By Ava Cohen
Mayor London Breed was fined a total of $22,792 for ethics violation on several counts of misusing her title for personal gain; including accepting money for car repairs by the former head of public works department Mohammed Nuru, buying herself two floats in the city’s 2015 Pride parade, and sending a letter to former governor Jerry Brown requesting her brother be released from prison early.
Breed claimed that her brother, Napoleon Brown, had turned his life around in prison and that he should receive some leniency regarding his sentence (44 years for robbery and manslaughter). Personally, I fully believe that anyone can turn their lives around with enough effort and support, to decide to make changes in how they conduct themselves, and so I have no issue with this. My frustration lies in the fact that Mayor Breed is willing to make an exception for incarcerated family members while doing little to support other folks who have been incarcerated and are making an effort to turn their lives around.
Breed proposed a whopping $689 million budget for the fiscal year 2022-2023 for the San Francisco Police Department, which is around $21 million more than the proposed budget for the fiscal year 2021-2022. Why are we continually investing more in policing when we could be investing in long term solutions like housing, mental health resources, and rehabilitation?
Breed recently launched a program called the Dream Keeper Initiative to support African American folks in the city, but the proposed budget is $121 million, less than one fifth of the police department’s proposed budget. Black and Brown communities are disproportionately affected by policing and the carceral system, and to consistently invest more in a demonstrably biased, unjust system is counterproductive to making actual change. According to the census from 2019, only 5.6% of San Francisco was Black (10.1% counting those who claimed two or more races) and yet Black/African American folks made up 42.6% of the total suspects list for the police department from April 1, 2020 to June 30, 2020.
So if Mayor Breed also believes that incarcerated inmates are more than capable of turning their lives around, why is she not doing more to provide people with resources to do so rather than warehousing them in a system that sets them up to fail? San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin also has an incarcerated family member and he has consistently voiced that incarceration does more to create generational trauma than to reduce crime. This mindset has bred friction between himself and SFPD as well as other wealthy San Francisco residents who feel protected by the police and the criminal justice system, so much so that there is a GOP-backed campaign to recall him. Breed has yet to utter a word of public support to Boudin, and is even allied with some of the very politicians that are leading this campaign. And how ironic is it that polished figures who work in city hall are able to pay off their fines for illegal activity without a dent to their finances while folks are incarcerated for simply trying to make ends meet? An estimated 13 million misdemeanor charges push people into prison for actions as simple as sitting on the sidewalk (something unavoidable for homeless folks, it should be noted). It’s an endless, vicious cycle that grabs people by their necks to store away in prisons, all to continue the illusion of safety and justice under capitalism, an economic shield for white upper and middle class America, and a bludgeon against the rest.
I do have to give Mayor Breed some credit though, as the proposed budget for the fiscal year 2021-22 for homeless resources was increased to almost $672 million. Breed has promised multiple programs that would help homeless San Francisco residents; such as sites with parking spots exclusively for those living in their car, the reopening of emergency shelter beds after COVID-19, and investing in 800-1,000 new units of permanent supportive housing.
Homelessness and incarceration in San Francisco are monumental problems that will take years to fix, but investing real money in actionable sums in the safety and wellbeing of those struggling would be a huge step in the right direction.