JOINT STATEMENT OF OPPOSITION TO A LAW ENFORCEMENT RESPONSE TO THE OVERDOSE CRISIS IN SAN FRANCISCO
As organizations that advocate to improve community health and provide associated direct services, we are deeply concerned about the overdose crisis and impact of increased law enforcement presence on the safety of our communities. All residents, including those in historically low-income neighborhoods, should feel safe walking the street, gathering outside, and bringing their children to school.
We appreciate our city and state governments recognizing that drastic action is required to immediately improve community conditions; however, we are disappointed by the decision of Mayor London Breed, San Francisco city officials, and Governor Gavin Newsom to prioritize a law enforcement-first approach to matters of public health. Deploying the California Highway Patrol (CHP) and National Guard is a waste of community resources, and will inflict harm on our most vulnerable and marginalized.
We have long recommended evidence-based solutions – which have never been fully funded – and we vehemently oppose the regression to punitive responses to drug use. This law enforcement operation has been implemented without coordination with the Department of Public Health or community-based organizations that work directly with people who use drugs. This “Public Safety Partnership” is counterproductive, poses a serious threat to our communities, and will exacerbate overdose deaths.
The legacy of the War on Drugs is the destabilization and criminalization of our communities, mass incarceration, and persistent, intergenerational harm. Further harm has already begun. According to the City’s own data, as arrests and prosecutions have increased over the past quarter, so, too, has accidental overdose mortality, with a record 200 overdose deaths occurring from January through March 2023. This is also a matter of racial justice. The Guardian reported that during the past quarter, “A third of the overdose victims were Black, despite Black people making up only 5% of the city’s population.”
A lack of appropriate resources, including no replacement services following the closure of the Tenderloin Center in December 2022, is contributing to the overdose crisis. We recommend investing in evidence-based solutions that reduce harm, promote pathways to voluntary treatment, and improve community conditions. This includes: overdose prevention centers; safer supply; drug adulterant testing; culturally and linguistically appropriate access to medication for substance use disorder treatment; overdose reversal medication and prevention trainings; funding to support peer-led programs and tenant-led overdose navigation in supportive housing; support and resourcing for syringe services programs; counseling and outreach to people who use drugs; access to housing and increased subsidies for permanent supportive housing, including for immigrants and non-citizens; and culturally responsive, linguistically accessible, fact-based drug education for youth, parents, and educators.
San Francisco cannot afford to return to ineffective and expensive law enforcement approaches that are without an evidence base, whereas a multifaceted public health approach has been proven to both reduce drug-related harms and overdose, and is more cost-effective. Incarceration and interdiction have not and will not improve community safety or reduce overdoses; however, we, the undersigned, have and will always be part of the solution to increasing community health and safety and reducing harm in San Francisco. We stand ready to continue and deepen our work with and for the community.
ACLU of Northern California
Any Positive Change Inc.
Berkeley Free Clinic
California Interfaith Power and Light
Causa Justa :: Just Cause
Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice
Coalition on Homelessness, SF
Delivering Innovation in Supportive Housing
Drug Policy Alliance
The Gubbio Project
Humboldt Area Center for Harm Reduction
Immigrant Legal Resource Center
National Harm Reduction Coalition
Safer Inside Coalition
San Francisco AIDS Foundation
San Francisco Gray Panthers
San Francisco Pretrial Diversion Project
San Francisco Public Defender’s Office
Sister Warriors Freedom Coalition - San Francisco Chapter
Taxpayers For Public Safety
SF Treatment on Demand Coalition
Western Regional Advocacy Project
Young Women’s Freedom Center
David Elliott Lewis, Co-Chair Tenderloin People’s Congress