Guest Commentary: SF Public Defender Pushes Back Against Mayor Breed’s Comments

SF Public Defender Mano Raju protesting jail conditions in September

By Mano Raju

Editor’s Note: On Tuesday, San Francisco Mayor London Breed launched emergency police intervention in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood.  “It’s time the reign of criminals who are destroying our city, it is time for it to come to an end,” she said. “And it comes to an end when we take the steps to more aggressive with law enforcement. More aggressive with the changes in our policies and less tolerate of all the bullshit that has destroyed our city.”  San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju on Wednesday issued a response.

We recognize that the Mayor and many of our elected leaders feel pressured to address issues that have been amplified in the press, but the Mayor’s proposal to massively expand police presence in San Francisco is regressive and harmful to those who are already underserved and overpoliced. It also cuts against the promises Mayor Breed made to divest from law enforcement in the wake of the police murder of George Floyd.

Piling more resources into policing and punishment — strategies that have consistently succeeded only in creating intergenerational trauma — have never been the solutions to public health crises, in the Tenderloin or elsewhere. Policing is a back end response — it does not address the underlying reasons why crimes associated with poverty status take place, issues including economic need, mental illness, addiction, disease, or trauma. Rather, we should focus our resources on sustainable, evidence-based solutions that keep people healthy and out of the legal system by providing meaningful services to those suffering from substance abuse disorders and alternatives to street level sellers – including housing, treatment, job training, and employment.

Nor will the Mayor’s proposed police budget increase effectively address retail theft. The reality is, the actual rate of retail theft in 2021 is down in San Francisco compared to reported thefts in 2018 and 2019 according to SFPD data, and the overall shoplifting incidents reported to the police are below their levels before the start of the pandemic. Recently, SFPD released information highlighting an 82% drop in retail crime from the 16-day period prior — the period, in fact, which included the attention-grabbing videos of Union Square robberies. These problems are persistent because we have not addressed extreme economic need and inequity.

We are particularly concerned about giving police live-access to surveillance which we believe would undermine critical privacy laws that protect civil liberties. San Francisco police are already utilizing racially-biased, unreliable and illegal facial recognition technology, and giving them more tools to do so would further harm people of color and exacerbate existing economic and power dynamics. Mayor Breed’s press release rightfully notes that recent legislation “created a clear public process and transparency relating to surveillance technologies.” This proposal, which would undermine said process, raises serious concerns.

Expanding the carceral state is not the answer. We have tried that for decades and are still suffering the effects and human impacts of that. We must do better, and the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office is open and willing to participate in any process that attempts to address community health issues in a more holistic manner.

Mano Raju is the Elected San Francisco Public Defender

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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  1. Keith Olson

    I think the mayor has finally come to her senses.  She’s the one who is dealing with the pushback from citizens and businesses who are seeing the city going downhill.  It’s good to see that maybe there actually is an adult in the room in S.F.

    1. Alan Miller

      I think the mayor has finally come to her senses.

      Well, let’s not take it that far, KO.

      It’s one thing when Walgreen’s is shutting down some of it’s stores, quite another when Nordstrom’s tells the mayor’s office it’s leaving town if something isn’t done.

      How to destroy an SF mayor’s career?  Plywood on windows all around Union Square!

      1. Keith Olson

        Well, let’s not take it that far, KO.

        Yeah, LOL, I went for the effect.  I knew when I wrote it I would get pushback.  She’ll never come around completely, but at this point the people of S.F. will take what they can get.  Next is overhauling the DA’s office.

        1. Keith Olson

           demonstrates where the priorities are for a given community.

          Right, communities who don’t want schitt on the streets, drug addicts sleeping in business doorways, panhandlers rousting people as they walk down the street, shoplifters taking what they want with little to no backlash, etc…

          Those priorities?

        2. Bill Marshall

          They don’t share budgets…

          Not correct, except to the fact that it has historically been a one-way ‘sharing’… the City of Davis has ‘subsidized’ DJUSD many times… can’t think of a single instance where that worked the other direction… I don’t call that “sharing”…

          But the priority has to be “it’s for the kids” (and the teachers, staff and administrators) right?

          But one can discount/ignore my comment as I only worked for the City and dealt with DJUSD for 32 years…

  2. Shanetucker

    There is a growing  problem for the “less policing, less prosecution” groups around the country.   In several cities where  less policing and reduced or non-prosecution gained traction,  a significant portion of the citizens are not feeling safe.    If changes aren’t made so that the citizens feel safe, then those who can leave, do …. and immigration into those areas halts.    The outcome – a new wave of  Detroit, Newark NJ and Watts of 1968.

    I’m a person who  believes there are some areas of policing may be better handled by non-armed officers or professionals.    However,  practices that result in the community feeling scared, threatened and insecure are likely not to be tolerated.  The the safety and security of the general community comes first.   This shouldn’t be a surprise  – it’s basic to humanity.      Maslow provided the road map for this 70 years ago.

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