Editors Note: Nestor Castillo wrote this piece for El Tecolote. It, along with the Twitter stream we have linked, raises a lot of important issues about how the Chron has been covering the drug crisis in the Tenderloin. I reached out to the Chron’s lead reporter, Megan Cassidy, and asked her for any comments or response. As seems to be the custom at the Chron these days, she apparently has no interest in discussing her coverage; I got nothing back.
This week, the SF Chronicle broke a story that featured this line at the top of the page: “A housing boom in one area of HONDURAS, rooted in MIGRATION to the U.S., is being fueled by drug sales in SAN FRANCISCO.”
Upon receiving it in my inbox, I immediately knew, without having read a single word, that it was bad news.Now after reading the story, not only is it bad, but it is dangerous and irresponsible journalism being passed off as something groundbreaking.
What this article and the accompanying articles managed to accomplish is to give a redwood-sized bundle of kindle to the right-wing to fuel their xenophobic fire (I dare you to check the retweets). It deliberately puts a target on the backs of Central American/Latino immigrants in the Bay Area (lord knows reactionaries won’t be able to tell the difference between us). This reminds me of what the Asian community faced during the pandemic. I pray, and I ain’t a praying man, that it doesn’t lead to the same level of violence. “The story is nuanced if you actually read it,” some might say. Well, it is about as nuanced as a pint of warm light beer.
Before I go any further, you should read SF FREE’s twitter thread in response to this article. It does a great job of summarizing the key parts where the story falls short, or is just plain inaccurate.
As many other people have noted on twitter and elsewhere, the piece just reeks of 19th century racist writing. But, let’s give credit where credit is due. The authors do a masterful job at both pigeonholing Hondurans all as drug dealers who are responsible for the fentanyl crisis, while providing a subpar analysis of the complex structures that shuttle poor immigrants into urban areas, which offer little to no resources and limited economic mobility.
You wouldn’t know it, because they only state it in one line, but they actually do get around to saying that the vast majority of Hondurans do not deal drugs and that Hondurans don’t actually produce fentanyl. That blame is attributed to another immigrant group — the Mexicans! Oh and the Chinese, can’t forget the Chinese. Oh and Oakland, SF’s bad and darker skinned little sibling. Yet, the author claims that “this is the first to thoroughly examine the supply end” via twitter.
We can only assume, based on the logic of this article, that the “Hondos” are thus driving the deaths of San Franciscans (white, unsuspecting, San Franciscans — not the poor black and brown ones).
Also, why do the authors treat brown people’s love for SF iconography as something unusual. Why is it so surprising that a city’s iconography that is beloved around the world is appreciated by immigrants? Or is it that the city doesn’t really belong to them?
What is amazing to me is that large parts of the article rely on testimonies that can be described as hearsay. I’m not saying there might not be truth behind it, but often when our people share testimonies that don’t fit within the larger narrative, they’re discredited or labeled as unreliable (see Rigoberta Menchú).
Yet, in this article, the authors claim that this whole neighborhood has been built by drug money and the proof is an 88-year-old abuelita and a handful of other testimonies. I’m not saying that the abuelita isn’t right, I’m just saying abuelitas’ say a whole lot of things, including things that might be a bit of an exaggeration. No one officially went on the record to state that any of the development was fueled by anything other than remittances, which may or may not include drug money — this part is nothing new.
The leaps this article makes is absolutely astonishing. The real estate boom coincided with the fentanyl crisis — so they must be related! The architecture is over the top — looks like Colombia, another drug country!
The houses seem absolutely normal by Central American remittances standards to me (Also, I would love to put the Dubs logo on the front of my house, but I don’t think my landlord would allow it). I mean have the authors even watched Scarface or Narcos to see what real drug money looks like?
There is no mention throughout the article, at least in any substantive way, of the broken immigration system that often drives immigrants to do work that is precarious, dangerous, or low paying. It does wrongly state that “sanctuary” is to blame.
There is hardly any mention of the political and economic conditions the vast majority of Hondurans have faced over the past two decades, which resulted in unaccompanied minors arriving en masse over the last decade.
There is no mention of the coup ‘d’etat that removed the democratically elected leader Mel Zelaya in 2009 that was supported by the US, which cemented the right-wing party in power and led to three consecutive presidents from that same party, the last of which was often referred to as a #NARCODICTATOR and was extradited to the United States (his brother was found guilty of drug trafficking and sentenced to life in prison).
There is mention of the role the mining industry has played in the region of el Valle de Siria, but only that the town has fallen on hard times after it left. Not that this is in fact a key part of extractive capitalism, that literally destroys communities and the environment and that kills anyone, even award winning environmentalists, who might stand up against it.
Hell, no mention of the role drugs have played in the region since the Iran Contra Scandal. I mean, c’mon editorial board, it was sitting right there for you. Anyone remember the reports that Honduran air bases were used to transport drugs during the conflicts of the 70s-80s?
RIP Gary Webb.
Or how about Operation Anvil that led to a group of civilians being gunned down by the DEA?
No mention, and why should we expect one, of the San Francisco establishment’s lean into reactionary conservative politics while hiding behind the lie that San Francisco is “progressive.” When was SF a progressive beacon of hope again? Was that when Chesa Boudin was ousted from office and replaced by a district attorney who was hand-picked by the mayor (with support, arguably, from a certain newspaper, the political establishment, and funding from billionaires)? Or is it when the National Guard patrols the city and cops crack down on minors “bombing” a hill? So progressive!
I could go on, but I hope you get my point. The only part of value is where the authors begin to describe the trials and tribulations of immigrants. Their journey to the United States and their struggle for livelihood. This too, ultimately is shallow in its analytical depth.
The true story here is that the SF Chronicle is treating a problem that is part public health crisis, part broken immigration system, undergirded by a global economic system that does not work for the vast majority, and framed as a localized problem of crime and morals.
That first part is a story worth telling and I won’t count on the establishment newspaper to produce it. For now, the best thing the authors and the Chronicle can do is apologize to the Honduran community and stay the hell out of Honduras for a while.