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San Francisco's Public Defender Explains Racial Disparities In The City's Criminal Justice System

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) — After months of national outrage and protest over racially charged police killings, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi recently joined other Bay Area public defenders last month criticizing the lack of indictments of officers who kill unarmed black men.

At a conference the public defenders released a statement that the criminal justice system has no credibility when it fails to hold police officers accountable for the killing of black and brown people.

Adachi, who is the only elected public defender in the state of California and has held the post since 2002, said that most police officers are trying to do the right thing by serving their communities.

"The problem is that you have a culture within the police department, which I think encourages bias." He explained these biases occur on racial and unconscious levels. Adachi cited the police killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Eric Garner in New York and 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland as examples of how communities see that officers aren't being held accountable for their actions.

Locally he referred to the police shooting of Alex Nieto who was shot numerous times and killed by police while walking on Bernal Hill. Police said Nieto had reached for his Taser when they opened fire. "Police officers are not being held accountable for murder or killing or whether you call it manslaughter, however you define it. There is no penalty for officers that are committing crimes.

His department of over 90 attorneys gives legal representation to more than 20,000 people a year. His office has now commissioned a study to identify racial disparity in the San Francisco criminal justice system.

According to the president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association, the SFPD is one of the most diverse departments in the nation, which undergoes continual diversity training.

According to Adachi the SFPD stops black men at four times the rate of their white counterparts. "You might think that means black men are committing more traffic violations. That's not true. In San Francisco, the black/ African-American population is less than six percent, yet 56 percent of the people in the jails are African-Americans. People rely on stereotypes on these ideas and notions they have about who's dangerous and who's threatening."

Listen to the full hour-long KCBS In Depth segment:


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