More police, criminalization and gang suppression will not end homelessness in San Francisco

Upcoming events

End gang injunctions! Join the San Francisco No Injunctions Coalition on July 12, City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s last planned court hearing to remove names from the city’s gang injunctions, at Superior Court, 400 McAllister. Watch Facebook, at, and the Bay View calendar for more information.

Herrera-Drop-the-Gang-Injunctions-vigil-prior-to-ct-hrg-to-remove-enjoined-men-who-died-062818-by-Daniel-Montes-Bay-City-News-web-300x225, More police, criminalization and gang suppression will not end homelessness in San Francisco, Local News & Views
In the morning sun, a vigil to honor Mario Woods and others who have died but are still listed on San Francisco’s gang injunctions was held prior to a Superior Court hearing June 28 to remove those young men’s names. “About 11 years ago, the city attorney’s office in the City and County of San Francisco thought it was a good idea to target exclusively Black and Brown men to put on an injunction to basically criminalize them in their own neighborhood, making it criminal behavior to associate with their own blood cousin or their own blood brothers. That is unconscionable that we still have this policy in San Francisco today,” said Jose Bernal with the city’s Reentry Council, which coordinates efforts to support formerly incarcerated people. – Photo: Daniel Montes, Bay City News

At the June 28 hearing, Becky Lo Dolce of the San Francisco No Injunctions Coalition observed, “Herrera is now in the process of removing names from the injunctions, including 21 men who are deceased. Today, he will finally remove Mario Woods from the injunction. Instead of targeting these young men with resources, they targeted them with more policing. That these men have remained on the injunctions even after their deaths is a clear illustration that the City Attorney is lying about having reviewed the injunctions every three years.”

Eric Henderson, policy associate at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and member of the San Francisco Sentencing Commission, told the vigil crowd as they prepared to go into the courthouse: “Then we will pack the courtroom to remind the city attorney that the community is watching. While he congratulates himself on removing some names from the injunctions, we will not be satisfied until he eliminates the injunctions completely.”

The next Beds 4 Bayview meeting is Wednesday, July 18, 6:30-7:30 p.m., at the Bayview Linda Brooks-Burton Branch Library, 5075 Third St. at Revere, San Francisco. San Francisco Department of Homelessness Director Jeff Kositsky will be on the panel with host Gwendolyn Westbrook of Mother Brown’s and allies Dayton Andrews with the Coalition on Homelessness and Tony Kelly, community activist and candidate for District 10 supervisor.

by Maria Victoria Ahearne

“The End of Policing,” a new book by Alex Vitale, examines the histories and failures of policing policies and provides examples of alternatives that successfully divest from dependence on police while strengthening the community. Vitale’s chapters on criminalizing homelessness and gang suppression in particular can be a useful tool in revealing ineffective policies in effect today in San Francisco.

Gang suppression is attempted through gang injunctions ordered by San Francisco District Attorney Dennis Herrera on youth residing in low-income, predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods. These are the modern Black Codes of the Bayview Hunters Point, Visitacion Valley, Fillmore-Western Addition and Mission districts.

Criminalizing homelessness is sanctioned by policies known as the 36 “quality of life laws” imposed by police on unsheltered residents. These policies are proving not to be successful, assuming success is measured in reducing crime and homelessness.

End-the-Gang-Injunctions-vigil-prior-to-ct-hrg-to-remove-enjoined-men-who-died-062818-by-SF-No-Injunctions-Coalition-300x225, More police, criminalization and gang suppression will not end homelessness in San Francisco, Local News & Views
Gang injunction opponents gathered at 9 a.m. June 28 outside the courthouse at 400 McAllister for a vigil honoring the young men who have died while enjoined. At 9:30, the opponents attended a hearing to finally remove their names from the injunctions.

