SF Public Defender Mano Raju calls for major reforms after video surfaces showing SFPD officer with knee on teenager’s neck

by SF Public Defender Mano Raju 

The country is mourning after a Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd, an unarmed Black man accused of a nonviolent offense. What happened to George Floyd is happening all over the United States with miserable regularity. Anyone paying attention can see that our country is plagued by police use of excessive force and violence, especially against communities of color. 

In fact, on Saturday, my office learned of a video of an SFPD officer using the same deadly tactic, kneeling on the neck of an immobilized Black teenager. 

On Jan. 25, 19-year-old Kajon Busby was thrown to the ground by three SFPD officers who had been called to a verbal dispute between Kajon’s mother and the next door neighbors. Officer Valle kneeled on Kajon’s neck and back, pinning him face down on the sidewalk while her partners handcuffed him. 

Kajon Busby with his mother, Kerrine Busby, on March 17, 2018, from his Facebook page

Valle continued to use her knee to put pressure on Kajon’s neck and head for nearly a whole minute after he was cuffed. In the video, Valle can be heard attempting to explain the violence by telling the cameraman, “We told you to leave, but you didn’t want to,” as if that fact, if true, justified this violence. 

All three officers then misrepresented the events in their reports, Valle claiming she put her knee on Kajon’s back only, and the two others attempting to omit Valle’s violent conduct altogether. 

Kajon Busby graduated from Ida B. Wells High School in San Francisco on June 4, 2019.

Police who abuse their power should not be wearing a badge. While oversight and early intervention is important, it means nothing if there is rarely any meaningful disciplinary action or change. A massive overhaul of our policing system is needed, and it must be driven by the wisdom of the communities most impacted by systemic abuse.

The time for incremental reform in the SFPD has long passed. Therefore, we are calling on the Police Commission and Chief Scott to do the following now:

1. Issue a general order to the department forbidding any officer from applying pressure on a person’s neck and head while a person is on the ground. This new policy comports with SFPD’s policy against other potentially deadly detention holds such as chokeholds or hobbling. This policy must be made explicit and take effect immediately.

2. Make the use of potentially deadly detention holds a form of misconduct that leads to immediate termination.

. . . enact statewide legislative reforms, including amending provisions of the Public Safety Officers’ Procedural Bill of Rights that impede the swift termination of officers who abuse their authority . . .

3. Make systemic reforms the top priority of the Police Commission, requiring that the commission agendize only reform measures and discipline matters, and that the SFPD devote adequate personnel to implement the remaining California DOJ recommendations pursuant to the Collaborative Reform Initiative without further delay. 

4. End the two-tiered system of justice: Speedily investigate officers accused of violent and/or dishonest misconduct. Investigations that take months and sometimes years – while the offenders continue to act under the color of the law – endanger those who bear the brunt of the abuse and empower the abusers. 

5. Increase investments in alternatives to policing. Our over-reliance on law enforcement to respond to every call for help in our communities has led to more violence and over-incarceration. Instead, we must invest in other forms of social support and respond to crises by assessing needs and providing the necessary support. The systems currently in place are not the only options – we can build something different. Diverting funds from policing to community-based and trauma-informed approaches is the first step of many needed to help ameliorate the devastating effects that over-policing has had on communities of color. 

Further, I ask the Police Commission and Chief Scott to join us in a coalition to work to identify and enact statewide legislative reforms, including amending provisions of the Public Safety Officers’ Procedural Bill of Rights that impede the swift termination of officers who abuse their authority – for example, by accelerating the administrative appeals process. 

I am heartened by Chief Scott’s recent statement condemning the police murder of George Floyd and by the chief’s desire to implement anti-bias measures. However, the current pace of reform is neither rooting out violence and racism in SFPD, nor protecting our community members equally, nor holding violent or dishonest police accountable. San Francisco deserves better.

References

Video surfaces among George Floyd death fallout showing SFPD kneeling on a man’s neck – SF Examiner – May 30, 2020: https://www.sfexaminer.com/news/video-surfaces-amid-george-floyd-death-fallout-showing-sf-police-kneeling-on-mans-neck/ 

SFPD Collaborative Reform Phase II Report from the California Department of Justice, March 4, 2020: https://oag.ca.gov/system/files/attachments/press-docs/Final%20Hillard%20Heintze%20Phase%20II%20Report%20for%20the%20San%20Francisco%20Police%20Department-1.pdf

SF Public Defender Mano Raju can be reached via Public Information Officer Valerie Ibarra at Valerie.Ibarra@sfgov.org.