The San Francisco Police Officer’s Association is facing some backlash after publishing a photo of two dogs in its newspaper criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement.
The controversial photo shows a black Labrador Retriever with a sign around its neck that reads ‘Black Labs Matter’ and a yellow Labrador Retriever with a corresponding sign that says ‘All Labs Matter.’
According to SFGate, the photo was featured on the back page of the August issue of the San Francisco Police Officers Association Journal.
The photo, submitted by a union supporter, is accompanied by a plea from the union: “Maybe it’s time we all just sit back and tone down the rhetoric,” a reference to many months of heated national debate over police shootings and, recently, the targeted slayings of police officers.
The photo weighs in on a controversy that has flared on social media and has animated political debates. Some people have countered the phrase “Black lives matter” by saying, “All lives matter,” and they in turn have been accused of objecting to a simple request that black people be treated fairly.
People in the Black Lives Matter movement have sought to explain that the focus on black lives is appropriate because black people are disproportionately profiled and killed by police.
The dog photo “once again shows a severe lack of understanding,” said Sgt. Yulanda Williams, president of Officers for Justice, an organization within the San Francisco police force representing African American and other nonwhite officers. “It’s so inflammatory, and they still don’t get it. They still choose to inflame situations, and it’s just really insulting.”
The Police Department and acting Chief Toney Chaplin declined to comment.
Union officials did not immediately comment to a request for comment on the journal photo, but Union President Martin Halloran pointed to a radio ad put out by the union about the recent attacks on police officers.
“In light of the rising violence against police officers, we hope everyone can start to turn down the volume,” Halloran says in the ad. “Anti-police rhetoric has been cited as a contributing factor to the violence against police officers. I think we can all do better and the police will do our part. We will continue with our best efforts to build bridges of communication and understanding between us and the community that we serve.”
The headline of the lead article in the August issue of the union journal reads, “Persevering the violence and blame: America’s cops have been there before.”
The union published the photo amid questions about whether the department has a systemic problem with racism, following the emergence of two separate sets of racist text messages exchanged between officers. Halloran has repeatedly said no such problem exists, calling the department one of the most culturally and racially diverse in the nation.
The U.S. Department of Justice is in the midst of a collaborative, top-to-bottom review of the police force that was launched after officers shot and killed a stabbing suspect, Mario Woods, in the Bayview neighborhood in December.
A panel of retired judges, assembled by District Attorney George Gascón to investigate potential police misconduct and bias, has questioned whether the union holds too much power in the department, and many activists have accused the union of standing in the way of reforms.
“I think that it’s clear that the POA continues to be tone-deaf around the real issues surrounding police accountability,” said Alicia Garza, an Oakland activist who co-founded the Black Lives Matter online forum in 2013 in response to a neighborhood watch volunteer’s killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida.
She said, “They characterize as rhetoric what is actually a really concerning problem of a lack of accountability, a lack of transparency and a lack of professionalism in that department.”
Anand Subramanian, executive director of the panel of judges investigating bias, also criticized the publication of the dog photo, saying, “It shows a severe lack of judgment and empathy for the real and justified pain and outrage that black communities are feeling.”
Sgt. Williams, who drew ire from the union when she testified before the judges’ panel about racism she experienced in the Police Department, said the photo demonstrated “blatant unwillingness to speak up for black lives.
Yeah, they tried it.