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Coalition of 110+ Civil Rights, Traffic Safety, and Community Groups Urge San Francisco Police Commission to End Racially-Biased Pretext Stops

Emma Tozer, GLIDE Foundation, etozer@glide.org, (301) 383-3128
Jessie Seyfer, San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, jessie.seyfer@sfgov.org, (415) 851-2212

SAN FRANCISCO — Today at 10 a.m., the Coalition to End Biased Stops held a press
conference inside San Francisco’s City Hall to call for an end to racially-biased traffic stops,
also known as “driving, bicycling, or walking while Black or brown” or “pretext stops.”
The press conference was held with members of the Board of Supervisors, Police
Commissioners, the Coalition, residents who have been personally impacted by pretext stops,
and community leaders in anticipation of the San Francisco Police Commission’s vote
tonight at 5:30 p.m. on significant revisions to the Police Department’s traffic stop policies.
Should the Commissioners vote to adopt these changes, the new set of rules would be
the most comprehensive policy in the country to address racially-biased traffic stops.

The Coalition to End Biased Stops is committed to ending racially-biased traffic stops
by police in San Francisco, and has been building support for these changes over the
past 16 months. Police use these alleged traffic violations as a “pretext” to detain and
search people, wreaking untold economic, physical, psychological, and intergenerational
harm, especially on Black and brown San Franciscans.

The numbers are stark: Multiple studies have shown that Black drivers are
disproportionately stopped by police in San Francisco. Black drivers make up 19% of
all traffic stops but just 5% of the population. A recently published SPUR analysis of
2019 traffic stop data found that Black drivers were stopped by the police the most
for having their “license plates displayed incorrectly,” but received tickets just 22% of the
time they were stopped, indicating that stops weren’t actually related to driver behavior,
but were instead pretext stops. Other jurisdictions have already taken initial or significant
steps toward banning pretext stops, including Berkeley, Los Angeles, Minneapolis,
Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and the state of Virginia.

The draft Department General Order that will be voted on at tonight’s Commission
meeting would constitute a critical step in ending pretext stops. To ensure Black and
brown community members are protected from pretext stops, the Coalition advocated
for a comprehensive list of codes for which SFPD cannot stop drivers, bicyclists, and
pedestrians. In the revised DGO, the nine reasons for stops that officers would not be
able to use without further justification are:

● Failure to display a front license plate;
● Failure to display proper registration tags;
● Failure to illuminate license plate;
● Driving with malfunctioning tail lights (unless all lights are out);
● Driving with malfunctioning brake lights (unless all brake lights are out);
● Having an object affixed to window or hanging from rear-view mirror (unless the item obstructs
the driver’s view and substantially increases likelihood of injury or death);
● Failure to signal while turning or changing lanes;
● Sleeping in a car; and,
● Pedestrian or bicycle infractions unless there is an immediate danger of crash.

Members of the Coalition to End Biased Stops – which includes GLIDE Foundation,
SF Bicycle Coalition, the ACLU of Northern California, Office of the San Francisco
Public Defender, and Walk San Francisco – provided the following quotes in support
of ending pretext stops:

Miguel Bustos, Senior Director of GLIDE’s Center for Social Justice, said,
“Willie McCoy, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Sam Dubose, Walter Scott,
Daunte Wright, and Rayshard Brooks should still be alive. They were all Black,
and police killed them during ordinary traffic stops for violations that did not
threaten public safety. Thankfully, the Police Commission is voting tonight at
5:30 pm, on whether to adopt the most comprehensive policy in the United States
to address the harms caused by pretext stops. These policy changes have the
overwhelming support of community, including the more than 110 local
organizations making up the Coalition to End Biased Stops.”

Mano Raju, San Francisco Public Defender, said, “As we know from the
deaths of Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Sam Dubose, Walter Scott, Daunte
Wright and Rayshard Brooks, racially-biased traffic stops can be fatal for people
of color. We can and should do better. The commission has the power to end
these racially biased pretext stops. And now is the time.”

Claire Amable, Movement Building Manager, SF Bicycle Coalition, said,
“Pretext stops instill fear, cause incalculable psychological and physical harm,
and the data shows they don’t make our streets safer for anyone. We believe
putting an end to them will make streets safer for Black and brown people. Ending
this practice will allow SFPD to prioritize our limited resources on making stops
for the most dangerous driving behaviors; speeding, running red lights and stop
signs, failing to yield while turning and failing to yield to pedestrians. We look
forward to the Police Commission hearing tonight and encourage the
commissioners to put an end to this practice of pretext stops, today.”

Yoel Haile, Director, Criminal Justice Program, ACLU of Northern California,
said “Pretext stops happen everywhere in the country, every day. For people of color,
pretext stops are as ubiquitous as breathing. SFPD frequently use minor traffic
violations – like hanging an air freshener or prayer bead, sleeping in your car,
or a broken taillight – to stop and search people. Those pretext stops
disproportionately target Black and brown people. Let us protect our community
and end biased, pretext stops once and for all, tonight”

District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton, said, “I can remember being stopped as
a teenager and pulled over because I had a clear plastic covering on my license plate.
It was not obstructive in any way. It was a clear covering. But this was an excuse at
the time of the stop. Pretext stops involve stopping people because they look a
certain way,  because an officer feels a certain way. This is something that we have
to stop immediately. They’re terrifying, extremely traumatizing and it’s unfortunate
that this has been the status quo for Black and brown people. It’s not normal and it is

Carl Takei, Senior Staff Attorney and Program Manager of the Criminal Justice
Reform Program at Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus, said,
“Along with other Asian American and Pacific Islander organizations, we join the
call to end pretext stops in San Francisco. Our support for this policy is deeply rooted
in the AAPI history of being targeted by police traffic and pedestrian stops
and our community history of fighting against this racial profiling. In supporting
today’s policy, my organization and others are remembering and choosing to honor
that history. Our shared trauma and shared experience of injustice are why we stand
against pretext stops, against racially-biased policing, and in solidarity with our
fellow communities of color.”