Breed’s cynical crime politics

This whole Tenderloin ‘crackdown’ is going to be used by the mayor and her allies to attack DA Chesa Boudin.


There’s a political element of Mayor London Breed’s new plan for the Tenderloin that I’m not sure any of the progressive supes were thinking about when they voted for her State of Emergency.

This could easily be another tool for the mayor to attack District Attorney Chesa Boudin.

Breed hasn’t formally endorsed the recall, but she clearly wants Boudin gone so she can appoint her own DA. She has been frustrated by the fact that she (in fairness, like many SF mayors) has little in the way of coat-tails; almost every candidate she has supported for elected office in the past few years has lost to a progressive.

More cops won’t help the Tenderloin—but low-level drug arrests will put the DA in a no-win situation. photo by Ebbe Roe Yovino-Smith

So let’s look at a scenario that is entirely possible, even likely. I know this may sound cynical, but I’ve been watching this stuff for more than 40 years, and as they say, I’ve seen these movies before.

I don’t believe for a second the promises that Breed’s staff made to the supervisors Thursday. They aren’t the ones in charge, and she has been very, very clear: The next step in her plans for the Tenderloin, under emergency powers, is going to be increased police presence—and more arrests.

On Dec. 14, she made that clear in a press conference. She said unequivocally that people who are using or selling drugs in the Tenderloin will have to choose between accepting services and jail.

Many will decline to accept services, particularly given the lack of quality treatment that’s available—if any treatment is available—and the jail-like conditions of many shelters.

Think this through:

The mayor, using her new powers, diverts more funding to police overtime. She sends teams of cops through the neighborhood, doing what she promised to do and “making life hell” for drug users and small-time dealers, most of whom are addicts themselves paying for their own fix by selling.

There are hundreds of arrests.

Suddenly hundreds of people facing mostly low-level offenses are in the legal system. Remember, we are still in a pandemic, with a spike on the horizon, and there’s not a lot of room in the county jail. There’s a huge backup in the criminal courts, which don’t have room for more low-level cases.

The Public Defender’s Office isn’t going to tolerate this and simply encourage all of the people arrested to plead guilty. Some of these cases will potentially go to trial—further clogging up the courts.

So now Boudin has to decide how many of these mostly minor cases he’s going to charge—whether he is going to do what pretty much every modern expert in progressive criminal justice supports, which is dismiss minor drug cases and treat them as public-health issues … or do what the mayor wants and try to lock people up.

So let’s say he does what he promised to do when he ran, and most of these minor, perhaps bogus buy-bust cases don’t end up with people going to jail. Or the judges, who know there’s no room in the jails, release almost everyone without bail before Boudin even sees the case, and they go right back to the Tenderloin. Many will never show up for their court dates.

In fact, few if any San Francisco judges will send people to jail these days for minor drug crimes, so even if Boudin filed on every case, very few would ever lead to jail time.

In other words, this is going to fail.

But then the mayor can claim that Boudin is encouraging open-air drug sales and the “bullshit” in the Tenderloin that she is trying to end, and her increasingly friendly folks in right-wing media will pick it up, and this will be more fuel for the Republican-funded recall.

You think she hasn’t considered this, that it’s not part of the plan? To put the DA in a no-won situation on a high-profile issue that she can use, as other cynical mayors have done in the past, to promote her own agenda?

As I said: I’ve seen these movies before.

I realize some progressives voted for the idea of cutting red tape for more behavioral health workers, and possibly (if the mayor actually does it, and her new city attorney doesn’t become an obstacle) creating a safe-injection space.

But the minute the cops start doing sweeps, the supes need to instantly revoke this authority. Or things are just going to get much, much worse.

Tim Redmond Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.

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