Mayor Breed ‘s Historic Speech on Tenderloin at U.S. Conference of Mayors

by on January 29, 2019

Breed Speaks Truth About Tenderloin Drug Activities

On Thursday, January 24, San Francisco Mayor London Breed talked about the Tenderloin at the U.S. Conference of Mayors. And what she said is something that I have never heard another mayor publicly say in my 39 years working in the neighborhood.

Not Willie Brown, who was treated like royalty when he walked down Tenderloin streets. Not Mayor Ed Lee, whose contributions place him on the Mount Rushmore of Tenderloin heroes.

Mayor Breed described how from her youth the Tenderloin was known as a place where people go to sell drugs. Rather than deny that the SFPD has historically allowed illegal activities in the Tenderloin they would not allow elsewhere—-which many call a strategy of “containment” and new D6 Supervisor Matt Haney has called a “conspiracy”—–she acknowledged this reality.

But she said those days are past: “we are going to start cracking down.”

Breed described how often she comes to the Tenderloin—no mayor has ever visited so frequently—-and how she’s trying to “shine a light on the community.”

I watched Breed’s comments with surprise bordering on amazement. Not because the Tenderloin was being talked about on a national stage; as I describe in The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco, the Tenderloin’s storied past qualifies it as one of the nation’s great legacy neighborhoods (along with being a National Historic District with over 400 historic buildings).

No, what I could not believe I was hearing was San Francisco’s mayor publicly speaking the truth about City Hall’s long tolerance for drug activities in the neighborhood.

Before you send emails how past talk about Tenderloin drug crackdowns have not been matched by actions, I know that as well as anyone. I led a March Against Crime through the streets of the Tenderloin with Mayor Feinstein, Reverend Cecil Williams, Leroy Looper and others. That march was supposed to start a crackdown on drug activities but by decade’s end the problem was even worse.

I recall when incoming Police Chief now DA George Gascon vowed to stop the Tenderloin from being a containment zone. After months of visible success in 2009, pressure from city officials led him to abandon the effort. The bad old days returned.

So I’m not declaring “Mission Accomplished” for the Tenderloin. The neighborhood still has far more public drug dealing than anywhere in the city outside 6th Street, other parts of SOMA and Mid-Market. In fact, as I wrote this on January 28 the drug scene in front of 472 Turk and at Turk and Hyde was as bad as ever, after recent weeks of improvement.

Mayor Breed talked about the neighborhood’s homeless population during her Mayors’ Conference talk but did not mention that the Tenderloin also has failed to get any of the Homeless Outreach Team resources promised to the neighborhood.  Few people in my organization (which has well over 100 staff in the Tenderloin) have ever seen a city-funded homeless outreach worker in the neighborhood. At a meeting with D6 Supervisor Matt Haney last week on the 300 block of Ellis, the biggest complaint from residents was that they never see homeless outreach workers help the many unhoused on that block).

So ensuring the Tenderloin the same level of safety and homeless outreach services as other neighborhoods remains a work in progress. But the city has a mayor and a district supervisor who have clearly made ending open drug dealing in the Tenderloin a priority.

The importance of these commitments—and of the community’s holding these elected officials to them— cannot be overstated.

Here is the video of the mayor’s talk.

Randy Shaw is Director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic and Editor of Beyond Chron.

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Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw is the author of four books on activism, including The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. His new book is The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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