This past September, police made a horrifying discovery inside a Santa Rosa home: Patrick O’Neill was unresponsive, and his 13-month-old son, Liam, was dead. O’Neill later died at the hospital from an overdose of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 40 times more powerful than heroin. Liam’s death was attributed to accidentally ingesting the drug after his father took it.
At a press conference, U.S. Attorney David Anderson announced that three dealers were arrested and charged with the distribution of fentanyl resulting in death. Federal agents were also able to trace the origins of the fentanyl to the notorious open-air drug bazaar in San Francisco’s Tenderloin, which acting DEA special agent in charge Curt Fallin says, “has tentacles that extend far beyond its 40 to 50 square blocks in San Francisco.”
LACK OF COLLABORATION, ZERO GRATITUDE
Last August, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced that 15 federal law enforcement agencies and an equal number of federal prosecutors would be moving in and cracking down on drug dealing in the Tenderloin. In a letter to the district’s supervisor Matt Haney, Anderson said the initiative has resulted in 100 arrests, with 46 dealers pleading guilty. Anderson also emphasized that there has been a lack of collaboration with local authorities, because of San Francisco’s overly broad interpretation of the sanctuary city policy.
You would think Haney would express gratitude to the agents, or at the very least make a public statement saying he was devastated that a baby died because of drugs that were sold in his district, but Haney has been silent except to say he worries about “small time” dealers getting caught up in the sweeps. “I hope that this isn’t a way to get around San Francisco sanctuary laws,” he said when the feds first came to town. Likewise, you would expect the mayor of San Francisco, London Breed, to stand up in front of her constituents and say she finds it completely unacceptable that drugs sold in her city killed a toddler, but Breed stuck to the same script. “Crime happens no matter what and so to attribute it to a policy is, I think, unfair,” Breed said.
In fact, not a single city leader has openly praised the feds for doing the job they are unable (or unwilling) to do. Not a single city leader made a public statement about Liam’s tragic death. In July, District 9 supervisor Hillary Ronen got in the face of Texas Senator Ted Cruz after a chance meeting at LAX. “We are horrified with what is happening with the caging of children and separation of families,” Ronen told Cruz. “I don’t know how you can live with yourself.”
I would like to ask Ronen the same question. How do you live with yourself when children are dying and families are being separated in the city you represent? In a Facebook post after the incident, Ronen said she would “never miss an opportunity to confront those in power and appeal to their conscience.” Well, I’m taking this opportunity to appeal to her conscience and ask how many children must die before you and the rest of your colleagues on the Board of Supervisors take back control of this city from the throes of a rampant drug crisis?
A NEW D.A. WHO DOESN’T BELIEVE IN JAIL
According to a report released by the San Francisco Department of Public Health, overdose deaths from fentanyl increased 150 percent between 2017 and 2018, taking the lives of 89 people. Fentanyl is the leading cause of opioid overdose deaths in the city, killing more people than either heroin or prescription painkillers. Yet to observe the complete lack of urgency from city leaders, it’s like they’re waiting for Batman to swoop down from Salesforce Tower and save the day.
The majority of San Francisco voters also seem apathetic regarding the current state of this once-great town. In November, they chose Chesa Boudin, a deputy public defender, as our new district attorney. Boudin has never prosecuted a case and will be the most liberal D.A. in the country. Sound familiar? That’s because we just got rid of George Gascón, who had never prosecuted a case and was considered the most liberal D.A. in the country. Boudin, however, makes Gascón look like a moderate. “It sends a pretty loud and clear message that the war on drugs and the tough-on-crime policies and rhetoric of the 1990s and early 2000s are on their way out,” Boudin told the Los Angeles Times after his election. Putting drug dealers in jail is the last thing Boudin wants to do. During campaign debates, he frequently said that instead of jailing dealers, city officials needed to work harder to understand why so many young men from Honduras are commuting from the East Bay to the Tenderloin to sell drugs in the first place.
He also wants to eliminate gang enhancements, where criminals face harsher punishment if their crimes benefit a street gang. Boudin says gang enhancements are racist, but proponents say they’ve been a valuable tool and have led to a deep decline in homicides, with killings in 2018 near the lowest number in more than 50 years. “Getting rid of the gang enhancement assumes that there’s no gang problem,” Eric Siddall, a Los Angeles prosecutor and vice president of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, told the San Francisco Chronicle. As to Boudin’s belief gang enhancements are racist, Siddall said, “It just happens to be that most gangs are Hispanic or black . . . but most victims of gang crimes are also minorities from socially vulnerable communities.”
Meanwhile in the Tenderloin, there’s no sign of Batman, but Haney is doing his best impression of Batman nemesis Two-Face by talking from both sides of his mouth. Haney gleefully stood onstage at Boudin’s Nov. 5 election party (alongside the aforementioned Ronen) while fellow supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer led a profanity-laced chant against the Police Officers Association. Exactly one week later, Haney stood on the steps of City Hall demanding an “immediate fix” for rampant drug sales and use from federal and city leaders.
My question for Haney: How does supporting a D.A. who doesn’t believe in putting drug dealers in jail help your drug-infested neighborhood? I’ll answer for you: It doesn’t. Unless Batman is around the corner, I don’t see anyone brave enough to push aside the failed, decades-old policies, stand up to City Hall’s self-destructive rhetoric, and save San Francisco from itself.
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