Commentary: Will New SF City Attorney Drop Civil Injunction Against Tenderloin?

By Rory Fleming

Émile Durkheim, the father of social stigma ology, was the first to explore stigma as a social phenomenon in 1895. He asked us to “[i]magine a society of saints, a perfect cloister of exemplary individuals. Crimes or deviance, properly so-called, will there be unknown; but faults, which appear venial to the layman, will there create the same scandal that the ordinary offense does in ordinary consciousnesses.”

Over one hundred years later, the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office, then led by Dennis Herrera, acted like a monastery might be expected to, wielding the hammer of discipline against suffering Honduran immigrants because they are suspected to be involved with drugs.

Last year, then-City Attorney Herrera filed a civil injunction to bar the twenty-eight suspected drug sellers from the entire Tenderloin neighborhood. He said in a press release that “We know who these predators are, and we will not allow them to victimize Tenderloin residents with impunity.”

The job of the City Attorney is spelled out on its government website. This elected official is tasked with handling civil legal disputes — think consumer protection and landlord/tenant law — not criminal cases. But civil injunctions used to bar a list of people from a specific neighborhood blur those lines. If one of the people so named steps foot into the neighborhood, they are arrested and slapped with a contempt of court charge that carries six months in jail. It is a form of banishment via criminal penalties.

As City Attorney, Herrera prided himself on leading one of the “most aggressive” city law departments in the nation, but his aggressiveness resembled the type of prosecutorial overzealousness that unfairly destroys people’s lives. After a trial judge rejected his motion for a civil injunction in May, Herrera initiated an appeal of that decision.

Through a spokesperson, Herrera’s office stated that “We respectfully — and strongly — disagree with the view that our injunctions are beyond the court’s power to grant. Our injunctions would keep known drug dealers out of a single neighborhood that has suffered enough at their hands.” Lawyers from the ACLU are now ready on the other side.

However, a new change in guard might mean that the office is ready to learn from Herrera’s mistakes.

In September, Herrera resigned to become the new director of the city’s Public Utilities Commission, paving the way for Mayor London Breed to appoint David Chiu as his successor as City Attorney. Chiu, who previously served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, said that he views his new post “as really the front line in defending our San Francisco values, defending our city government, but also standing up for who we are as a city and standing up for the most vulnerable.” He also expressed sympathy toward various activist causes, including #MeToo and Black Lives Matter.

Chiu has a great opportunity to show that he means business by dropping Herrera’s appeal and letting the Tenderloin civil injunction die once and for all, instead pushing for enhanced support for harm reduction programs that make everyone safer.

While Chiu will not be able to unilaterally accomplish that goal, there are ways that he can help usher in a new era in drug policy, rather than increase harm in the name of “rehabilitation.” For instance, former Los Angeles City Attorney Ira Reiner signed onto a Supreme Court amicus brief supporting the opening of a safe injection site in Philadelphia earlier this year. The City Attorney signaling support could go a long way toward making policies like these a reality in San Francisco.

While Reiner and his Seattle equivalent Pete Holmes both signed the brief, former San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera was nowhere to be found.

Rory Fleming is a freelance writer and licensed attorney.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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12 Comments

  1. Alan Miller

    enhanced support for harm reduction programs that make everyone safer.

    “Harm reduction programs” ?   Do tell.  Translation for the non-progressive speaking among us please.

      1. David Greenwald

        General definition: “Harm reduction, or harm minimization, refers to a range of public health policies designed to lessen the negative social and/or physical consequences associated with various human behaviors, both legal and illegal.”

        1. Alan Miller

          We’ve discussed this with Alan before. He opposes harm reduction policies.

          Maybe so.  From the definition I still don’t know what these are.  I probably don’t remember the name used to describe these policies, whatever they are specifically, because I’m guessing they make no sense to me.  I don’t know if that’s the same as ‘opposing’ them.  I’ll let you know when I know what we are talking about.

          1. Don Shor

            Harm reduction is an approach to treating those with alcohol and other substance-use problems that does not require patients to commit to complete abstinence before treatment begins. Instead, an array of practical strategies are deployed to reduce the negative health and social consequences of substance use, and psychotherapy aims to change behavior according to the goals of each patient, whether that means moderation of use or complete abstinence.

            https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/harm-reduction

            It’s generally not approved by people who adhere to 12-step program principles. Dr. Stanton Peele is probably the best-known and one of the earliest writers on the topic (https://peele.net/).

        2. Alan Miller

          Oh and by the way DS thanks for telling our comment section studio audience what I oppose when we are talking about policies or an overarching concept in the plural that I’d have to go through each to know what we are talking about and decide whether I am for each one or not.  My guess is some yes, some not, but not definitive yes on all as some group under a definition.  And yes, that “thanks” was a big, fat sarcastic “thanks” which implies another phrase that is nowhere near “thanks” and is unprintable.

          OK, when I posted your post appeared DS and and now writing on the 5:00 minute (less) timer I see your 4:23pm post, and Yes you are 100% correct DS, I do oppose and disagree with so-called “harm reduction policies”.

        3. Alan Miller

          OK, well not on the timer and looking at the ‘8 principals’ I do agree with some of them and not others.  This is on an individual level.  To get into what I agree and disagree with and why would be a small novel.  To translate those principals, however, into public policy I believe is fraught with danger.  But as I’ve said before the problem is the drug ab-use itself and that coming back from that has very poor odds from any attempt at intervention.

  2. Keith Olson

    I heard recently that 90% of San Francisco’s homeless are drug addicts.  So most of these homeless aren’t poor people who are down on their luck, lost their job, can’t pay the costly rent, etc…

    It’s self inflicted.

    1. David Greenwald

      Driving me nuts people trying to use statistics without understanding comparative statics and the fact that if murder is up in two places, one which has a change and one which does not, for example, you can’t argue that change a caused the change of condition.

    2. Keith Olson

      Great video Alan which shows footage of the actual problem and it’s right next to a police station.

      I love the part where Montoyo says thieves actually tabulate how much they’re stealing on a calculator so they keep the haul under $950 so they don’t get prosecuted.

      Prop 47 is a disaster.

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