After I obtained the police report of my February 17, 2003 Walgreens arrest (for using a "counterfeit" $100 bill which turned out to be genuine), I learned the identity of San Francisco police Sgt. Jeff Barry.
I then connected the dots and tied our last unpleasant encounter in 1995 to his conduct in either directing me to be arrested or in allowing it to happen when there was no “probable cause" to do so.
What I could not understand is why he did so. How could he carry a grudge against me for so long and to that extent?
It was a minor tiff. Because he was in charge of the boys' athletic program at the parochial school both our sons attended, I had gone to see him in 1995 to ask him why his basketball coach had not allowed my son to play for even a minute during the three games I went to.
He in turn was upset about a no-guns policy of the City College Board of Trustees (where I sit as a Trustee) which he said endangered the life of his brother-in-law. Although we were both upset at that meeting, it should have been no big deal.
So why? Over the years, a few have suggested that it is in the nature of power to corrupt. When you have the absolute power to humiliate another human being you do not like, it can be very difficult to resist the temptation to exercise that power.
Still others have suggested that racism was involved. It was no accident that both Sgt. Barry and Officer Michelle Liddicoet are white and that I am Filipino. Had I been white, like then Supervisor Gavin Newsom, they never would have even considered arresting me.
One friend, who has frequent contact with white police officers like Barry, explained that many of them feel threatened by minorities, especially those they perceive to be superior to them in qualification and achievement. These damn minorities must be put in their place and lowered a peg or two or more.
Many of these police officers of Irish descent, my friend said, went to Bishop Riordan High School because they did not have the grades to go to Sacred Heart or Saint Ignatius. They went to college at either San Francisco State or a the Jesuit-run University of San Francisco, obtaining a bachelor’s degree and going no further.
Becoming a San Francisco police officer or a fireman is the most they ever aspired to be or could ever hope to be. That ambition was probably all right back when they knew that they could rise through the ranks to make it all they way to the top and someday be Chief of Police.
But times changed. Because of “affirmative action,” minorities were allowed to become police officers and firemen and even promoted to officer posts. The opportunities for promotion for the Jeff Barrys of San Francisco were narrowing. They may never make it to chief. All because of “those damn uppity minorities.”
About a week after news of my arrest was published in the papers, I received a call from Chief Earl Sanders, the first African-American police chief of San Francisco. He called to express his apologies for the actions of his police officers.
We had a long conversation as Chief Sanders explained the presence and prevalence of racism within his police force even with him as chief. “Some officers landed on Plymouth Rock,” he said. “Other officers had Plymouth Rock land on them.” We chuckled at that observation.
Sanders explained how racism works. When I’m wearing my police chief uniform, I get respect,” he said. “But when I’m not in uniform, I’m treated like a nigger". He even disclosed that whenever his well-dressed wife goes to Nordstrom’s, “she’s watched like a hawk by white salesgirls who think she’ll steal something.”
Sanders came to San Francisco from Texas at age 14, went to George Washington High School before earning a Bachelor's Degree in criminal justice and a master's degree in public administration from Golden Gate University. In 1964, he joined the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) and, seven years later, was promoted to inspector in the homicide detail, handling some of the City’s most famous cases, including the Zebra killings in 1973 and 1974 where he tracked down four black Muslims who had killed 14 whites.
After gaining fame for solving the Zebra killings, Sanders organized the Officers for Justice, a largely black group of police officers, and filed a civil rights suit that charged the San Francisco Police Department with failing to hire minorities and women and endangering the few that were in the department.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported: “When the Officers for Justice civil rights suit against departmental racism came to trial in federal court in 1978, then-Inspector Sanders testified that white officers had shown him a handful of bullets and described them as "nigger stoppers." Black officers could not rely on their white colleagues for backup on the street, he told the court.
"Earl was the leader," recalled Robert Gnaizda, a lawyer who helped bring the lawsuit and remained close to Sanders after the case resulted in a consent decree that opened the department to women and minorities. "He's beyond just being a police officer. He's a person of great integrity."
Sometime after he joined the SFPD in 1964, Sanders began a life-long friendship with a young African-American lawyer who also came from Texas. That lawyer was Willie Brown who went on to became an Assemblyman and then Speaker of the California Assembly for more than 20 years before he was elected Mayor of San Francisco. After Brown's election as mayor, he appointed Sanders as Assistant Chief and then Chief of Police after Fred Lau, the first Chinese American police chief, retired.
Now the police chief of San Francisco is Heather Fong, the first Chinese American woman to serve as police chief in San Francisco and probably in the US. At this rate, Sgt. Barry will never make it as police chief. No wonder he had me arrested and humiliated. Take that you damn uppity minorities!