The data collected, when available, proves policing to not only be ineffective financially but also exposes glaring racial disparities. The researchers producing recent data recommend alternatives to policing, as does Vitale. In order for communities to have a chance to thrive, government policies must be data-driven, with racial justice at its developmental epicenter along with transparency and community oversight.

The highest peaks of aggressive policing are historically paired with the inequality of wealth. Most notably are the policing policies following an economic collapse.

This is strikingly evident when comparing the distribution of wealth or “top shares of income and wages” in 1927 and 2007, according to Picketty and Saez. IRS tax data research when graphed illustrates parallel peaks of income disparity in a U-shape, with both peaks representing the wealth in the top 1 percent of households, while the steady decline of the bottom 90 percent accounts for the obliteration of the middle class.

As the 1927 economic collapse precedes the Great Depression, the 2007 economic collapse precedes San Francisco’s homeless population explosion. In 2007, San Francisco began to experience a mass immigration of a privileged population, displacing low-income residents without a social safety net of affordable housing or wrap around solutions for the soon-to-be displaced.

Signs of economic collapse are gentrification, a sudden expansion of unhoused residents and heavy policing.

The police have nowhere to house this influx of unhoused residents. During the Great Depression, Vitale recounts the police practice of placing large groups of homeless people in the basements of their police stations, yet adds, “Today, most cities provide some level of emergency shelter.”

In the Bayview district of San Francisco, Mother Brown’s Dining Room, operated by the grassroots nonprofit United Council of Human Services, has repeatedly requested a shelter bed facility for clients, yet still has not even one single bed for the neighborhood’s 3,000 unsheltered residents. Bayview has 40 percent of San Francisco’s unhoused population and receives only 6 percent of resources.

End-of-Policing’-author-Alex-Vitale-at-City-College-011818-web-300x300, More police, criminalization and gang suppression will not end homelessness in San Francisco, Local News & Views
“The End of Policing” author Alex Vitale gives the keynote address at the Jan. 18, 2018, event also called “The End of Policing” at City College Mission Campus. The event was hosted by Critical Resistance, Verso Books and The Center for Political Education.

Capt. Ford of the Bayview police station states dejectedly that 90 percent of complaint calls are responding to homelessness. There were 3,236 complaint calls to Bayview police regarding homelessness in 2016, according to the city’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. By law, it is the SFPD that has to resolve all these calls.

Mother Brown’s has launched a campaign for a shelter which also includes a stipend program, tentatively named “Beds 4 Bayview – Community House-sharing Program.” In this program, community residents are offered stipends to rent out a room to an unhoused resident under provisions with Mother Brown’s staff that includes 24/7 night patrol, emergency call center, pet services and case workers. Within the emergency call center is a phone line dedicated to receiving calls from district residents as an alternative to calling the police.

Then, in collaboration with volunteer first responders and staff, an outreach team will be dispatched if no other resources resolved the issue. This program was derived out of transparent community meetings at the public library and has circulated through community discussions. The pilot program will evolve for three years before the program is implemented permanently for Bayview.

This pilot program was developed due to recent data, a desperate need for housing, community concern for unhoused residents and lack of resources. Jeff Kositsky, director of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, stated at a recent budget hearing at City Hall that he is “working with Bayview and is very excited.” This would be an example of successful direct community relations with the government, without police presence, had he not recently refused, in May 2018, to fund the program.

Shelter beds for the Bayview have not been granted. Of the many locations requested, the property at 1995 Evans Ave. was repeatedly denied to Mother Brown’s by, yet again, Jeff Kositsky. SF Planning Department records indicate the private property requested was purchased by the City of San Francisco for $7.2 million in 2005. In 2013, the SF Board of Supervisors approved $1.1 million for contracted demolition.

In 2017, the city further approved a bid for $105 million for construction of a SFPD Forensic Services Division (crime lab) and Traffic Division (motorcycle parking). Currently, SFPD’s crime lab operates at Hunters Point Naval Shipyard in the Bayview District. The motorcycle division is housed and maintained at 850 Bryant St.

