Tackling Racial Disparities
The San Francisco District Attorney's Office recognizes that the fair and equal administration of justice requires identifying and tackling racial disparities of all kinds within the criminal justice system, from policing to pre-trial detention to prosecution to probation or parole. Race, whether conscious or unconscious, affects every discretionary point in the criminal justice system. Even race-neutral policies can result in racially disparate outcomes.
In a big city like San Francisco, rich in racial, socioeconomic, and other forms of diversity, the goal of eliminating racial disparities means operating on many fronts. It calls for collecting data from arrest through sentencing and critically assessing policies and practices that underlie prosecutorial decisions. It means investigating the differential treatment of minority groups that have resulted through racially disparate law enforcement. It also calls for a better understanding of our own unconscious biases.
In 2016, for example, DA Gascón assembled the Blue Ribbon Panel of three retired jurists to conduct a top to bottom analysis of possible racial bias within the San Francisco Police Department. DA Gascón formed the panel following explicit evidence of fourteen SFPD officers involved in exchanging a series of racist text messages.
At the same time, emerging research makes clear that bias can operate more implicitly at an unconscious level. Visual markers—race, age, class, perceived sexual orientation, and gender, among others—can trigger internal processes in our brains to create positive emotions for some groups, and negative or no emotions at all for others. If such unconscious biases are left unchecked, they become powerful agents in perpetuating disparities.
As biases operate at the conscious and unconscious levels, the office has committed itself to identifying and tackling all forms of disparities within the criminal justice system, both locally and nationally. Several of our efforts include: