Latinos Bypassed on Key City Commissions

by on April 20, 2004

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled today to approve appointments to the revamped Police Commission. If the Rules Committee recommendations hold, no Latinos will serve on that body. In light of the many past controversies over the shooting deaths of Latinos, their exclusion from the Police Commission is shameful. The Board should hold off action until it addresses this issue.

When Proposition H passed last November, expectations were high that the Board appointees would reflect constituencies long victimized by police misconduct. Through a bizarre process that effectively transferred power over Police Commission appointments from the full Board to its Rules Committee, the three nominees likely to be approved are Teresa Sparks, Peter Keane, and Gayle Orr-Smith.

Sparks, a transgender former President of the Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club, sued the police for misconduct and comes from a community long subject to police abuse. But she was a big supporter of Newsom in the mayor’s race, is not viewed as a progressive, and does not appear to be the type of Commissioner who would side with communities of color against the mayor on police issues.

Keane, whom Matt Gonzalez has described as his mentor, is a former public defender with long experience cross-examining the police. But there were civil rights attorneys of color, like the Latino John Trasvina and former Asian Law Caucus Managing Attorney Victor Huang, who are as skilled as Keane and would have brought a connection to low-income communities that Keane lacks. Both Trasvina and Huang were likely to be appointed by the full Board, but were not recommended by the Rules Committee.

Gayle Orr-Smith has served on Commissions back to the Agnos years and we will leave it to others to decide if she adequately “represents” the African-American community. But neither Orr-Smith nor Joe Marshall, Newsom’s African-American pick, have been active in the community’s long efforts to reform the police.

One could say that the absence of Latinos on the Police Commission is simply business as usual in San Francisco. There are no Latinos on the Planning or Fire Commission, or on the Board of Appeals.

Politicians love to invoke the spirit of Cesar Chavez, but he was always about results, not rhetoric. The Board must revisit its appointment process and hold off approvals until the absence of a Latino Police Commisioner is addressed.

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