September 24, 2020
PRESS CONTACT: SF Public Defender’s Office – (628)249-7946 – Valerie.Ibarra@sfgov.org
Public Defender Mano Raju Responds to City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s Decision to File Civil Injunctions Against 28 Individuals
“I agree that drug use in the Tenderloin is a serious public health issue that negatively affects residents, many of whom are clients of my office, as well as their families. What the City Attorney and I disagree on is what will actually solve this crisis.
The City Attorney’s proposed injunction is another chapter in the war on drugs that has simply failed to impact drug use or sales, while harming low-income people and communities of color. More enforcement of low-level, subsistence street level sellers is not the solution to this ongoing public health crisis. Rather, we should use our resources to provide meaningful alternatives to street level dealers – including housing, job training, and employment – and also focus on getting at the source of the drug trade, which will continue to produce drugs so long as the demand exists.
As public defenders, we know that many low-level sellers are users themselves. Indeed, many of us have tried cases where clients are accused of intending to sell drugs and the jurors have returned verdicts of simple possession with no intent to sell. Further, recent immigrant sellers are often victims of human trafficking, tricked and forced into the drug trade after escaping oppressive and violent regimes and non-existent opportunity. Like drivers or warehouse employees for billion-dollar corporations, they are subsistence workers, many of whom lack choices.
We know from decades of experience that these low-level sellers will quickly be replaced with other sellers, making the market more volatile and dangerous and potentially causing worse health outcomes – including more overdose deaths – as people who suffer from drug addiction buy from unknown sources. It also means that we will likely see no change on the streets.
For example, while the San Francisco Police Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office arrested and prosecuted street level sellers en masse in August 2019, this had no meaningful impact on the number of overdose deaths, and those deaths continue to climb.
As we saw in the past with misguided gang injunctions, one-sided fact gathering leads to injustice, further traumatization of those who are human trafficking victims, further litigation, and wasted resources. And unfortunately, no one consulted our attorneys about these proposed injunctions, even though we represent many of the 28 people who have been named. At a time when the courts face a seven-month backlog of cases due to COVID, these injunctions could further clog our courts with lawsuits against people who may already have stay-away orders or are participating in alternative court programs.”