I lived through the 1980s and 1990s, when politicians went out of their way to talk about crime, crime, crime, and drugs, drugs, drugs, and how the best solution to deep social problems was to lock more people (mostly Black people) up for longer and longer periods of time.
We all know, or we should all know, that it didn’t make anyone safer, didn’t deter drug use, made racial and economic inequality far worse, and cost billions of dollars.
And I have to ask myself almost every day: Why am I watching this movie again?
In the latest remake, Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is all about the White House, and Mayor London Breed and her hand-picked district attorney, Brooke Jenkins, are talking about charging drug dealers with murder.
Here’s the press statement:
“Fentanyl is deadlier than any drug we’ve ever seen on our streets,” said Mayor London Breed. “We must treat the trafficking and sale of fentanyl more severely and people must be put on notice that pushing this drug could lead to homicide charges. I want to thank Governor Newsom for continuing this support in San Francisco, and all of our state law enforcement agencies for working with us to hold those who sell this deadly drug accountable. This continued partnership between local, state, and federal enforcement agencies is making a difference.”
“The opioid crisis has claimed too many, and fentanyl traffickers must be held accountable including, as appropriate, for murder,” said Governor Gavin Newsom.
Just think for a second about what this means.
A significant number of the people who are selling opioids on the streets of San Francisco are themselves victims of human trafficking. Some others are addicts themselves, who sell to pay for their fix.
Because the city has refused to create safe-use sites, and Breed and Jenkins are now arresting people for just use, sending them to jail to detox without help, and desperate people (who may have just gotten out of jail) will buy drugs that may be much stronger than they anticipated (or the seller even knew) and overdose and die.
You think charging the dealer with murder is going to change any of that?
From Public Defender Mano Raju:
Threatening to charge people with murder is unfortunately likely to result in more overdoses, as people will be afraid to call for help. A report from Fair and Just Prosecution notes that such prosecutions ‘do not alleviate the risk of fatal overdoses; are ineffective as a deterrent to drug use, drug sales, and overdose deaths; can be legally problematic and consume significant resources; often target friends and family members; and worsen racial disparities in the system.’ The Drug Policy Alliance concluded that ‘drug-induced homicide prosecutions waste resources that could be spent on effective interventions.’
Meanwhile, let’s look at the data. The county jail is filling up, with a daily population over 1,000 for the first time in several years. In fact, there aren’t enough deputies to handle all of the prisoners. (And while Breed and her allies are making a huge deal about hiring more cops, they aren’t paying as much attention to hiring sheriff’s deputies to patrol the jails where the people the new cops arrest are going.) The city’s groundbreaking jail program aimed at preventing recidivism is collapsing under the burden.
And there is no indication that overdoses are declining, or that open-air drug sales are stopping, or that anything on the streets is any better. The new War on Drugs is no more successful than the last one.
I would like to think that Newsom and Breed know this; they are smart people with a lot of background in public policy. But that would suggest they are doing something they know will do more harm than good just to make political point.
I wish I didn’t have to be this cynical.