SF Leaders Pushed Back on Mayor’s Emergency Decree Arguing That Incarceration and Policing Are Not the Solution to Drugs and Mental Health Disorders

SF DA Chesa Boudin during the press conference on Monday

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

San Francisco, CA – In a press conference on Monday, leaders pushed back on the San Francisco Mayor, London Breed’s declaration of a state of emergency.

DA Chesa Boudin among others pushed back on a carceral solution to the problems in the Tenderloin while at the same time acknowledging the grave nature of the problems afflicting that part of the community.

“I want to be really clear arresting people who are addicted to drugs, jailing people who have mental health struggles, putting folks who are vending hot dogs or other food on the streets in cages will not solve these problems,” the DA said.  Adding, “they are certainly not the only tools available or the only options available to us.”

“If you think I’m gonna defend the status quo in the Tendeloin, well, I hate to disappoint you,” said Dr. Vitka Eisen, CEO, HealthRIGHT 360.  “No one here can make a case that the Tenderloin is fine just the way it is. People in poverty, people without enough food, people, without homes, people using drugs on the streets, crime, it doesn’t work for anybody being in the Tenderloin.”

“People need a myriad of services and behavioral health supports to address those concerns,” said Shamann Walton, President, San Francisco Board of Supervisors.  “In fact, over policing people with mental health issues and substance abuse issues has been proven to add extra strain and hardship on police departments across the country, not improving public safety for anyone and most certainly putting law enforcement in an unwinnable situation.”

“We do have a public safety problem here in San Francisco,” Walton said.  But he added, “locking people up for addictions and mental illness has never worked in this city or anywhere else.”

Public Defender Mano Raju said that the last thing their office wants to see is someone whose freedom they fought for “to slip back into the system.”

“That’s why we work to facilitate educational possibilities. That’s why we work to facilitate shelter and housing,” he said.

DA Chesa Boudin said, “Everybody in this city shares the frustration, we all share the concern and the pain about the situation in the Tenderloin.”  He added, “Personally I am outraged every single time that I walk or drive through the Tenderloin – the raw human suffering, the flagrant violation of law, the neglect and the circumstances that we see that are going in direct violation of our most basic core human principles about caring for others in need.”

He added, “We must recognize that COVID-19 has made things in the Tenderloin, fair worse than it has ever been.”

Where he disagreed with some is that he believes there are other and better options than police and incarceration, “options that we know can and do work.  We need to invest in them.”

Boudin noted that before he took office, the Legislative Analyst to the Board of Supervisors issued a report finding that 75 percent of the people booked into the San Francisco Jail were either drug addicted, mentally ill or both.

“We need to attack these issues at their roots. We need to remember that about 35% of the people in our county jail right now, as we speak are unhoused, they don’t know where they’re going to go,” he said.

In fact, the public officials don’t know where they are going to go when they are released, which he says makes them less safe, particularly when they are released late at night when the available shelters are closed.

“We cannot simply arrest and prosecute our way out of the problems that are afflicting the Tenderloin and so many parts of our city,” he said.  “We can’t continue to wait for police to respond and make an arrest before we intervene. We must, as a city, we must intervene before crimes are committed. Before damage is done, we need real urgent investments in our public health system.”

At the same time, he said, “I share the sense of urgency.  I will do everything in my power to make the Tenderloin safe for all of San Francisco.”

He said that DA’s have a critical role to play, “but we cannot do it alone.”

“If arrests and prosecutions alone could solve the drug crisis in this country or in this city, it would’ve been solve long ago.”

He noted, “we have invested over a trillion dollars in fighting the so-called war on drug. And where has it gotten us? What do we have to show for it?”

Boudin added that his office in the last two years “has filed felony drug cases in over 70% of the cases that the police have brought us over 70%, that’s higher than in 2018 or 19. What do we have to show for? Has it improved things? Has it solved the problems? No. We know, we know we cannot lock our way up out of addiction. We know we cannot use jails as an alternative to meaningful treatment or shelter.”

“Residents of the Tenderloin deserve a humanitarian response to the public health crisis that has been going on in their neighborhood for decades,” said Yoele Haile, Criminal Justice Program Director, ACLU of Northern California.

He explained, “The public funds that Mayor Breed intends to funnel to police departments will be better spent by addressing the root causes of crime and significantly expanding violence prevention, programs, mental health services, affordable housing, and other programs that directly address the grotesque racial wealth gap, poverty and despair that we see in neighborhoods like the Tenderloin and others throughout the country.”

