As the San Francisco Chief of Police George Gascon rushes from one community group to another offering “apologies and clarifications” of “misunderstandings” for the second week in the diverse city of San Francisco, members of The Arab American Union Members Council continue to be appalled by San Francisco Police Chief George Gascon’s March 24 remarks. Gascon spoke, allegedly in favor of an earthquake-retrofitting bill, alleging that the Hall of Justice is susceptible to “members of the city’s Middle Eastern community parking a van in front of it and blowing it up.” (San Francisco Chronicle, March 26, 2010)
Gascon later attempted to “clarify” his comments by claiming his remarks did not apply to the entire Arab, Muslim and broader Middle Eastern community, but instead to the Yemeni and Afghan communities in San Francisco – blatantly singling out these communities for further targeting, discrimination and injustice.
We are appalled by Chief Gascon’s racist remarks and believe that he is chasing federal “anti-terrorism” funding by putting our communities at risk. This is unacceptable, and we will not stand for members of our community being held up as threats based on national origin in a cheap grab for federal funds.
These statements illustrate an approach toward our community that is discriminatory and dangerous, indicating that we are viewed not as members of the community deserving of respect and protection, but instead subject to criminalization and demonization at the highest levels of the city’s police force.
Such statements by public officials, particularly public officials charged with protecting and serving the people of our city, are absolutely unacceptable. They place members of our community at risk of targeting and discrimination, and make it clear that members of our community are viewed as threats rather than part of the fabric of our city.
Naji Daifullah, the historic labor organizer of Arab American farm workers in California who sacrificed his life with other farm workers from Asia and Latin America to build a union for farm workers with Cesar Chavez as his mentor, was a member of the Yemeni community and the inspiration for today’s Arab American Union Members Council. As union members, workers and members of the Arab community, we cannot and will not tolerate racism from the police force, let alone blatantly expressed racism from the city’s Police Chief.
We are well aware that these comments are part and parcel of the ongoing racism and discrimination that characterize the San Francisco Police Department’s approach to people of color and other oppressed communities. AAUMC stands side by side with all people of color communities and other oppressed groups in San Francisco to say that formal apologies are necessary to assure safety to a targeted community, but continue to be disingenuous and insufficient. Racial profiling and harassment by law enforcement are a constant threat faced by communities of color in our city, and they are unacceptable. It is time that a real commitment is made to ending racial profiling and holding the police accountable when our communities are targeted.
We demand that the San Francisco Police Department demonstrate real commitment, beyond mere words, toward treating our communities – and all oppressed groups and communities in our city – with respect. Such steps must include disallowing any reconvening of the SFPD intelligence unit, creating a public advisory/accountability forum for the SFPD and a strict policy preventing police referrals to immigration authorities/ICE.
The people united will never be defeated.
President of Arab American Union Members Council (AAUMC)
Member of Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC)
And board member of Arab Cultural and Community Center (ACCC)