There have never been and currently are no shelter beds in Bayview Hunters Point. The building at 1995 Evans sat empty since San Francisco purchased the property 13 years ago and is currently being demolished. That’s 13 years Mother Brown’s could have operated a shelter for a fraction of what is spent on policing.

Policing does not reduce the number of unsheltered people on the streets in San Francisco and is a massive waste of social services funded by our tax dollars.

End-of-Policing’-moderator-Kamau-Walton-talks-with-Rachel-Herzing-Alex-Vitale-at-City-College-011818-web-300x203, More police, criminalization and gang suppression will not end homelessness in San Francisco, Local News & Views
Moderator Kamau Walton with Critical Resistance talks with Center for Political Education’s Rachel Herzing and author Alex Vitale at “The End of Policing” on Jan. 18 at City College.

According to the 2015 Legislative Analyst Report, the 36 “quality of life laws are intended to protect the well-being of residents.” This report reveals San Francisco spent $20.6 million in 2015 for “sanctioning homeless individuals for violating quality of life laws,” of which 90 percent went solely to SFPD.

In 2015, there were 6,909 homeless adults. By 2017, there are 6,881 homeless adults. That averages a decrease of 14 homeless people per year.

According to this data, San Francisco taxpayers paid the SFPD $1.5 million for each person removed from the homeless count. The same Legislative Analyst Report concurs with Vitale: “The Board of Supervisors should consider implementing a new strategy to address these issues that shifts response to quality of life incidents from the Police Department to other City agencies, including the proposed Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing.”

Adding to their conclusion, paying the police to respond to phone complaints could be responsible for “a shift in the level of tolerance for the homeless.” Middle class families are now paying more than 50 percent of their income on rent. Unfortunately, anti-homeless rhetoric only feeds their stress and their displaced resentment falls on the most marginalized in our community, rather than on the public officials who have the data and resources to change policies.

Rather than reforming policies, San Francisco is ignoring the data and pushing for more policing. Vitale comments on how citations for quality of life laws “do nothing to improve a person’s situation and usually intend to drive people out of certain spaces more than change their behavior … [W]hen this strategy is unsuccessful, cities often turn to more intensive strategies and develop new laws to give officers ‘the tools they need’ to take care of ‘problem populations.’”

Such was the recent announcement by SFPD Capt. Gaetano Caltagirone at a community meeting at the San Francisco Mission Station to issue warrants as a way to get homeless people to utilize services. He is working with District Attorney George Gascon “case by case to see if we can create a warrant for the individual.”

The DA and the captain are going to be “working” – that part is true; they will be getting paid. In 2017, George Gascon earned $330,000 and Capt. Caltagirone earned $225,000.

The-End-of-Policing-by-Alex-S.-Vitale-cover-300x300, More police, criminalization and gang suppression will not end homelessness in San Francisco, Local News & Views The last line of that article flatlines hope with “We got nothing to lose to try that,” quoting Caltagirone, who wants to bring back the “wanted poster” for car break-ins. That proposal expands on the common practice of SFPD and the Police Officer’s Association, San Francisco’s police union, to post pictures of suspects on their social media pages; the suspects are disproportionately African American and Latino.

The recent announcement by San Francisco DA George Gascon refusing to charge killer cops in the executions of Mario Woods and Luis Gongora Pat has launched a movement by San Francisco freedom fighters to call on Gascon to resign.

The racial profiling by SFPD is not only highly visible on their social media pages and in the rhetoric at department meetings, it’s also evident in the data collected by the U.S. Department of Justice, whose investigation and report resulted from public outcry after the 2015 firing squad-style execution of Mario Woods by SFPD.

Clearly, when Caltagirone declares “we” have nothing to lose, he is not referring to the Black and Brown youth and their likelihood of being racially profiled and executed in San Francisco. The DOJ’s Collaborative Reform Initiative assessment of the SFPD reports that “the odds of African-American drivers being searched without consent were nearly 200 percent higher than those of White drivers.”