“Recent calls by police associations and public officials to increase police funding are part of a coordinated backlash to last year’s movement to end police violence and misconduct after the murder of George Floyd,” he added.  “Decades of data, as has been mentioned, shows that increased policing surveillance and incarceration do not solve these issues that we’ve been talking about.  Instead they bring long term consequences and suffer the fall heaviest on poor underserved, and overpoliced communities of color.”


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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11 thoughts on “SF Leaders Pushed Back on Mayor’s Emergency Decree Arguing That Incarceration and Policing Are Not the Solution to Drugs and Mental Health Disorders”

  1. Keith Olson

    Does DA Boudin actually think coming out against London Breed and her hard on crime decree is going to help him in his recall election?  This just goes to show that he’s part of the problem.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      I think he like myself believes that her approach is wrongheaded and will make things worse not better. He’s better off articulating his vision for change rather than attempting to political expediency. I don’t think more police is the answer to drug addiction.

      1. Keith Olson

        What they’re doing now isn’t working and London Breed is smart enough to come to her senses.  Something has to be done, you and Boudin might not like it, but the people of San Francisco will unless they’re a drug addict or doing illegal activities.

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          That is correct, what they are doing now isn’t working – that’s what everyone at the press conference said.  But there is nothing they are doing now that is different from what they were doing in 2018 and 2019.   The pandemic, Chesa argues made a bad situation a lot worse.

          The question is what should they do – you are arguing and Mayor Breed is arguing for more law enforcement which means more jail.  Chesa is arguing and I am arguing for more holistic and evidence-based approaches – that’s the dividing line here.

          Will the voters support Chesa on this?  They may not.  He may well lose on this.  But I think it’s crazy to make the problem worse.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            There’s an element of truth to that – most people don’t care whether the problem is solved or better or worse, they want it out of their face.

  2. Keith Y Echols

    Cleaning up the streets and fixing the street drug problem are separate but related problems.  Different sides of the same issue.

    If the problem were people massively littering on the street; you can’t just focus on all your effort at street cleaning because the root of the littering problem will still persist (lack of trash cans, poorly managed public crowds…etc…).  On the other hand if all you do is try to address the root causes; you’re still left with lots of trash all over the streets that need to be cleaned up.

    When looking at solutions through these different lenses, often times people get their emotional intentions all twisted with their solutions.  Some have belief that punishing offenders should be a primary goal (it’s not, it’s fixing the root cause and cleaning up the streets) or the be compassionate angles helping poor people with their problems (again, gotta also clean up the streets).

    So if you really do need to sweep the streets clean of the drug problem, what’s the best solution?  I don’t see why Boudin’s comments are in conflict with sweeping the streets.   “We must, as a city, we must intervene before crimes are committed. Before damage is done, we need real urgent investments in our public health system.”  They should be doing both.  Now once arrested, is putting the offenders in jail the right thing to do?  Again, we don’t want to look at it as punishing bad people, we’re looking for solutions to the problem.  Maybe there needs to be a post arrest drug rehab facility for these offenders?  The problem is who pays for it?  So they need to be able to put these offenders somewhere that will house them, contain them and keep them from doing drugs.  Maybe the only solution is unfortunately jail?  Maybe they should sweep the streets first and then figure out what to do with the offenders?  The problem is that if you sweep the streets, often times people/politicians don’t get around to addressing the second part of the solution.  But does that mean they still shouldn’t sweep the streets?

  3. Mark Yelton

    I do not live in the Tenderloin, I don’t even live near there, nor can I remember the last time I went there. I suspect that if I did go there, I would not buy anything as most everything is overpriced including the drugs; therefore, I have no business being there as such; I would just be in the way. I try to avoid places that appear in the news too often. I have heard of that area having some problems with customers who use the ‘smash and go’ debit hammer, which I think to myself. These merchants haven’t learned that the cigarettes go behind the counter and if they can make money selling items that most people don’t need and probably wouldn’t buy if it were not for the gazillions of dollars paid to people whose sole purpose is to motivate people into buying stuff they don’t need in an area where the shop owners and most employees dare not live. Then spend a little of the profit and even more of those advertising dollars and let the police devote their time to public places and leave the policing of private areas to those who, unlike the police, do make a profit. Of course, those who never go there are smart enough to know there are no two for one special, so don’t intend to go. But, what an excellent opportunity to belt out your favorite tune, ‘those were the days, and hope people don’t remember those days really weren’t.

    1. Bill Marshall

      Too many variables to ‘solve’… but ‘trying’ is good. One should not expect a ‘solution’ (or, panacea) but to ignore, do nothing, not so good.

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