in the department

San Francisco police exclusively targeted black residents during undercover narcotic arrests as part of a pattern of racial profiling, according to a new lawsuit.

Police in the California city, where only 6% of the population is black, worked with federal authorities to arrest 37 people, all of whom were black, for selling small amounts of drugs, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California said in a complaint announced on Thursday. During the operations, one undercover officer was caught on camera declining to buy narcotics from an Asian woman and waiting to buy from a black female, who was later prosecuted.

The suit focused on San Francisco police collaborations with the US Drug Enforcement Administration and federal prosecutors in 2013 and 2014, but the ACLU has alleged that the discriminatory policing and harassment of black people in the city has continued.

” We’ve seen period and time again how racial bias has infected the San Francisco police department’s ability to administer equal enforcement of the law ,” Novella Coleman, an ACLU staff attorney, said in an interview.

The allegations are striking dedicated how rapidly the African American population has declined in San Francisco, a city that has a serious housing crisis amid a booming tech economy. The city and country have also developed a huge marijuana industry while reports over the years are systematically shown that black residents in San Francisco are disproportionately targeted for marijuana and other narcotic arrests.

In one video included in the complaint, an officer involved in the undercover operations was caught saying ” fucking BMs”, an apparent reference to the police code for” black males”, while surveillance footage zoomed in on a group of black people. An undercover officer also approached a black female to buy medications and told the woman that he had purposefully avoided buying from an” Asian chick”, the suit said.

In the Tenderloin, the neighborhood where the arrests occurred, surveys have suggested that only half of the ones who sell narcotics are black, the ACLU said.

A federal public defender representing some of the accused people subsequently argued in court that the police department had singled out black people, resulting a district magistrateto conclude there was ” substantial evidence suggestive of racially selective enforcement “.

By then, however, many of the defendants had already pleaded guilty.

The federal prosecutors, who were seeking charges with one-year mandatory minimum sentences and potentially stiffer sentences, opposed lawyers’ efforts to uncover farther proof about the operations and eventually rejected the remaining cases.

Some of the plaintiffs’ lives were derailed by the prosecution, said Coleman, adding:” There’s that sense of uncertainty about interacting with law enforcement, and the fear of being in San Francisco and the Tenderloin .”

The ACLU was not aware of any involved policemen facing disciplinary action, and one was promoted, she said.

Despite a judge’s affirm of racial bias and the recorded commentaries of officers, the city of San Francisco has continued to defend its actions. The police department” did not have taken part in selective enforcement “, John Cote, the spokesman for the city attorney, was indicated in an email Thursday.” The proof will show that San Francisco police acted in accordance with federal directives .”

The statement also said the police department” prides itself on represent one of the most diverse, forward-thinking and transparent law enforcement agencies in the country “.

The police agency in recent years, however, attracted national scrutiny for a scandal involving racist and homophobic text messages sent by officers. A 2016 justice department review also detected” institutional bias” against people of color. The city’s police chief was farther pushed to resign in 2016 after a high-profile killing of a black girl, which followed numerous controversial killings by police.

The ACLU suit was announced the same day a Los Angeles Times investigation revealed that officers involved in southern California drug enforcement efforts have stopped and searched thousands of Latino drivers without uncovering any drugs.

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