After a recall election, San Francisco’s new interim District Attorney (DA) was named Brooke Jenkins. Before becoming interim DA, Jenkins worked as a prosecutor in the former DA’s, Chesa Boudin. Jenkins has called her former boss soft on crime and has vowed to restore order and public safety in San Francisco, specifically in the Tenderloin. The Tenderloin is known for rampant and blatant drug use, sales, and overdoses. Many of the people using these drugs suffer from homelessness and live on the streets of the Tenderloin.
Recently, a video went viral of school children getting off a public bus in the streets of San Francisco. As they were getting off, they walked into a slew of individuals suffering from homelessness, dealing and using drugs. This video sparked much criticism for the city of San Francisco and its dealing with the drug epidemic.
State of Emergency Declared
Towards the start of 2022, San Francisco Mayor London Breed declared an official State of Emergency in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco. The declaration meant the city could bypass certain hurdles regarding relief and intervention. This process is similar to the one followed during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Breed implemented a three-pronged approach; the first prong is researching, then implementation, and finally, long-term sustainment of the services provided.
However, this has done little to curb the rampant drug use in the Tenderloin. As a result, the Tenderloin became a talking point during San Francisco’s recent DA recall election.
Jenkins VS Boudin
After two and a half years as San Francisco’s District Attorney, Chesa Boudin suffered a significant blow when he was forced out of office by losing a recall election. Boudin’s exit is due to San Franciscans losing faith in his progressive approach to crime, particularly regarding drug use. As a result, in 2021, Boudin only convicted three offenders of felony drug charges. As she hoped to get the job, Jenkins was a strong proponent for Boudin’s recall.
Boudin, as a politician, tried to position himself as a fighter for the people, not the rich or the poor, just the people of San Francisco. However, due to his lack of action, he came off like a superhero without any superpowers. During the pandemic, crimes such as; mass shoplifting, car thefts, and Asian hate crimes skyrocketed; however, little has resolved these crimes. Due to this rise in crime, citizens began to feel unsafe and neglected. Boudin tackled more significant issues such as incarceration rates, bail reforms, and alternatives to sentencing and prosecuting.
Many community members felt unheard and unsafe living in their communities. One of the main groups who voted to recall Boudin was the Chinese community living in SF. This sense of public safety was one of the critical messages Jenkins utilized in her campaign against Boudin.
As a new DA, Jenkins has promised to crack down on repeat drug offenders, reform how the system handles drug use, create legislation that makes treatment mandatory, and specifically crack down on the Tenderloin. To tourists and residents of San Francisco, the Tenderloin is known for the rampant use of drugs, sale of drugs, and consistent overdosing found on the streets. According to the SF Chronicle, San Francisco averaged 65 deaths a month in 2021 due to overdosing.
Jenkins and Mayor Breed have promised to deal with individuals on a case-by-case basis. However, no other information about how they hope to do so has seen the light of day.
Currently, Jenkins has increased police presence in the Tenderloin. She hopes to scare drug dealers into a new career and curb public usage of drugs. While many residents welcome this hoping it will make the neighborhood safer for those living in it, many fear the repercussions.
So far, no new plan for reform to aid those suffering has seen enforcement or implementation.
Like most politicians, Jenkins has heavily relied on buzz or trigger words such as reform, a critical moment, or community-based. However, Jenkins has been receiving some backlash from community members living in the Tenderloin.
The first comes from Del Seymour, a longtime Tenderloin resident and founder of Code Tenderloin. At a press conference and photo event for Jenkins, as she toured the Tenderloin, Seymour questioned why she had not reached out to him or similar organizations in the Tenderloin for advice and aid.
Much of what Jenkins and Mayor Breed have been saying does not have much substance. Much of their plans cite reform and emphasize a more substantial police presence. However, there have been no notions of what said reform would look like under their administration. That is why community members are concerned that the only change in the Tenderloin will be a higher arrest rate.
Advocates like Del Seymour, Founder of Code Tenderloin, which helps remove barriers to help those suffering secure employment, understand that drug dealers need access to other opportunities to make a living rather than drug dealing. Or else there is a higher chance of re-criminalization. Seymour strongly supports Mayor Breed however he criticizes her call for a stronger police presence in the Tenderloin. He and other advocates also mention that The City does not have enough supportive housing or treatment homes for those seeking help.
Moreover, the current treatment centers are not enough. For example, many have reported drug use inside the Tenderloin center. Similarly, there need to be more resources for those fighting drug addiction, such as caseworkers and medical practitioners.
What Does This Mean For Those Suffering Homelessness
Throughout all the speeches and press releases, no one has ever mentioned how homelessness and drug use correlate. So many of the individuals who are using and abusing drugs are suffering homelessness. However, in all of the rhetoric used by Interim DA Jenkins and Mayor Breed, none is about the individual; instead, it is about the drug user or the addict.
What happens to the individual when they leave rehab or prison? Will housing and job training be ready, or will they be forced onto the streets again?
During the press tour, both leaders said nothing regarding homelessness, those suffering through homelessness, nor providing aid for those most affected by drug addiction.
So far, the production has felt very showboating with little substantial change.