A breakfast to tout the importance of passing an earthquake-safety bond measure on the June ballot wound up sending shock waves through San Francisco's Arab American community after Police Chief George Gascón made controversial remarks about terrorism.
Gascón reportedly said the Hall of Justice at 850 Bryant St. is susceptible not just to an earthquake, but also to members of the city's Middle Eastern community parking a van in front of it and blowing it up.
Despite some reports to the contrary from those in attendance, Gascón on Thursday said he never referred to Middle Easterners or Arab Americans.
He said he instead singled out those from Yemen and Afghanistan as posing potential terrorism risks - especially in an iconic city like San Francisco with large numbers of residents from those countries. He admitted to saying they could park a van in front of the Hall of Justice and blow it up.
Ali Altaha, a member of the Arab American Chamber of Commerce who owns a small engineering firm in the city and was at the breakfast at the Ferry Building's MarketBar, said the chief should be fired.
"He basically said there's a large Arab American community in the Bay Area, a lot of Muslims, and because of terrorism, they need to be very careful," Altaha recalled. "It was very degrading, very inappropriate for a city official to make comments in this manner. ... I felt he was trying to sell terrorism as a commodity to justify his position or funding for his department."
Altaha, who moved from his native Iraq 30 years ago, said he tried to speak with the chief outside afterward.
"I was expecting him to make an apology," Altaha said, noting that didn't happen. "He was very aggressive and very cocky about it."...
Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who is of Iranian descent, wasn't at the breakfast but said he's received numerous phone calls from people of Arab and Persian descent who were there.
"It's no way to represent San Francisco and certainly no way to pitch for a bond that's on the ballot," Mirkarimi said. "Painting broad strokes in the way that he did, it's reckless."