“This has been a week of profound grief and heartbreaking loss. After the events of this week, Americans across our country are feeling a sense of helplessness, of uncertainty and of fear. We must reject the easy impulses of bitterness and rancor and embrace the difficult work — but the important work, the vital work — of finding a path forward together.”
-Attorney General Loretta Lynch
I commit to being part of the solution.
This week has been a rough one and a depressing one. Just when we were coming to terms with the massacre in Orlando and moving forward to address the hate crime violence plaguing our country. Just when we thought that maybe, just maybe, we were beginning to see a small amount of progress in the relationship between police and communities of color. Just a day after we saw deescalation training in practice, when police apprehended an armed standoff suspect on Market Street without shooting anyone.
Then we saw — and I mean *saw* — the deeply disturbing and tragic video out of Louisiana. Then we saw the equally disturbing and tragic video out of Minnesota. Then we saw the disturbing and tragic events in Dallas. Then we saw other targeting of police officers in other cities. And, we continue to see the fear, anxiety, and anger that disturbing incidents like Louisiana and Minnesota trigger in communities of color.
Then we saw the toxicity. Tweets outrageously blaming #BlackLivesMatter for the murders of the officers in Dallas, even though the protesters in Dallas were absolutely peaceful and the police were facilitating that protest. Tweets saying that “real Americans” were going to rise up, as if people protesting police shootings weren’t really part of our society (proving once again why #BlackLivesMatter exists and is so important).
Attorney General Lynch is right. Now is the time for all of us to come together as a community to reduce violence in all its forms. To tear down the systems and deeply embedded attitudes perpetuating racism — systems and attitudes that have been with this country from the beginning and that continue to systematically work against people of color and minority communities. We have real work to do — work that has no easy answer — and the unfathomable tragedies of this week should motivate us to work harder, not to shut down and go into our corners.
As a white man, I have not experienced what it means to be a young black man walking down the street and getting “the look” wondering whether I’m a criminal, whether from a civilian or a police officer. I’ve never gotten that look, and I almost certainly never will.
As a white man, I have not experienced the fear of black parents who must warn their children to be calmly compliant with police officers at the risk of getting shot. These were not fears my parents had, and these are not fears I will be required to pass onto the next generation.
I have not experienced what black parents think or feel when their child walks out of their home and they wonder if today is the day their child will have a negative, or even deadly, encounter with a police officer.
Nor have I experienced what it means for police officers — the large majority of whom never shoot anyone — to put on their uniforms in the morning not knowing if they will come home at night. And, I haven’t experienced what it feels like for family members of officers watching their husband or wife or father or mother walk out the door and not knowing if they will come home.
Yet, the fact that I haven’t shared those experiences doesn’t excuse me from trying my very best and working very hard to understand them and then act on that understanding. As an elected official, I hold a public trust to represent *everyone*, including people whose experiences are radically different from my own. Breaking out of your own experience and listening to — and I mean truly listening to and learning from — people with different experiences is one of the most challenging aspects of public service. Yet, it is so critically important if democracy is to mean anything.
People overwhelmingly want peace and respect. Every community. Every background. Every profession. Every hashtag. Civilian, police, black, white, Latino, Asian, LGBT, non-LGBT, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and just about everyone else on God’s beautiful earth. We can get there, and we must get there. Yet, we will only get there if we are all working together.
These challenges of deep, structural racism, the need for reform and the critical importance of law enforcement and the community coming together and working hand in glove to improve public safety aren’t going away. They can’t go away.
To the activists, organizers, and everyday San Franciscans demanding change: I hear you. I am learning. I am listening. I want change. At City Hall, we have begun to make progress with reform, including emphasizing deescalation and non-violent interventions, improving and strengthening civilian oversight and independent investigations, requiring body cameras, and emphasizing the importance of neighborhood beat cops — which I’m advocating in a ballot measure I introduced to require more neighborhood-level police — so that officers are as intertwined with the community as possible and thus better able to build trust.
We will continue until the pain, trauma, and fear in communities of color is fully healed. We will continue until all black parents trust in their hearts that officers will treat their sons and daughters the same way my white parents in New Jersey trusted officers to treat me: peacefully and with respect.
I commit to being part of the solution.