The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against the city of San Francisco, alleging that the police department targeted black people for arrests, the organization announced Thursday.
The ACLU said San Francisco Police Department has a long history of racial discrimination. The nonprofit cited 2013 arrests and eventual prosecution of 37 suspects, all black, who were selling small amount of drugs in the Tenderloin District.
The suit was filed on behalf of six of the suspect. It alleges SFPD knew well that "people of many different races engage in drug sales in that neighborhood."
“Multiple studies – some commissioned by the city itself – have consistently documented the tolerance of racist policing by the department, and yet it has failed abysmally to take appropriate and meaningful steps to reform its unlawful ways," Novella Coleman, staff attorney at the ACLU of Northern California, said in a statement.
The arrests were part of a joint "Operation Safe Schools" undertaking between the SFPD and the federal agency Drug Enforcement Administration.
The spokesperson for San Francisco City Attorney's Office, John Coté, said the city can't comment on a lawsuit "we haven’t even seen yet" but stated that the SFPD didn't "engage in selection enforcement."
"The evidence will show that San Francisco police acted in accordance with federal directives. The San Francisco Police Department prides itself on being one of the most diverse, forward-thinking and transparent law enforcement agencies in the country," Coté said.
In 2016, a federal judge found "substantial evidence" of racial bias in SFPD's policing during the operation, the San Francisco Chronicle reported, and charges against 12 of the 37 people arrested were dismissed in 2017.
Greg Suhr resigned as police chief in 2016 amid rising racial tensions over police fatally shooting four minority suspects over a six-month period. None of the suspects were armed with guns.
Suhr's resignation culminated a tumultuous five-year term that included two separate scandals involving officers exchanging racist and homophobic text messages, including some comparing blacks to monkeys and others disparaging black suspects. Nine officers were fired for sending inappropriate texts.
The city last year hired its first black police chief, Bill Scott. He has vowed to reform a department that a 2016 U.S. Department of Justice report found disproportionately arrested, searched and used deadly force against black suspects.