At left, Captain David Lazar, commanding officer of Ingleside Station, listens to Supervisor Eric Mar, whose resolution urging charges against the San Francisco 8 be dropped because of confessions coerced through torture. The San Francisco 8 are accused of murdering Sergeant John Young at Ingleside Station 38 years ago.
Is it political suicide or a heartfelt stand on fundamental human rights? Whichever it may be, Supervisor Eric Mar’s resolution urging Attorney General Jerry Brown to drop charges against the “San Francisco 8” — aging men, members of militant black groups in their youths, charged two years ago in the 1971 shooting death of a San Francisco police officer — was in many ways a black-and-white issue. If you were in the crowded Board chamber for the resolution’s hearing on Thursday, you were either a furious (white) police officer speaking out against meddling supervisors “plunging daggers in our backs… and spitting in our faces,” or you were a (black, but also Latino, and there was a white dude or two) earnest activist condemning the use of torture and urging the release of these geriatric gentlemen.
Deputy Chief Kevin Cashman
As expected, the Police Officers’ Association came out in force against the resolution, packing the Board chamber, giving Mar the evil eye and generally making the slight, bookish-looking former college lecturer extremely nervous-looking. Deputy Chief Kevin Cashman, head of the Field Operations bureau (the branch of SFPD service in which Sgt. John V Young served when he was killed by a shotgun blast at Ingleside Station 38 years ago) read a written statement urging the supervisors to drop the issue and let the courts decide it; POA head Gary Delagnes read a statement ticking off all the SF 8’s other crimes (including several other convictions for police slayings); and POA vice president Kevin Martin brought out the heavy artillery, calling Mar “bereft of conscience… politically-bankrupt… with no concern for the sanctity of [cops’] lives.”
No police officers of color testified.
Harvard law professor and San Francisco 8 counsel Soffiyah Elijah maintained that evidence coerced through torture is inadmissible and intolerable in a democratic society such as these United States, her thoughts echoed by members of San Francisco clergy and other activists.
(Was torture used to elicit confessions from some of the men? Mar seems to think so, referencing “tossing burning wool blankets” and “tying plastic bags around the heads” of the witnesses in his closing remarks. And while the Police Officers’ Association is “absolutely opposed” to torture, Delagnes points out that the 2007 arrests were based on newly-introduced, forensic evidence, not 30-year-old witness statements, illegitimate or otherwise.)
Supervisor Eric Mar makes his final remarks.
After the hearing, Mar said that the Board has passed resolutions condemning torture before; this latest move is “consistent” with that. He said he respects police officers, wants to work with them and is sorry for pissing them off, but that “we can’t tolerate torture. We should be speaking out against this.”
Delagnes was, unsurprisingly for those who know him, livid.
“[Mar] knows who killed John Young,” he fumed. “He’s a radical, leftwing liberal… he actually believes this bullshit.”
It’s safe to assume Mar won’t be getting the POA’s endorsement anytime soon. The full vote on the nonbinding, purely symbolic resolution should be held a week from Tuesday.
All photos: Chris Roberts for the Appeal