Confirming this disturbing reality, the report continues: “(T)he hit-rate analysis revealed that roughly 7 out of 10 high discretion searches of white drivers yielded contraband, while 3 out of 10 high discretion searches of African-American drivers yielded contraband.”

The wisdom of putting up wanted posters of alleged criminals based on objective police discretion is questionable at best given the data of racial profiling. Capt. Caltagirone’s solution, whether using printed posters or social media feeds, continually reinforces the public’s impression that African Americans commit more crime, when the data contains abundant proof that they do not.

The suggestions to city officials to find alternatives to policing are being ignored. One of the recommended reforms of the CRI assessment of the SFPD by the Department of Justice is Recommendation 40.7: “The SFPD should develop strategic partnerships on key community issues such as homelessness and organizational transparency to work in a collaborative environment to problem solve and develop co-produced plans to address the issues.”

Mother-Browns-Drop-In-Center-300x220, More police, criminalization and gang suppression will not end homelessness in San Francisco, Local News & Views
Here at Mother Brown’s Drop In Center, people without shelter can come to take a shower, wash their clothes, pick up their mail and enjoy the company of friends. When nighttime comes, however, because the city refuses to allow beds and forbids people who stay from lying down, they must sit up to sleep, a dangerous practice for their health, leaving them with swollen, painful feet and legs.

Like the San Francisco Legislative Analyst Report, the DOJ recommends seeking strategic partnerships with the community, echoing Vitale’s argument to rely on community rather than police. However, in the same section within the DOJ’s review, titled “Community Policing Practices,” the key findings indicate homelessness as a “unique challenge” in that “The SFPD does not have a data category that tracks its interactions with people experiencing homelessness consistently, which limits analysis for this area of police response including resource requirements, hotspot areas, and types of crime impacting or deriving from the community.”

The SFPD does not have a data tracking system to measure the efficacy of the quality of life laws. If the community is committing to data tracking in their pilot programs, such as Beds 4 Bayview, should the SFPD not do the same? Or, at a minimum, step aside and let the community experts handle it after the SFPD continually fails to?

The report goes on to emphasize the difficulty in police providing homelessness services because the only resources police provide are a simple website address and a handout listing shelters and meal program information. SFPD officers are reluctant to give them out because, as mentioned previously, shelter assistance is not sufficient. The DOJ report concludes: “In effect, SFPD officers have limited service options to provide to the homeless individuals they encounter.”

The extensive research conducted by the Department of Justice further validates Vitale’s position on the role of police and homelessness; they are not qualified or effective in reducing homelessness. Not only are the police unsuitable to assist homeless people but the absence of data tracking makes it impossible for them to improve.

“The SFPD has limited tools to address homeless assistance, but it remains the primary institutional response to the homeless population’s needs and those of the community as a result of its around-the-clock response capability. Strategic planning should be conducted with all of the SFPD’s institutional partners to clearly define roles, responsibilities, and goals in addressing this issue,” the DOJ recommends in concluding the section headed “Homelessness as a unique challenge.”

Vitale does not include reforms in his book. Requiring  SFPD to start collecting data on quality of life laws given its inefficacy would still not house unsheltered residents and only cycle them through a traumatic system with a severe shortage of wrap-around support services.

Policing policies are historically inhumane and criminalize people for being poor. The policy titles may change, but the punishment remains the same. Vitale highlights Seattle’s example: “Whenever a homeless person was found to be committing any of a number of minor crimes that often go along with being homeless, they were not arrested but instead banned from a particular area, such as a park, a row of cheap motels, or even an entire neighborhood.”

