SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) — Racism has been defined as a thing done that depends on a fiction – a fiction that enables a police officer to suspect someone of a crime because he or she fits a racial profile.
Police departments throughout the Bay Area disavow racial profiling as a policy, but for many black citizens it’s a reality playing out on the streets every day.
Living in the diverse and fairly progressive Bay Area, it may seem unlikely that any of us could be stopped or pulled over by police just because of the color of our skin. But, members of local African American communities say they have no doubt that happens here – and worse – that they are at higher risk of being killed in those encounters.
26-year-old Jerome Commor of Oakland was walking down the street in Alameda with his mother, Stephanie Orr and his half blind uncle when police stopped him, questioned him and asked if he was Paul, a crime suspect. He raised his hands but before the situation could escalate a passerby started recording on her iPhone, at which point police left.
“It was not necessary for them to stop us at all,” Orr said.
Tracey Webb is a Harvard-educated CEO of an East Bay executive coaching firm. She says she was recently pulled over and hassled by police.
“It took everything in me not to have 300 years of racial animus come through, because my grandparents were run out of Louisiana by the Klan and came to California,” Webb said.
“They serve and protect each other. They have a don’t-tell policy. They’re just like the mob,” said Rico Hamilton with San Francisco’s Street Violence intervention program.
“I mean, it’s just unspoken conversation in all communities in across California. They’re saying the biggest gang across California is the police department,” Hamilton said.
“We have a mother out there whose son was murdered by a California Highway patrol officer. We have several black men out there who have been repeatedly brutalized by police,” said Black Lives Matter Bay Area activist Cat Brooks.
Hamilton, Brooks and other activists agree there are rogue cops that live by their own code, but they also agree the problem runs much deeper.
“The thing that folks don’t know a lot about is the Thirteenth Amendment. The Thirteenth Amendment says that slavery is illegal in this country unless you’ve been convicted of a crime. That’s the foundation of the prison-industrial complex in this country,” said Brooks. “So it is beneficial to the system to profile, lock up people who are black or brown or poor and have them support the capitalist function of the society. So what we’ve seen is an explosion of the prison population which is primarily made up of the marginalized and oppressed people of this country.”