First came disclosures of racist and homophobic text messages exchanged by officers of San Francisco’s Police Department. That was followed by the discovery that sheriff’s deputies had been gambling on forced fighting matches between inmates at a city jail.
Then on Thursday, the San Francisco district attorney George Gascón announced that he was expanding the investigation of the city’s police and sheriff’s departments to examine whether those agencies have a deep-seated culture of systemic bias that has led to unlawful arrests or prosecutions.
In a year in which many of the nation’s major cities have been rocked by protests after the fatal police shootings of unarmed African-Americans, the broadened inquiry made clear that even a city known for its liberal politics can be buffeted by accusations that its officers behaved in a racially biased manner.
African-Americans in San Francisco have complained for years about harassment and the use of excessive force by the police. And while African-Americans make up about 5 percent of the city’s population, they account for half of its arrests and jail inmates, and more than 60 percent of the children in juvenile detention, according to city statistics.
In Baltimore on Wednesday, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake acknowledged a “fractured relationship between the police and the community” in her predominately African-American city and asked the Justice Department to conduct a civil rights investigation of the Police Department to determine whether officers had engaged in unconstitutional patterns of abuse or discrimination.
At a news conference in San Francisco announcing the expanded inquiry, the district attorney, George Gascón, acknowledged that the racist text messages had particularly undermined public confidence in both his office and the local criminal justice system.
“In the last few months, we have seen city after city where police use of force or other police activity is coming to the light and indicating that racial animosity and other types of biases play a significant role,” he said. “I think at one point we felt we would be immune from that type of activity.”
He also said he believed that the city’s tradition of inclusivity would allow it to avoid the tumult in Ferguson, Mo., and other cities where racial bias has been found to have played a role in the actions of police officers.