Gwendolyn-Westbrook-CEO-Mother-Brown’s-Kitchen-and-Drop-In-Resource-Center-0413-by-Betty-McGee-cropped-300x225, More police, criminalization and gang suppression will not end homelessness in San Francisco, Local News & Views
Gwendolyn Westbrook is the beloved CEO of Mother Brown’s. She has fought for years for Beds 4 Bayview, even obtaining a large grant a few years ago that was initially approved by the city, then that approval rescinded after pressure was applied to the Board of Supervisors by “gentrifiers,” new Bayview residents who don’t want to be reminded that the vast majority of people, even in San Francisco, are poor. – Photo: Betty McGee

Today, prison labor continues the legacy of slavery because the 13th Amendment abolished slavery for everyone except prisoners, thus profiting the prison industrial complex. Gang injunctions replace Black Codes, while banning homeless residents replaces the banishment of the poor during medieval times.

Vitale traces the history of Los Angeles’ Skid Row: “Efforts to remove homeless people through criminalization are clearly linked to economic development initiatives. Los Angeles’s Safe Cities Initiative (SGI) was a bald-faced attempt to drive homeless people out of the historic Skid Row area to make way for gentrification. Ironically, Skid Row itself was originally created as a kind of ghetto of social services for the very poor in order to keep them out of other residential neighborhoods. But as LA’s downtown has become more developed and desirable, Skid Row has become a valuable area for real estate development.”

The concentration of social services for the very poor in San Francisco is in the Tenderloin, which has the highest population of homeless African American residents in San Francisco: 2,898 in 2015. Bayview Hunters Point would be expected to have the second largest Black homeless population, at 1,189 residents. However, the San Francisco County Jail, housing 1,285 homeless African Americans, puts the Bayview in third place.

The SF County Jail population is over 50 percent African American, yet the African American population in all of San Francisco has dwindled down to an official 6.3 percent. Currently, no politicians are challenging that disparity. Quite the opposite: All leading candidates in the San Francisco mayoral race pushed for more police on the streets.

Incarcerations will continue as long as police are administering homeless policy. The same disparity can be seen statewide. In 2016, 29 percent of male prisoners in state prisons were African American, who comprised only 6 percent of the state population.

According to Vitale, 50 additional police officers were assigned to LA’s Skid Row: “Homeless encampments were cleared away, thousands of arrests made, and many more citations issued … police were used explicitly to drive people into social services … these programs rarely succeeded in part because there were no permanent housing, jobs or sustained health services available. This dynamic contributed to a revolving-door phenomenon and plenty of victim-blaming for what is really a failed social safety net.”

Mother-Brown’s-Chef-Lonell-Robinson-worked-there-17-yrs-0517-by-Allison-Phuong-Street-Sheet-web-300x200, More police, criminalization and gang suppression will not end homelessness in San Francisco, Local News & Views
Head chef at Mother Brown’s, Lonell Robinson, serves soul food that’s good – real good – and good for you. – Photo: Allison Phuong, Street Sheet

Not only does policing not solve homelessness, the rhetoric by media and public officials gives people permission to take out their frustration on the most marginalized community. Liberal activists, says Vitale, are “calling for the removal of homeless encampments by police in New York and San Francisco.”

San Francisco Mayor Mark Farrell is quoted as declaring, “We have moved as a city from a position of compassion to enabling (unacceptable) street behavior,” according to Eric Luckoff and Gina Simi, co-chairs of the Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club, writing in the Examiner. The mayor blames the unsheltered residents as opposed to the elected officials who can actually allocate funds for supportive housing and, to meet the immediate need, for outdoor toilets and sanitation resources. He coldly adds that if the unsheltered resident “resists everything we offer them in counseling, housing and other services, they shouldn’t be allowed to keep tents on the sidewalk.”

Vitale points out that even if recycling homeless residents in and out of the jail system was in any way effective, it would still be illegal. According to Vitale, the courts throw out cases because they are “unconstitutionally vague.”

He also points out that the encampment sweeps are illegal because the “courts have made it clear that any seized property must be treated with care and held for someone to claim.” Citing the DOJ, he writes that “many of the anti-sleeping and camping statutes being enforced across the country may be illegal if people have no other viable alternative but to sleep in those restricted places.”

With no emergency shelters in Bayview, the sleeping ban in San Francisco’s quality of life laws criminalizes those forced to sleep outside. Vitale notes not only is this a violation of city laws and the DOJ’s opinion, but quality of life laws and encampment sweeps violate the “International Covenant Against Torture (and) the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (people have a right to housing confirmed by U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness).”

Vitale quotes research in Florida that concludes “providing chronically homeless people with permanent housing and support services would save local taxpayers $149 million in spending on jails and health care.” And in New York City, of the “800 people who spent the most time cycling through the jail system, over half were homeless.” This “managing growing inequality through increasingly punitive mechanisms of state control” only makes the situation worse.

Vitale ends his chapter, “Criminalizing Homelessness,” by reminding us that this criminalization process wastes financial resources and ignores the most important issue, which is keeping our elected officials accountable. He explains: “In the process, it also relieves elected officials of the responsibility to embrace a transformative urban politics that focuses on the needs of poor people in terms of structural changes to housing and employment markets, as well as essential social services like health care.”

Criminalization of homelessness tragically diverts our attention, like a red herring, from the real root of the problem. The data prove the policies are a failure, economically, financially and morally.

Jeff-Adachi-speaks-at-rally-against-gang-injunctions-071207-by-John-Han-Fog-City-Journal-300x200, More police, criminalization and gang suppression will not end homelessness in San Francisco, Local News & Views
San Francisco’s elected public defender, Jeff Adachi, beloved in poor neighborhoods across the city, has taken a lead in the fight against gang injunctions from Day One. Here, he speaks at a rally outside City Hall on July 12, 2007. – Photo: John Han, Fog City Journal

The solution is to take the process out of the hands of the police. Recognized by professional outreach workers, trust and services are needed for stabilization, and the police can’t offer either. Mayor Farrell’s recent rampage of coordinated encampment sweeps and Capt. Caltagirone’s jailing for services begs the question: Is San Francisco offering its social services to the unhoused residents only by incarcerating them?

Vitale provides alternatives to policing the homeless: 1) Increase pay for low-wage workers, 2) Create more affordable housing and 3) Provide support services for those who need them. Vitale calls on governments to “intervene in housing markets by building large numbers of heavily subsidized units.” He suggests governments create Section 8-style subsidies on a large scale, so unhoused people occupying shelters can move to permanent housing.

Meanwhile, shelter of any kind is still lacking in Bayview. The community is still asking for a shelter.

Gang suppression

Vitale’s chapter addressing gang suppression can align easily with the current San Francisco gang injunctions assigned to four areas in low income neighborhoods predominantly populated by Black and Latino families. These gang injunctions are state sanctioned restraining orders on a human body that restrict a person from movement within a certain area.

That area for most of those named in the injunctions is their place of residence, which Vitale compares to banishment in medieval times. Banished from their home and the neighboring homes of family and friends and denied jobs because of their “record,” young men listed on gang injunctions live under constant threat of homelessness.

The Bayview injunction targets a so-called “Oakdale Mob,” banning the young men it lists from the Oakdale public housing development where many had been born and raised. The existence of such a gang is in serious doubt, and chances are, even if gang activity did exist in 2007 when the injunctions were ordered, any person named is now employed with family responsibilities.

Not surprising is that the injunctions appeared at the same time as the economic collapse. While in Los Angeles gang injunctions were induced during Bush’s War on Drugs, here in the much smaller city of San Francisco, they were imposed in 2007.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera is currently reviewing the gang injunctions, 11 years later, as a result of pressure from a local campaign, the San Francisco No Injunctions Coalition. Last year, Oakland activists successfully got rid of the Oakland injunctions.

Gang-injunction-protest-banner-Oakland-against-racist-injunctions-2011-300x225, More police, criminalization and gang suppression will not end homelessness in San Francisco, Local News & Views
As in San Francisco, Oaklanders valiantly fought gang injunctions and have now ended them.

Progressive San Francisco Supervisor Sandra Fewer called for a hearing to question the validity of the injunctions. The hearing was set for April of this year, but the city attorney persuaded the court to postpone it to June 13.

At the hearing, packed by opponents, Deputy City Attorney Yvonne Mere defended the injunctions, calling them “a tool to reduce crime.” Public Defender Jeff Adachi countered by calling them “a tool of racial profiling.” And he countered her crediting the injunctions for reducing crime by saying, “In the last 10 years, we have had 40 percent reduction in crime in all of San Francisco.”

Recently, Adachi wrote a letter to City Attorney Herrera urging an end to the gang injunctions: “These injunctions seem endless and overpowering. They cast a pall over the affected communities, perpetuating the idea that the Bayview, Western Addition, Visitacion Valley and Mission districts are the ‘crime infested inner cities’ of Donald Trump’s imagination. And they perpetuate arrest and incarceration rates for young Black men who are doing little more than interacting with their friends and families.

“These men do not have the freedom to travel or the freedom to associate. Police view them with suspicion and will stop and search them on the thinnest of pretexts. San Francisco has long been a leader in criminal justice reform and the defense of civil liberties. These antiquated gang injunctions are an embarrassment to our City. It is time for them to go. I look forward to working together with you to withdraw the gang injunctions,” Adachi wrote.

Any place you find gang injunctions, you find Black and Brown youth. After 11 years, the people remaining on the injunctions in San Francisco are now older and more mature, but their lives and their freedom are still curtailed by the injunctions.

Vitale points to data revealing that in “most gang-intensive communities, involvement is short-lived, lasting on average only a year. A new child or job are generally sufficient explanation for not being on the streets any longer.”

Criminalizing young people is humiliating, and the concept that police punitive measures will be intimidating enough to deter crime is misleading at best. Vitale notes that “juveniles rarely make such rational cost-benefit calculations”; they are impulsive and don’t believe they will get caught.

Mario Woods, whose SFPD execution shook the city, protesters occupying the nightly news with a long hunger strike, shutting down City Hall and forcing the resignation of the police chief, had been only 19 when he joined his friends in a break-in of a pool hall. Unfortunately, he was the only one to get caught.

Gang-Injunctions-Racial-Profiling-071207-by-John-Han-FCJ-300x200, More police, criminalization and gang suppression will not end homelessness in San Francisco, Local News & Views
Everyone named in San Francisco’s gang injunctions is Black or Brown. This is also a photo from the July 12, 2007, rally. – Photo: John Han, Fog City Journal

He remained trapped in the cycle of police punishment by policy until they shot him to death on Dec. 2, 2015. To this day, even in death, his name appears on the Oakdale Mob gang injunction.

The gang injunction placed with no public record on Mario enabled the police under interrogation with no attorney present to intimidate Mario with an offer to sign the injunction and get sentenced to eight years as opposed to 18 years in prison. For a 19-year-old. For a one-time break-in.

Had this decision been put to a qualified health professional, they would know that the male brain doesn’t stop developing until the age of 23. With the trauma of going to prison and lacking services upon his release, he underwent what has been referred by Vitale as suicide by poverty, by police execution. Humiliating and punishing children does not deter anti-social behaviors, as the school to prison pipeline data has exposed.

Vitale points out a study by the ACLU in Los Angeles that proves the gang injunctions do not deter crime but rather simply disperse it. The success of gang injunction removal in two Oakland neighborhoods by the local abolitionist group Critical Resistance came when police officials “admitted that the injunction had been ineffective and undermined police-community relations more broadly,” Vitale writes.

