SF Community Groups Oppose ‘Law Enforcement Response’ to Overdose Crisis, Criticize SF Mayor London Bree, CA Gov. Gavin Newsom

By The Vanguard Staff

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Nearly three dozen community and related groups Thursday released a statement of “opposition to a law enforcement response to the overdose crisis in San Francisco.”

The signatories said they were “disappointed by the decision of Mayor London Breed, San Francisco city officials, and Governor Gavin Newsom to prioritize a law enforcement-first approach to matters of public health.”

“As organizations that advocate to improve community health and provide associated direct services, we are deeply concerned about the overdose crisis and impact of increased law enforcement presence on the safety of our communities. All residents, including those in historically low-income neighborhoods, should feel safe walking the street, gathering outside, and bringing their children to school,” the statement began.

But the message became more direct, criticizing the “law enforcement” plan by political leaders, noting, “Deploying the California Highway Patrol (CHP) and National Guard is a waste of community resources, and will inflict harm on our most vulnerable and marginalized.”

“This law enforcement operation has been implemented without coordination with the Department of Public Health or community-based organizations that work directly with people who use drugs. This “Public Safety Partnership” is counterproductive, poses a serious threat to our communities, and will exacerbate overdose deaths,” the organizations stressed.

Noting “We have long recommended evidence-based solutions – which have never been fully funded – and we vehemently oppose the regression to punitive responses to drug use,” the groups argued, “The legacy of the War on Drugs is the destabilization and criminalization of our communities, mass incarceration, and persistent, intergenerational harm. Further harm has already begun.”

Citing “the City’s own data, as arrests and prosecutions have increased over the past quarter, so, too, has accidental overdose mortality, with a record 200 overdose deaths occurring from January through March 2023,” the statement offers it’s a “matter of racial justice. The Guardian reported that during the past quarter, ‘A third of the overdose victims were Black, despite Black people making up only five percent of the city’s population.’”

The groups pointed to a “A lack of appropriate resources, including no replacement services following the closure of the Tenderloin Center in December 2022, is contributing to the overdose crisis,” and recommended, “investing in evidence-based solutions that reduce harm, promote pathways to voluntary treatment, and improve community conditions. 

“This includes: overdose prevention centers; safer supply; drug adulterant testing; culturally and linguistically appropriate access to medication for substance use disorder treatment; overdose reversal medication and prevention trainings; funding to support peer-led programs and tenant-led overdose navigation in supportive housing; support and resourcing for syringe services programs; counseling and outreach to people who use drugs; access to housing and increased subsidies for permanent supportive housing, including for immigrants and non-citizens; and culturally responsive, linguistically accessible, fact-based drug education for youth, parents, and educators.”

The signatories said, “San Francisco cannot afford to return to ineffective and expensive law enforcement approaches that are without an evidence base, whereas a multifaceted public health approach has been proven to both reduce drug-related harms and overdose, and is more cost-effective. 

“Incarceration and interdiction have not and will not improve community safety or reduce overdoses; however, we, the undersigned, have and will always be part of the solution to increasing community health and safety and reducing harm in San Francisco. We stand ready to continue and deepen our work with and for the community.”

Signatories include, ABD/Skywatchers, ACLU of Northern California, Any Positive Change Inc., Berkeley Free Clinic, California Interfaith Power and Light, Causa Justa :: Just Cause, Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, Coalition on Homelessness SF, Delivering Innovation in Supportive Housing, Drug Policy Alliance, The Gubbio Project, HealthRIGHT 360, HomeRiseSF, Hospitality House, Humboldt Area Center for Harm Reduction, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, National Harm Reduction Coalition, Safer Inside Coalition, Safer Together, San Francisco AIDS Foundation, San Francisco Gray Panthers, San Francisco Pretrial Diversion Project, San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, Sister Warriors Freedom Coalition – San Francisco Chapter, Taxpayers For Public Safety, SF Treatment on Demand Coalition, Western Regional Advocacy Project, Young Women’s Freedom Center, David Elliott Lewis, Co-Chair Tenderloin People’s Congress.

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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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