By Ramsey El-Qare
If you just inherited a police department that made headlines last year because its officers unjustly attacked and brutalized Arabs at an anti-war demonstration, you probably shouldn’t kick things off by making a racist crack about the San Francisco Middle Eastern community attacking the Hall of Justice.
Apparently, San Francisco Police Chief George Gascón never got the memo.
While speaking at a breakfast about the importance of an earthquake safety bond measure, he felt the need to emphasize that earthquakes are not the only thing the Hall of Justice needs to worry about: He said the city’s Middle Eastern community might destroy the building with a car bomb.
Gascón defended himself by saying he never mentioned certain Middle Eastern or Arab communities and that only Yemeni and Afghan communities pose a terrorism threat. What makes him think pointing to these two communities would make his statements acceptable?
The term “Middle East” is problematic because it is so loosely defined. Some people include Afghanistan and some do not. Gascón’s misuse of the word shows how little he knows about the people he’s attacking. Not all Middle Easterners are Arab, nor are they all exclusively Muslim.
The word terrorism is and has been used to justify abhorrent actions like the stripping of civil liberties and spying on the American people.
With his remarks, Gascón was not only scapegoating Yemeni and Afghan U.S. citizens, he was also endangering the lives of anyone from Arab, Muslim or Middle Eastern descent. The chief and the organization behind him are supposed to ensure our safety. Instead, entire communities are being put in harm’s way to get extra cash in the name of safety at the Hall of Justice. Shame on you, Chief Gascón.
The police chief holds a powerful position. While some may perceive his remarks as an accidental blurb, others will hear them and think that people from the Middle East can be mistreated, scapegoated and dumped upon because they are the lowest humans on the totem pole.
Gascón made a quick entrance and an even quicker exit at the media conference on April 2 where he apologized to the Yemeni community. His apology did not appear sincere and he didn’t answer any questions from the audience.
The San Francisco Police Department needs to demonstrate real commitment to equality for all oppressed communities in this city. Words are not enough.
An apology without actions following it makes no difference. All members of our society, regardless of what community they identify with, need to be treated with the respect they deserve.