Friday, April 02, 2010

S.F. Police Chief Gascón makes amends to Arabs

San Francisco Police Chief George Gascón has been on an apology tour this week after making controversial remarks about terrorism and Middle Easterners - and the dustup is likely to lead to changes in the Police Department and at City Hall.

Gascón reportedly said last week the Hall of Justice is susceptible to a terrorist attack by members of the city's Middle Eastern community parking a van in front of it and blowing it up.

. . .

"It doesn't end with an apology, and the community has been very staunch about this," said Zahra Billoo, programs and outreach director for the Bay Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "An apology helps, but this is indicative of a larger problem."

Billoo said the group is also discouraged by Gascón's plan to revive the department's intelligence unit, which was disbanded about 15 years ago after The Chronicle reported one of its officers was leaking information on groups singled out by the Anti-Defamation League. Billoo said her group will seek some kind of civilian oversight of the new unit.

Gascón did not return calls for comment, but department spokeswoman Lt. Lyn Tomioka said the chief was "reaching out to the community. He has already apologized a number of times. He's made it very clear it was not his intent to offend anyone at all."

Theresa Sparks, who as a former police commissioner helped select Gascón for the job, has spoken with the chief numerous times since last week and attended one of his meetings with Arab Americans.

"This was truly his first 'Welcome to San Francisco' incident," said Sparks, now the executive director of the Human Rights Commission.

"I think after a lot of discussions with community members, he actually gets it - that the comments he made were really destructive," she said.

Sparks said the Human Rights Commission will establish a permanent working group to facilitate communication between Arab Americans and the Police Department.

She said the commission will also facilitate sensitivity training in the Police Department and sessions for Arab Americans about knowing their rights. She also wants the commission's sensitivity training efforts extended to Muni operators, taxicab owners and schools.

Read on: SF Gate

No comments: