Culture Wars/Current Controversies

San Francisco Government Is Secretly And Illegally Operating An Illicit Drug Use Site

There is a book that is now getting a lot of attention in neocon circles called “San Fran-sicko” by a moderate progressive named Michael Schellenberger that is lambasting the supposed libertarian excesses of large city governments like San Francisco, LA, Seattle, Portland, etc. It’s basically a “liberal” version of the Tucker Carlson/Sean Hannity line about how “progressive prosecutors,” criminal justice reform, anti-policing, and drug decriminalization have ruined American cities. The book lambasts thinkers like Foucault and Thomas Szasz for their role in the deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill (a line neocons have taken for years but which was actually implemented by Ronald Reagan when he was governor of California) and supposedly creating the homeless problem. Basically, what Schellenberger advocates are compulsory drug treatment, a moderate version of “broken windows” policing, re-institutionalization of the mentally ill, limiting the degree to which drug decriminalization is taken, etc. while insisting that he doesn’t want to go back to the bad old days of the wars on drugs and crime from the 80s and 90s.
The problem with this kind of analysis (as well as a lot of rival analysis from the far left “defund the police” types) is the lack of context. The USA is now developing a Third World model class system, and that process is the most underway in parts of the US that not coincidentally have the worst homelessness problems. The norm in Third World countries is that the rich live in gated communities protected by private security and paramilitaries, law enforcement is nationalized for purposes of political repression, and local policing is about collecting bribes and keeping criminals from bothering tourists, while common crime is largely viewed as an intramural problem among the poor. Meanwhile, mass numbers of poor people live in shanties, tents, makeshift houses, and huts, on the street, etc.
I saw a Tucker Carlson piece the other night where Tucker was raging about “liberals ruined our cities” and saying “America is not Calcutta” to which I would reply, “Oh, yes it is, or at least that is what America is becoming.” It is in the cities where the rising sectors of the ruling class (the tech-oligarch/professional-managerial class alliance that Joel Kotkin has identified) are the most powerful and influential that these kinds of problems are the most pronounced. The problems are not due to a lack of state repression or a lack of paternalism toward the poor, but due to the impact of 40 years of neoliberalism, and the social impact of the digital capitalist revolution, along with many other factors that have contributed to the Third Worldization of US society. The conditions we’re seeing develop now in US cities are normal everywhere in the world with a Third World-class system.
And merely pulling back on policing without any efforts to address the social factors that contribute to crime or creating alternative models for actually protecting public safety is going to lead to increased crime, and renewed calls for law and order, the increased federalization of law enforcement, the wider use of paramilitary and private policing (think Erik Prince being placed in charge of local policing in the US). That’s how it’s done in the Third World as well. Crime is allowed to spiral until it starts to spill over into rich or tourist communities, at which point the paramilitary police will respond with a massacre. See Duterte as an illustration.
The “other side” had their war on drugs, mass incarceration, no knock raids, and “broken windows” policing for decades. Now, there has been a changing of the guard. The drug warriors can just deal with it. Too bad. Urban poverty, homelessness, and addiction conflicts with bourgeois aesthetics, lifestyle, or class interests? Don’t care. Get over it

By Michael Shellenberger

City officials are overseeing fentanyl smoking at taxpayer-funded site.

By Michael Shellenberger and Leighton Woodhouse

San Francisco Mayor London Breed generated national news media coverage last December when she announced a sweeping crackdown on open air drug use and drug dealing in the downtown Tenderloin neighborhood. Shortly after, she announced a “linkage center” aimed at connecting homeless street addicts with drug rehab facilities. Breed’s announcement came in the midst of a local, state, and national debate over whether the city should open a “supervised drug consumption” site as a tactic for reducing drug overdose deaths.

In fact, the illicit drug consumption site has been up and running since Tuesday inside the linkage center, which is located at 1172 Market Street. The linkage center is located in the United Nations Plaza, the city’s largest open air drug market. The supervised drug consumption area is an outdoor fenced section of the linkage center.

The supervised drug use site is directly behind the green mesh. The sign on the fence says “Tenderloin Linkage Center” and names “Food and Water,” “Hygiene Services,” and “Social Support,” but makes no mention of the supervised drug use site.

There is an on-going national debate over the efficacy of supervised drug consumption sites, which are prohibited by state and federal laws, and a continuing local debate over whether and where to open one in San Francisco. Mayor Breed and members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors have advocated a supervised drug consumption site, and purchased two properties in the Tenderloin to serve people suffering from addiction. But the city never approved the creation of a supervised consumption site at the linkage center and the site is in violation of state and federal laws.

We are the first to report on the operation of the illegal supervised drug consumption site at the linkage center. The two of us witnessed a half-dozen people smoking fentanyl in an outdoor area on the site, and two people passed out at a table. An employee of a city contractor at the linkage center told us that two people had overdosed and been revived since the site opened on Tuesday.


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