New DA Jenkins visits the Tenderloin

  • by Eric Burkett, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday July 12, 2022
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San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins speaks to reporters in the Tenderloin July 12. Photo: Eric Burkett<br>
San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins speaks to reporters in the Tenderloin July 12. Photo: Eric Burkett

After touring and witnessing the open-air drug deals along Eddy Street in the Tenderloin July 12, newly appointed District Attorney Brooke Jenkins spoke to the press in the parking lot of the Phoenix Hotel and vowed to crack down on the illicit business deals.

Jenkins was introduced by Randy Shaw, executive director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which he co-founded in 1980, with a call for change.

"Let's hope that today is the start of change, because the people of the Tenderloin are in a working class, multiracial community that should not be a containering zone for open-air drug dealing," he said. "I don't know where it got the idea that it's progress to allow drug dealing but if you think its progress, put it out in Bernal Heights, put it out in Haight Ashbury, take it away from the Tenderloin. We don't accept it here."

As she had vowed at the news conference announcing her appointment by Mayor London Breed last week, replacing Chesa Boudin who was recalled by voters on June 7, Jenkins opened her statement promising to make the open-air drug dealing on the streets of the Tenderloin one of her primary concerns.

"I wanted to be clear from Day One that the Tenderloin's open-air drug markets are one of my top priorities and will be one of the top priorities of the San Francisco District Attorney's office," she said. "No longer can children and families and our elderly residents have to walk through the situations that I walked through this morning."

With that in mind, she told reporters she is committed to using surveillance to ensure that vulnerable Tenderloin residents, struggling with addiction and often asked to hold drugs for dealers, are dealt with "appropriately, rather than all the punishment falling on them or the consequences falling on them" as the dealers stand nearby with empty pockets.

Whatever approach she takes to the issue of drug sales in the Tenderloin, she said, it would not be a "one-stop size."

"We need to be able to approach each case and see what that person's circumstances [are] individually," as well as dealing with repeat offenders differently than first-timers. Immigrants, too, required sensitivity, particularly as San Francisco is a sanctuary city, but "at the same time, we cannot allow our residents to die on the streets of overdose."

Statistics from the City of San Francisco show that, between December 27, 2021 and July 3, 2022, police booked 245 people for narcotics sales in the neighborhood, while an additional 48 were cited during the same period. Booked means the person was taken into custody and booked into jail, while a citation requires the person to appear in court at a future date.

That period roughly coincides with the start of the emergency declaration in the Tenderloin that Breed sought and the Board of Supervisors approved in December. In January, a linkage center opened near United Nations Plaza, offering services to those with substance use issues, as the Bay Area Reporter previously reported.(The facility was later renamed the Tenderloin Center and is expected to close this December.)

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, 60% of the city's drug-related reported police incidents in 2021 took place in the Tenderloin, up from about 40% in 2019. In May of this year alone, Jenkins told reporters, there were 45 overdose deaths in the Tenderloin, 33 of which were from fentanyl, a synthetic opioid up to 100 times stronger than morphine.

Some 35,000 people live in the neighborhood — a little more than 4% of San Franciscans — according to the Business School Alliance for Health Management and economic data for the neighborhood is no more encouraging: "the median household income in the Tenderloin is $24,127 (versus $78,378 citywide), with nearly a third living below the poverty level (28%), and almost one-half are single-parent households (46%)," according to BSAHM.

Jenkins pledged to work with the San Francisco Police Department's narcotics squad, gay District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey, "and other agencies across San Francisco to get this problem resolved," she said. "And so, again, I'm going to do what it takes and that's why I'm here today." The Tenderloin is currently represented by District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston following the city's redistricting process earlier this year. Dorsey represents a small part of the Transgender District along Sixth Street, along with the South of Market neighborhood.

However, Jenkins noted, she's still learning about the scope of the issue. Jenkins said she is researching the deals in cases the DA's office is currently handling to craft policies that "promote more accountability."

Toward that end, Jenkins said she would be walking the neighborhood regularly "so that I can see what's going on here and see whether the policies that we're implementing are making a difference. That is going to be the measuring stick of how we're doing."

In order to prevent drug sales from simply moving to other neighborhoods, Jenkins said her office would have to implement consistent policies "regardless of where the conduct is happening. We have to be willing to hold those who commit those crimes accountable." Working with SFPD, she would be able to address "upticks" in drug sales and related activities in other neighborhoods to keep up with the matter as it changes.

After making that statement, Tenderloin Housing Clinic's Shaw cut in, adding that "the reason so many dealers are in the Tenderloin is because they've been moved from other neighborhoods. Why weren't people criticizing that? Because that's a fact, and we all know it. But we kind of look the other way."

The B.A.R. reached out to Transgender District President and Chief Strategist Aria Sa'id, who declined to comment stating she has been out of town for business and did not want to say anything until she knew more about the matter.

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