San Francisco Mayor London Breed announces plan to go after 'bulls*** that has destroyed our city'

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After months of viral videos showing deteriorating conditions on the streets of San Francisco, including smash-and-grab robberies and open-air drug use, the city’s mayor has moved to implement a new public safety approach to curb criminal behavior. Her move could signal a recognition by the Democratic establishment that crime may prove a potent issue in upcoming elections.

Speaking at City Hall on Tuesday, San Francisco Mayor London Breed lamented “all the bullshit that has destroyed our city,” including thefts at high-end stores like Louis Vuitton, rampant vehicle break-ins and a seeming flood of the potent drug fentanyl. All of it has been captured on video, making for regular Fox News segments and rising consternation among Democrats who see crime as a potential weakness in next year’s midterm elections.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed, standing at a microphone, speaks during a news conference.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed at a news conference on March 17 in the city. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

“We are not a city where anything goes,” a shaken Breed said. “Our compassion should not be mistaken for weakness or indifference,” she added, in reference to the California city’s famous culture of tolerance.

A native of San Francisco who was raised in a public housing project and maneuvered the city’s treacherous politics to become its first African American female mayor, the 47-year-old Breed could show other Democrats across the nation how to handle public safety in a way that neither recalls the law-and-order practices of the early 1990s, which especially harshly penalized Black men, nor concedes on all fronts to criminal justice activists who conservatives have accused of not being tough enough on crime for the sake of meeting ideological aims.

In her remarks, Breed conceded that her emphasis on public safety could “make a lot of people uncomfortable.”

“And I don’t care,” she added. “At the end of the day, the safety of the people of San Francisco is the most important thing to me.”

The plan she introduced Tuesday was relatively modest, addressing the Tenderloin, an especially troubled neighborhood in the center of the city that serves as a nexus of social problems, most visibly homelessness, drug addiction and untreated mental illness. For the most part, Breed is calling for more policing in the neighborhood, a predictable move but a noteworthy one all the same, given how eagerly progressives in cities like San Francisco embraced the movement to “defund” police departments in the summer of 2020.

Protesters paint: Defund the police. The painted words are seen on the street during a demonstration outside San Francisco City Hall.
Protesters paint “Defund the police” on the street during a demonstration outside San Francisco City Hall in July 2020. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Breed is also working with Supervisor Ahsha Safai to stop the resale of stolen goods, operations that law enforcement authorities say are often organized via social media. Earlier this year, Safai made news when he shared images on social media of his shattered car window. The crime took place in front of City Hall.

“Public safety isn’t just about the Tenderloin,” Breed said. “We know there are issues all over this city.”

Breed’s frank acknowledgment of crime comes as Democratic leaders struggle to reconcile public safety concerns with political imperatives. In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot recently seemed to suggest that retailers themselves were not doing enough to stop crime. Concerns about safety led New Yorkers to vote in Eric Adams, a former New York Police Department officer who made public safety a centerpiece of his mayoral campaign.

Meanwhile, the White House appears at pains to strike the right tone on criminal justice issues. President Biden is the author of the 1994 crime bill, which has been blamed for mass incarceration and overly aggressive policing. Since then, the party he now leads has moved significantly to the left on criminal justice matters, especially in the wake of the 2020 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The gender equity plan the Biden administration released earlier this year vowed to “end cash bail and reform our pretrial system.”

Such reforms are precisely the problem, Breed argued on Tuesday. “When the police make an arrest, the residents of the Tenderloin should not see that same person back on the streets the next day, dealing drugs right in front of their neighborhood,” she said.

Breed said that she would unveil the details of her new policing plan next month, and that it would remain in effect for two months. While the scope is limited, the symbolism could be enormous, given the outsize role San Francisco — and California in general — plays in the cultural imagination.

Two police officers walk down Grant Avenue while on foot patrol in Chinatown in San Francisco.
Police Officers Loren Chu, left, and William Ma on foot patrol in San Francisco’s Chinatown on March 18. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Not in attendance for her remarks was Chesa Boudin, the city’s embattled district attorney. A former public defender, Boudin has made decarceration the center of his approach to prosecution. His detractors have mounted a recall effort, arguing that lax policies have made the city less safe and charging that his day-to-day administration of the prosecutor’s office has been incompetent.

Boudin has argued that crime is down overall. His supporters have launched harsh attacks on journalists reporting on San Francisco’s seemingly intractable disorder. But that has hardly quelled dissatisfaction with his policies, with 80,000 people signing a petition to recall him. Only 50,000 signatures were required to set up a recall election next summer.

The mayor has also challenged leaders of the city’s school board, who last year tried to change schools named for Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, citing racism concerns. In the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, schools in California refrained from returning to in-person education for much longer than other parts of the nation, deepening many parents’ fury.

Breed is now maneuvering to strip the board of its power, mirroring a similar move in New York years ago. “The school board has often focused on the wrong thing at the expense of the big picture,” she said earlier this week, sounding little like the San Francisco liberal she has been for her entire political career.