There, but for the grace of God

Well, Chesa won. He was my pick for SF DA. Here’s why I care about this race. As a libertarian, it definitely feels weird having rooted for a socialist. My friend asked me recently why I supported him.

Over brunch, I explained that as a white, middle-class woman in San Francisco, I am annoyed and inconvenienced by “the state of our streets.” Property crime is mostly limited to package thefts and car break ins. Violent crime is actually very low in SF, and trending downward.

The criminal justice system cannot solve most of what sucks about SF. Homelessness is not a crime, and it’s really hard for me not to say that people who want to criminalize it are fucking psychopaths. History is pretty unequivocal about criminalization not only not solving mental illness or drug addiction, but actually making them measurably worse.

Despite that, name-calling is not kind.

I get the white women who used the prospect of their kids picking up used needles in the park to argue for further criminalizing drug use. It’s natural for it to never have occurred to someone that a human being is living with whatever diseases her children might pick up from a used needle. I get it. It’s repulsive, and people should pick up after themselves. It’s easy for those people to not be real people. It’s easy to forget they’re someone else’s children. They’re not just problems to be dealt with, with however much violence is necessary, to make SF a pleasant place for you to live.

“There, but for the grace of God go I.”

And that’s the thing. I am annoyed and inconvenienced by “the state of our streets.” It’s unpleasant and sometimes frightening. However, a “tough on crime” approach literally kills black and brown people. Advocating for further criminalization means using the state to inflict violence upon poorer, blacker and browner people for the convenience of richer, whiter people. AND IT DOESN’T EVEN WORK.

It makes all the sense in the world that someone would look at the increasing property crime, homelessness, defecation on the streets, obviously psychotic people walking around yelling, and open drug use and conclude that we need law and order. If we could just “call the cops” on addiction, mental illness and poverty, and they would haul them off to jail, ya girl would love the police.

But that’s not what cops do. So I’m glad we as a city agreed not use tactics all the available evidence says don’t work to stop a violent crime wave that’s not actually happening.

I do think we need to strengthen conservatorship. We need more mental health beds and more addiction treatment facilities. While ultimately I’m a prison abolitionist, I do think we need to incarcerate violent offenders in the meantime.

But criminalizing poverty is fucked up. The war on drugs is an abject failure. And it’s past time for criminal cops to go to jail. I’m proud of SF for electing Chesa. I’m not sure what’s going to happen, but I’m glad we didn’t take a step backwards on criminal justice system reform.

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