Mayor London Breed has gotten a fair amount of national attention since the beginning of the pandemic, most of it positive given the fact that — up until recently — San Francisco has succeeded in avoiding rapidly rising COVID numbers and an out-of-control outbreak. And last week, just as she was grappling with possible COVID exposure herself, Vogue published an interview with her in which she was her often candid self, speaking about the extraordinary moment she finds herself in.
The interview covers a range of topics, including the needs of the Black community in San Francisco, her frustration with the mostly white progressives she encounters in local politics, and handling the ongoing pandemic in San Francisco and its large homeless population.
Below, a few takeaways:
Regarding the vast number of white people participating in Black Lives Matter protests across the country: "I feel like there were people who didn’t understand it before, but finally are waking up to what is happening and saying, 'There’s a problem here.' That is mind-blowing to me... It gives me hope. It’s like, finally, you guys understand what we’re talking about! When you’re having conversations about what happens to Black people and [non-Blacks] sometimes will ask, 'Well, what did he do?' What do you mean, 'What did he do?' There’s a lack of respect and understanding sometimes with these issues."
Regarding the efforts of white progressives to tackle Black issues in SF: "What’s happening in San Francisco now, and has for so many years, is you have a progressive movement made up of people who are mostly white and feel that they know what’s in the best interest of Black people. I’m over that. I think it’s important that we support and respect the Black people here enough to know that we have a mind of our own. Because half the policies pushed in San Francisco are 'progressive policies' that don’t work for Black people."
She's still mad about those (mostly white) BLM protesters who came to her house on May 30 and lit fireworks: "I think part of the problem, again, goes back to privilege. Because the people who came out to my home last time, they were all white and wearing masks and walking with these 'firework sticks' down the street chanting 'Black Lives Matter!' But then they get to my house and start shooting these fireworks off and aiming them at my window and banging on the gate and calling me names to come outside. It was like, what? In the projects, when you come to somebody’s house, you are coming to get your butt beat. Because I will come out and throw some grits on you if you don’t back up!" (Previously, Breed said of the protesters outside her apartment, "You can disagree with my policies, you can not like me, you can protest me at City Hall all day every day. But don’t come for me like that. Don’t come to my house. Because at the end of the day, what’s more, disrespectful is the fact that we have people who are not Black chanting ‘Black Lives Matter’ and don’t mean it.")
Regarding criticism she receives from the Black community, which she says mostly does not come from locals (many of whom she grew up with): "It’s not about me doing enough for Black people. It’s about they don’t like me and I’m not doing what they’re telling me to do. The Black mayor is not going to be a slave to nobody. I want to be clear about that... there is an expectation that I should do what I am told. When you’re mayor, you’re not going to be able to please everybody."
On the subject of housing the homeless during the pandemic, after an April outbreak at a shelter in which 70 people were infected: "I will say that we were in trouble for a second when we had that happen. But we acted quickly. We’ve cleared the shelters and moved people into hotels, educated people out on the streets, and established safe camping sites. We have not seen things get as bad as they could’ve gotten."
Regarding why not every homeless person can get housed in a hotel room: "We can always do more. But one of the challenges we continue to run into is people who struggle with mental illness and substance use disorder. For some of those people you might still see on the street, it’s because one guy in particular who hangs out in a location regularly, he will become agitated when you try to help him. So we have some real challenges. And it’s not as simple as putting everyone in a room and testing them."