SFPD accused of racially profiling 13-year-old Marin boy

Lily Reese

Upon waiting for a ride home from his tutor, seventh-grader Michael Coleman was approached by a San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) officer on Tuesday, March 15. The officer proceeded to ask the boy to put his hands behind his back, claiming Michael matched a description regarding a car burglar that had been seen earlier that day. Michael was leaving Sterne School, a private primary school in downtown San Francisco when he was stopped.

Michael Coleman was approached by the San Francisco Police Department on Tuesday, March 15, on his way home from Sterne School. (Photo courtesy of Dolores Coleman)

Jeanne Wilten, Michael’s tutor, witnessed the altercation.

“There was a policeman there running, and he put his arms on Michael and said, ‘Put your hands behind your back.’ And I hopped out of the car immediately, [asking] ‘What are you doing?’ Because he didn’t identify himself,” Wilten said. “I just couldn’t believe the rationale or the reasoning [of why] this policeman was so [aggressive].”

Once the officer let go of Michael, he asked for his ID — which Michael, being under 16, did not have to provide. Wilten instantly became protective of Michael, as she felt it was her responsibility to advocate for him.

“The last thing I would want as a mother or as a caretaker is my 13-year-old having his name in the San Francisco Police Department because a policeman made a mistake and grabbed him,” Wilten said.

According to an SFPD written statement given to the Bark, “Officers that responded to the area where the crime occurred located a person that closely matched one of the provided descriptions. Officers quickly determined the person who matched the description, a male juvenile, was not involved in the auto burglary and was immediately released from the scene.

The Coleman family has accused the SFPD of racially profiling Michael. The SFPD did not have more to comment on the Colemans’ accusations.

The scene of Tuesday’s altercation and home to San Francisco learners, the Sterne School hosts students grades 4-12. (Photo courtesy of Google Maps)

Dolores Coleman, Michael’s mother and chef at Marin Primary School and Owner of Dee’s Organics, says the incident has “forever changed” Michael.

“He explained to us [he’s] scared that this will happen again,” Dolores said. “I think now his trust [in law enforcement] has been broken. His innocence has been taken more than a little bit. I think now [he] doesn’t trust [the police] will make a good judgment call.” 

Dolores said she is fortunate Michael’s encounter with the SFPD did not escalate further. To her, although Michael’s experience was traumatic, this was not the worst-case scenario. 

“I already had a conversation with my son about if he was ever to be stopped by a police officer,” Dolores said. “Thank God I’d [that] conversation with him, because if I didn’t, [the outcome] could have been something totally different.”

Wilten, Dolores and Michael believe an apology is in order due to Michael’s emotional repercussions. According to NBC, Michael “is now scared when he hears sirens. He wants the police department to know what happened was hurtful.” 

However, according to Wilten, the police officer has yet to formally apologize, only stating Michael and his classmates could have a tour of the SFPD if they would like. Finding this statement absurd, Wilten advocates the lack of a sincere apology only worsens the damage from the incident.

The support the Coleman family received encouraged Michael to return to school on Friday, yet the incident’s consequences are ever-lasting. 

“[Michael] didn’t [want to] go back to school because he was actually embarrassed about the whole thing. I think [that is] the worst possible thing,” Wilten said.

Dolores continued to comment on the police system as a whole, specifically in regards to youths and people of color. 

“I was already a little skeptical [of police], but I’ve only had good personal encounters with police officers, so I already know there are good ones out there … I  feel they just need to be trained, honestly,” Dolores said. “I’m tired of our Black children getting profiled like this. It’s not okay at all.”