San Francisco Saw the Passage of Historic Discrimination Legislation in May
The city of San Francisco passed historic anti-discrimination legislation earlier this May in response to the various types of racial and religious profiling that occurred immediately after the attacks of September 11.
Mayor Ed Lee approved the measure, affectionately dubbed the Safe San Francisco Civil Rights Ordinance, which had unanimous support from the Board of Supervisors. The ordinance mandates that the San Francisco Police Department and its officers work in conjunction with federal authorities to respect California laws on privacy and also calls for annual reports on these SFPD-FBI activities. The newly established legislation, which will come into effect mid-summer, calls for the SFPD to report on the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force’s presence in the city, to the Police Commission.
After many revisions, Supervisor Jane Kim introduced the final version to the Board on May 8 after hearing concerns from constituents over racial and religious discrimination from the FBI. Many were infuriated by a series of documents that demonstrated that the FBI had been spying on the area’s Muslim community.
The Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian (AMEMSA) communities in San Francisco affected by discrimination in the wake of 9/11 began to report instances in which they had been discriminated against by FBI techniques from 2004-2008 especially. Kim was further inspired to write the legislation when of her constituents divulged that they were frightened about coming forth to her, afraid that they would be further harassed if they brought it to her attention.
While most civil rights activists recognize that the measure is an important step in the right direction to halting unlawful federal surveillance, critics argue that the ordinance has become too watered down, failing to adequately address the needs of the Muslim community.
Working the Details
Mayor Lee vetoed an initial version of this ordinance, as he was concerned with the legislation’s over-regulatory approach to ending discrimination. According to Nasrina Bargie of the Asian Law Caucus (ALC), Lee was concerned that with the ordinance’s “picking out parts of particular police department general orders” and worried that it could lead to a slippery slope where “regulation from the Police Commission was needed to approve any future agreements between the SFPD and FBI.” According to the ALC, the mayor did not want them to place barriers on “existing relationships between the police chief and the Police Commission.” Ultimately, however, most critics agree that the minor changes that resulted from the veto did not affect the overall message of the legislation.
Federal Policies Affect All
Throughout American history, discriminatory federal policies have been a major inhibitor to full civil and democratic rights of minority groups. Currently, students of Middle Eastern descent, as well as other demographics in San Francisco, have experienced these abusive practices by the FBI. Critics argue that if federal authorities continue their choke-hold on minority communities, our society will lose its reputation as a just and democratic one.
However, with the population of minorities in America on the rise, the political landscape can dramatically shift. Congressional representatives have seen their districts and constituents dramatically altered within recent decades.
If Democrats around the country want to insure that the 2012 election cycle is a successful one, they ought to include minority rights and harassment cases, as a mainstay of their platform. San Francisco lawmakers have taken one step forward in recognizing discrimination is something that should be taken seriously. When discrimination happens in our communities it not only affects the victim, but others are affected as well. Their families are directly affected as well in becoming a little more paranoid for their own security. It especially is disconcerting when our youth is being discriminated against, because when they are victims of harassment, then visible or hidden resentment builds within them. This resentment can take a violent turn and that violence may mirror already negative stereotypes of students of minority descent. The Democratic Party needs to ensure that equality amongst all Americans is guaranteed, whether they are immigrants from the Middle East or tenth generation Americans. This year, as it is an election year, it is an opportune time for the Democratic Party to show how much we value our fellow citizens by showing our disdain for extreme legislation that would alienate and lessen the civil or democratic rights of minority groups.