The same California police department that accused a top NBA executive of assault moments after his team won the league championship this week has a long history of racism, according to multiple reports. A closer look at the ugly saga surrounding Masai Ujiri, the president of the Toronto Raptors who is Black, seemed to suggest that the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office’s allegation of battery — which an eyewitness said never happened — was flimsy and fueled by implicit bias, at best, and all-out racism at worst.
The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office tried to prevent Ujiri from going onto the court at Oracle Arena in Oakland after the Raptors beat the Golden State Warriors on Thursday night for the franchise’s first NBA title. In a tried and true tradition, Ujiri was simply doing what other team executives and owners have done after their teams have won NBA titles. But one police officer assigned to do security for the game had a problem with Ujiri and singled him out under the guise of checking his credentials, something that literally not one other person had a problem with on that crowded basketball court after the game ended.
The episode ended in a game of he-said, he-said, with each claiming the other was the aggressor.
While most headlines immediately portrayed the officer as a victim, one an eyewitness told the Associated Press that Ujiri was the one who was assaulted by the police, not the other way around. Nevertheless, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office said it planned to pursue misdemeanor battery charges against Ujiri. The announcement was made less than 24 hours after the biggest achievement of Ujiri’s impressive career.
While history has proven thousands of times over that it’s always prudent to take police accounts with a few grains of salt, a quick search revealed that the type of behavior exhibited by that police officer who tried to check Ujiri was par for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office apparent racist course. And you don’t have to look that far back for pretty damning proof, either.
It was reported just last month that there was a massive coverup in the police shooting of Oscar Grant, who was handcuffed when public transit cop shot him on New Year’s Day in 2009. While Bay Area Rapid Transportation (BART) officers are part of their own separate department, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office supplies “specialized units to address critical incidents on BART facilities that are in their counties.” It also hints at the larger culture of racist law enforcement within the area.
Despite the heightened attention on the department following that shooting, someone running the sheriff’s office Twitter account decided it’d be a good idea to retweet a post from the face of white nationalism, Richard Spencer. The retweet in 2017 was seen as an endorsement of Spencer’s open racist hate. Police said it wasn’t “done intentionally” but it was up for nearly an hour. Not a good look.
That same year, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office hosted a group that the Southern Poverty Law Center described as “one of the largest radical antigovernment groups in the U.S. today.” The Oath Keepers — which in 2014 had its “heavily armed” members go to Ferguson, Missouri, following the killing of Michael Brown “to protect white businesses against black protesters” — had a booth at an Alameda County Sheriff’s Office’s event for its Urban Shield program, which “brings first responders from multiple local agencies together to learn how to coordinate efforts in the event of a major emergency.” The group also has members outside of Rep. Maxine Waters’ congressional office in Los Angeles last year before the planned protest backfired.
Not to be outdone, the department was sued in 2011 by a Black driver who said he was racially profiled during a meritless traffic stop. Only he wasn’t just any other Black driver. He just happened to be an attorney with the San Francisco public defender’s office who knew his rights and was arrested because he tried to record to encounter on video. Kwixuan Maloof said he was handcuffed while police conducted an illegal search of his vehicle.
And while that might seem like a long time ago, just last year the department was accused of using an anti-terrorism grant from the Trump administration to “focus on Black, Muslim inmates returning to society,” according to the East Bay Express. Specifically, the wording of the proposed use for the grant came into question.
“The Express found that the words ‘Muslim’ and ‘violent’ appeared 31 times each in the sheriff’s proposal; ‘extremism’ appeared 26 times; and ‘radicalization,’ 12 times,” the local news outlet wrote in October. “‘White supremacists,’ by contrast, is mentioned only once. The application does not mention civil liberties.”
It’s not just instances of racism and discrimination that is so troubling, according to an opinion piece that ran in the Mercury News in January: “Over the last decade, the Sheriff’s Office misconduct has ranged from excessive force and neglect, to racial discrimination, to the illegal recording of privileged attorney-client conversations, leaving in its wake dead bodies, grieving families and costly lawsuits.”