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Former police trainer speaks out about anti-Black bias

Michael Barba

Dec 17, 2020

An implicit bias trainer who found the San Francisco Police Department suffered from an “extreme” degree of anti-Black sentiment spoke out Wednesday about the troubling experiences that spurred his damning assessment.

Dante King trained more than 1,000 members of the SFPD including sergeants, civilians and police brass over a recent two-and-a-half-year period as a manager with the Department of Human Resources.

During that time, King and his team of trainers grew increasingly troubled by participants displaying “blatant racist and racially biased anti-Black and misogynistic comments and behaviors,” he told the Police Commission.

“There was little to no willingness at times to have surface level and/or factual conversations about the role that race and racism have played in the evolution of law enforcement,” King said. “Instead, there was repeated pushback, denial, re-enforced narratives about Black people as criminals by nature.”

The Police Commission invited King to speak after the San Francisco Examiner obtained and published a private email in February that he sent to Police Chief Bill Scott and his boss at DHR last April.

For critics of the department, the email affirmed the belief that bias and racism are rooted in police culture. It also prompted the former head of the Police Commission to call for an independent investigation and was cited by the California Department of Justice in a March report criticizing SFPD’s progress on reforms.

At the Police Commission, King described bias as being “pervasive” and “unchecked” in the department.

One sergeant became so upset after asserting racism and racial bias did not exist in the SFPD that he “threw his keys and stormed out of the session,” King said. Another admitted he would detain a Black person over a white person because “Black people are the ones who commit crimes,” according to King.

“There was a lack of empathy, understanding and absolutely no room for discussing the role policing has played in oppressing black people,” King said.

King said being caught up in the situation caused him tremendous pain. Days after the article ran, King said he faced retaliation despite not having leaked the email to the Examiner. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency allegedly rescinded a job offer for him to become the acting director for its Office of Race, Equity and Inclusion because he had “broken” the trust of employees, King said.

Erica Kato, a spokesperson for SFMTA Director Jeffrey Tumlin, declined to comment on “individual employee personnel matters” but said the agency “has not extended an offer to any candidate for the position.”

“When it comes to the management of anti-racism and implicit bias training, the assurance of confidentiality among participants is paramount,” Kato said. “That safe space is the tenant of trust necessary for employees to open up and have frank, and often difficult, conversations. Director Tumlin has made it consistently clear to all staff the value of a safe, confidential environment for city workers to confront biases.”

King said the harm was compounded by Scott sending an internal message to his officers in response to the article that described King as having “maligned” the SFPD.

“I was mortified,” King said. “The private message I sent to the chief, meant to be constructive, was weaponized against me.”

King later came to tears when Scott apologized.

“My email was never meant to hurt you in any way,” Scott said. “What you put in your email did have an impact on how we moved forward.”

A recording of the Police Commission discussion can be viewed here.

This story has been updated to include comments from the SFMTA.

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