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San Francisco mayor defends public release of racist police video

December 14, 2005
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San Francisco mayor defends public release of racist police video

Associated Press Writer

SAN FRANCISCO- Mayor Gavin Newsom has defended releasing to the public a police video that showed a white officer driving over a black homeless woman and poking fun at racial stereotypes, amid criticism that he was hasty in condemning the clips.

Newsom rejected arguments that the tapes were never meant to be shown publicly and simply contained in-house police jokes, saying he didn't "think it was fun and games" to laugh at ethnic stereotypes.

"You can't just turn a blind eye to the insensitivity in these videos," an animated Newsom said Wednesday.

Twenty-four officers from the Bayview station were suspended last week after portions of the 28-minute video _ which Newsom has branded racist, sexist and homophobic _ came to light. Scenes include a traffic cop pulling over a woman and ogling her and a black officer eating out of a dog bowl.

Officer Andrew Cohen, who produced the video, appeared at a hearing Wednesday to determine if he could return to work. Cohen, who said he had intended to show the video at the station's Christmas party as a send-off for retiring Bayview Capt. Rick Bruce, faces charges of conduct unbecoming of an officer.

Cohen's attorneys said the video was clearly marked "for comedy purposes only."

Cohen was in the process of removing the video from his Web site when he heard city officials had concerns and was blindsided when Newsom and Police Chief Heather Fong released it at a press conference, said Daniel Horowitz, one of Cohen's attorneys.

"This is all about people joking around, and it got out of hand because the mayor released it publicly," Horowitz said. Horowitz said Newsom was engaging in "politically correct opportunism."

Newsom said that when people get a chance to review additional video footage he called "outrageous," they will consider the city's response measured. That footage, which includes an "Abu Ghraib-type skit that was done with African-American officers in cages," has not been released for legal reasons, he later told KTVU-TV.

"If this occurred in any business in the private sector, none of us would criticize the company for direct and swift action," Newsom said, adding that "this is the last thing the city needs at this time. The department was trying to turn a corner."

The department last drew national attention three years ago, when former Chief Earl Sanders was indicted _ and later cleared _ in an alleged cover-up of a late-night brawl between two off-duty officers and two men who refused to hand over a bag of steak fajitas.

Horowitz said the officers in the video were willing to poke fun at their ethnicity but that Cohen feels "sick" that people were upset.

Eight officers believed to be less involved than other suspended officers were allowed to return to work this week, and eight other officers were waiting to hear if they could return to work as well.

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