In what sounds like an ACLU profiling lawsuit waiting to happen, Mayor Breed’s newest strategy to combat the fentanyl crisis is reportedly to arrest anyone who appears to be “under the influence of drugs.”
Two days after Bay to Breakers is an odd time to say that you’re going to start arresting people for being publicly intoxicated. But this is not a normal Tuesday after Bay to Breakers. Mayor London Breed and Supervisor Aaron Peskin just held a joint public meeting to talk tough about cracking down on the drug trade around U.N. Plaza, and they were heckled off the stage. And one motivating factor for the heckling may have been a Tuesday morning report in the Chronicle that Breed wants to arrest people who appear to be high on drugs as part of some new enforcement pilot program.
There is very little detail to this pilot program, and there has been no formal announcement. (The Chronicle reports the details “will be announced along with Breed’s budget proposal next week.”) But word has leaked to some Board of Supervisors members, and they’ve acknowledged this publicly. Supervisor Dean Preston tweeted Tuesday morning that “We have been informed that the Mayor’s Administration is preparing to start arresting people for public drug use. Arresting people for drug addiction is not ‘moderate’ nor ‘commonsense.’ It’s reactionary, cruel, and counterproductive.”
We have been informed that the Mayor’s Administration is preparing to start arresting people for public drug use. Arresting people for drug addiction is not “moderate” nor “commonsense.” It’s reactionary, cruel, and counterproductive.— Dean Preston (@DeanPreston) May 23, 2023
And Breed was clearly pissed over that tweet at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, at which she spoke.
“Just today, a certain [Board of Supervisors] member vocally expressed opposition to some of this work,” Breed said Tuesday. “We do have real challenges in the mid-Market area: addiction, mental health, and all of us tolerating the illegal and out-of-control behavior for far too long.”
“I get that people have an issue with the fact that we are looking at being more aggressive with people who struggle with addiction,” Breed added. “Force is going to have to be a part of it. We’re going to have to do more.”
She called on the supervisors to “support the arrest of those who are struggling with addiction,” and repeated an Orwellian phrase that is likely to be one her new political mottos, “Compassion is killing people.”
This is an approach I’ve been advocating for, and I applaud Mayor @LondonBreed and relevant city departments for moving forward with it. It's a pilot that will emphasize detox, stabilization and assessment — and I’m convinced it’ll help save lives. (1/4)https://t.co/jiRqSpkr5D— Matt Dorsey (@mattdorsey) May 23, 2023
Supervisor Matt Dorsey also spilled some beans on the program, but in a more positive light. In a subsequent tweet on the above thread, Dorsey added, “I think the most important, most compassionate, most life-saving message we can send is this: The party is over.”
Again, there has been no announcement of any program. But something is clearly coming, and it’s going to be tied to the mayor’s budget announcement, which means it involves money and is more than just some change in SFPD protocol around people who are high.
But the Chronicle spoke to Preston, and they report he “said the department told him that officers would enforce two existing legal provisions: one that allows police to detain someone under the influence of a controlled substance without a prescription and another that prohibits illegal squatting. Users would be taken to the Hall of Justice at 850 Bryant St. where he said they would be released hours later.”
The city’s Department of Emergency Management will apparently be highly involved with this new effort. That department simply referred the Chronicle to a previous statement that said “The City is developing a pilot program to address situations when someone is so far under the influence of drugs that they may pose a danger to themselves or others. We need every tool at our disposal to address the harm caused by open-air drug use.”
But let’s be honest. If the arrest claims are true, they are not going to be arresting people who sneak key-bumps in Dolores Park. They are not going to be arresting tech executives who do blow. They are probably going to arrest people along racial profiling lines, likely in SF’s poorest Black and brown neighborhoods. We’ll know more when Breed announces this plan with her budget,. But we’ll also soon learn if there’s a political appetite in San Francisco for an updated version of the old Ronald Reagan-style War on Drugs.
Image: Sean M. via Yelp