More Public Defenders, Community Members Protest Court Backlogs Again in San Francisco

San Francisco Hall of Justice – Photo by David M. Greenwald

By Yash Mishra    

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – More lawyers and staff from the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office gathered on the steps of the San Francisco Superior Court last Friday to continue protesting the trial backlogs in court.

Interns, attorneys, and community members have continued to be part of this cause and have gathered every Friday on the courthouse steps to stand up against the injustice of court backlogs.

Chief of “Confront and Advocate,” Angela Chan, led the protests, exclaiming, “Whose courts?” Protestors responded, “Our courts!” holding signs that said, “Trials Overdue 1160,” and Coalition to End Biased Stops.”

 

Angela Chan (Left) Leads Protests in Front of San Francisco Hall of Justice – Photo by Safiya O’Brien

 

Protestors Hold Their Signs in Front of San Francisco Hall of Justice – Photo by Safiya O’Brien

Chan continued to engage everyone and addressed police “pretext” traffic stops that heavily contribute to the court backlogs, stating, “This week is knowing your rights with the police and encouraging the implementation of a new policy that our office is in coalition with The Coalition to End Biased Stops which limits racist traffic stops called ‘pretext’ stops.”

As protestors expressed opposition to “pretext” traffic stops, drivers honked their car horns to express their support while San Francisco Sheriff Deputies who were passing by looked at the protestors in awe.

Deputy Public Defender Brian Cox, who is the head of the Integrity Unit, explained the burning issue of “pretext” police stops, arguing, “Too many of our community members are locked in cages because of ‘pretext’ stops.

He said, “A ‘pretext stop’ occurs when a cop uses a traffic infraction like a broken taillight (as an excuse) to pull over the driver (not) because they care about the broken taillight being a public safety concern. The cops pull folks over because they want to question or search them despite having no evidence of criminal activities.”

He raised his voice and said, “They (police) just want to fish for something. This practice is dehumanizing, particularly to the people of color. The racial disparities in traffic stops, use of force, and searches haven’t gone down despite every effort in this police department (San Francisco Police Department).”


Brian Cox (left) speaks about the impact of “pretext” stops – Photo by Isabella Hutcheson  

He took a pause and continued, “We see more community members being locked up because their registration plate is expired, or their registration plate is in the window instead of on the bumper. The part they (police) leave out in their police report when they say that they saw the license plate on the window instead of the bumper is a part they aren’t supposed to say out loud. The reason why they (police) haven’t looked at the license plate in the first place is because the driver was a Black man with dreads.”

He then charges, “It is time for this racialized harassment to end. It is time to open the courts. It is time to free our people because justice delayed is justice denied.”

Yoel Haile. criminal justice program director of The ACLU of Northern California, was also present at the protests. He approached the front and exclaimed, “People are languishing in jail. They are in lockdown conditions with no sunlight for months and years past their deadlines.”

Yoel Haile (left) speaks about the court backlogs – Photo by Isabella Hutcheson 

He continues, “We are here today because there are over 1,000 people whose constitutional rights to speedy trial are being violated right now. Nearly 46 percent of them are Black people. Many of these folks who first come in contact with the criminal legal system likely started with ‘pretext’ stops.”

Police “pretext” traffic stops commonly lead to unnecessary searches, police violence and over-policing of Black and Brown communities, the speakers asserted.

As noted, these stops occur when police use a traffic violation to investigate other suspected wrongdoings. During these stops, officers tend to detain and search individuals and ask questions unrelated to the stops. Pretext stops hide racial bias and are disproportionately used against Black and Brown drivers, they said.

As a result, these stops have clogged the courts with matters that add to the trial backlog and have diminished the health and safety of San Francisco communities, the speakers said.

Haile concluded with a final message, “We call on the DA’s Office to dismiss as many cases as possible and help eliminate the trial backlogs. We demand people to be released on their own recognizance and be offered the support and services they need. We call on the San Francisco Superior Court to follow state law and respect the speedy trial deadlines and prioritize criminal trials for people in custody.”

About The Author

Yash Mishra is a senior at California State University, Fullerton where he studies Criminal Justice. He is very passionate about the burning issues in the criminal justice system. After completing his undergraduate studies, he plans to pursue a career in investigations.

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