Vitale warns the increased surveillance is a violation of privacy and is “predictive” of crime and not based on proof, creating yet another form of racial profiling. “Most young people who engage in serious crime are already living in harsh and dangerous circumstances,” Vitale observes

“They are fearful of other youth, abusive family members, and the prospect of a future of joblessness and poverty. They don’t need more threats and punishment in their lives. They need stability, positive guidance and real pathways out of poverty.”

Again, the police are not trained social workers. They are there to “punish.” Punishment only reinforces anti-social behavior. Most kids will learn how to avoid getting caught, not alternatives to the behavior. Low quality childcare in low-income neighborhoods only exacerbates these problems from an early age, and anti-social survival coping skills are learned in school.

Vitale concludes with alternatives such as “redirecting resources from policing, courts and jails to community centers and youth jobs is crucial to the real reform needed to reduce juvenile violence.” By divesting from policing, data driven solutions can be funded for much, much less and the community can benefit from feeling involved and empowered.

Memorial-for-enjoined-men-who’ve-died-but-still-on-gang-injunction-vigil-prior-to-ct-hrg-to-remove-names-062818-by-Daniel-Montes-Bay-City-News-300x225, More police, criminalization and gang suppression will not end homelessness in San Francisco, Local News & Views
Prior to the court hearing on June 28, 2018, the San Francisco No Injunctions Coalition held a vigil to honor the lives of people named on the injunctions who have died and lift up the experience of all those who have been impacted by the injunctions.

However, the control is in the elected and appointed officials. In San Francisco, progressive members of the Board of Supervisors such as Sandra Fewer, who has read the data and is herself married to a sheriff’s deputy, championed challenging these extreme failed forms of punitive policing. It is these progressive supervisors who tend to have a more transparent and positive relationship with their constituents and involve the community in decisions.

Instead of police punishing whole communities by banishing their young men with gang injunctions, Vitale finds a “need to build the capacity of communities to solve problems on their own or in true partnership with government.” He uses a model of community-based restorative justice where community members in a group “assess the risks of taking some offenders back into the community instead of sending them to prison.” With a fraction of what it would cost to incarcerate a person, they spend it on rehabilitation and prevention services instead.

Standing in the way of Vitale’s alternatives to harmful gang suppression policies, San Francisco is up against a city attorney who is not willing to end the current gang injunctions. In a letter responding to Public Defender Adachi’s request to end the injunctions, City Attorney Herrera writes: “[T]hese seven gang injunctions have been a powerful tool to reduce crime and increase community safety in the affected neighborhoods. For these reasons, while I respect your concerns and welcome your input, I disagree with your broad conclusions regarding the role and effect of these injunctions, and I am not in a position to summarily withdraw them.”

Despite the polarity of views of law and order and social justice, grassroots campaign activists will keep organizing until the gang injunctions are lifted. Recently the ACLU’s San Francisco office demanded the city attorney release all public records regarding gang injunctions.

The Reentry Council of San Francisco is also calling for an end of the injunctions, thanks to the organizing efforts of social justice advocates and to authors like Alex Vitale, who provide tools with data and alternatives as well as bringing like-minded community members together at lectures and events hosted by local abolitionist groups.

As long as police are called upon to provide services they are not trained or qualified to provide, policing will remain ineffective and worse – a threat to Black and Brown youth. As long as the public is pointing fingers at the so-called gang members and homeless criminals, the true culprits will never be caught.

The true culprits are the city officials who write, pass and implement legislation that instructs police officers to enforce an unjust, unproductive system. It’s up to community activists and social justice organizations to help build a bridge between community members and government officials to extinguish these policies and find an alternative to policing by putting the decisions transparently into the hands of the community.

Relying less on police and demanding divestment of social services funds out of SFPD is a good start. It is imperative that policies be designed with racial disparities as the main guiding data source in order to provide a safety net for all our citizens.

Maria Victoria Ahearne is a Bayview Hunters Point resident, organizer with Beds 4 Bayview and volunteer supporter for SF NIC (San Francisco No Injunctions Coalition). She can be reached at

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