Sanders came to San Francisco from Texas at age 14, went to George Washington High School, before earning a bachelor's degree in criminal justice and a master's degree in public administration from Golden Gate University. In 1964, he joined the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) and, 7 years later, was promoted to inspector in the homicide detail, handling some of the City’s most famous cases, including the Zebra killings in 1973 and 1974 where he tracked down four black Muslims who had killed 14 whites.
After gaining fame for solving the Zebra killings, Sanders organized the Officers for Justice, a largely black group of police officers, and filed a civil rights suit that charged the San Francisco Police Department with failing to hire minorities and women and endangering the few that were in the department.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported: “When the Officers for Justice civil rights suit against departmental racism came to trial in federal court in 1978, then-Inspector Sanders testified that white officers had shown him a handful of bullets and described them as "nigger stoppers." Black officers could not rely on their white colleagues for backup on the street, he told the court.
"Earl was the leader," recalled Robert Gnaizda, a lawyer who helped bring the lawsuit and remained close to Sanders after the case resulted in a consent decree that opened the department to women and minorities. "He's beyond just being a police officer. He's a person of great integrity."
Sometime after he joined the SFPD in 1964, Sanders began a life-long friendship with a young African-American lawyer who also came from Texas. That lawyer was Willie Brown who went on to became an Assemblyman and then Speaker of the California Assembly for more than 20 years before being elected Mayor of San Francisco. After Brown's election as mayor, he appointed Sanders as Assistant Chief and then Chief of Police after Fred Lau, the first Chinese American police chief, retired.
And now the police chief of San Francisco is Heather Fong, the first Chinese American woman to serve as police chief in San Francisco and probably in the US.
At this rate, Sgt. Barry will never make it as police chief. No wonder he had me arrested and humiliated. Take that you damn uppity minorities!