Should Bay Area Cities Be Cracking Down on Crime?

Opinion

Yes

Ohad Aviran-Finkelstein

Recent headlines paint a grim picture of unsafe conditions in the Bay Area. Crime in San Francisco has risen over 12 percent in the past year, while Oakland’s violent crime rate was over three times higher than the national average. The Berkeley High School (BHS) community also witnessed an increase in violence in the form of fights, fire-alarm pulls, and the defacement of bathrooms. Recently, Mayor London Breed of San Francisco announced plans to develop the Tenderloin district and crack down on crime, drug usage, and violence in the community. Breed’s plans for the Tenderloin are essential in helping the homeless population receive much-needed support.

Every day, two people die of accidental drug overdose in San Francisco, largely due to the outdated infrastructure in the Tenderloin, where streets are littered with heroin needles. Accidental overdoses, mainly due to fentanyl, killed almost twice as many people as the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. In San Francisco, it is mandatory for all police officers to carry NARCAN (Naloxone), a nasal spray that undoes the effects of opioids like fentanyl and heroin. Over 8,000 lives have been saved in the past year because of this remarkable medicine, and with more police officers, more lives can be saved. 

A major element of Breed’s plan is to build a service center to provide food, clothing, and shelter. The center will be open to everyone and will give referrals for housing, mental health care, addiction treatment, and more. This service center will help disrupt the “revolving door” issue, where criminals are imprisoned for brief periods of time, then not fully rehabilitated, and soon after being released commit crimes again. By providing mental support for any that need it, treatment for substance addiction, and care for homeless families so parents can work, this center will work to overall push people towards a safer path.

Additionally, the San Francisco Police Department is working with Healthy Streets Operation Center (HSOC) to provide such mental support and help with substance addiction. HSOC was created by multiple city departments to help give homeless San Franciscans food, shelter, and opportunities to launch a new life.

Without a crackdown on crime, the situation in the Tenderloin will remain unchanged, and likely get worse. Action is what we need, not silence, and that is exactly what Mayor London Breed is planning to do.

No

Ulysses Noe

San Francisco Mayor London Breed recently announced a crackdown on drug crimes in response to rising crime rates in the city. The San Francisco Police Department followed Breed’s announcement with a tweet reporting that, in the second week of December, 950 grams of illicit drugs and $3,400 in drug money were seized, and 17 dealers were arrested in the Tenderloin neighborhood. Breed’s commitment to stopping crime builds on the so-called War on Drugs that has been going on in the US since Richard Nixon’s original War on Drugs, which disproportionately impacted communities of color. Mayor Breed’s harsh-on-crime rhetoric, as well as similar ramp-ups in police enforcement across the East Bay, are a leap in the wrong direction. Not only does this stance fail to keep residents safe, it causes more problems.

The issue with the Tenderloin is not a few dealers selling drugs and cannot be solved by throwing a few dealers in prison for life. Selling drugs is not okay, but it is often a crime of economic desperation, not maliciousness. Breed’s crackdown on crime makes it seem that poverty is a direct result of petty crime. San Francisco is an unusual place, given its unique juxtaposition of poverty and unfathomable wealth; homeless people in the Tenderloin find themselves in the literal shadow of the headquarters of tech giants, including the Salesforce Tower.

The Tenderloin exemplifies inequality in the US and fails to support its most vulnerable residents. Salesforce, which made $2.6 billion in 2020, robbed the citizens of the United States by not paying any federal taxes. In the blocks surrounding its building, however, San Francisco’s 8,000 homeless are carefully watched and arrested by police. The issue is not that there is too little money in San Francisco; the fortunes of local CEOs could comfortably support every unhoused individual. The issue is not that there is too little space; about forty percent of all commercially available space in San Francisco is vacant. 

Through her tough-on-crime stance, Breed has chosen to work against economically disadvantaged people by persecuting them instead of offering help. A better solution would be for the community to create a social safety net. Money going towards law enforcement — and unpaid corporate taxes — could instead be going to affordable housing and rehabilitation for unhoused people.