Concerns about public safety in San Francisco dominated Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, with one lawmaker introducing a resolution urging support for federal assistance in combating the city’s fentanyl epidemic, and another offering a tribute to constituents recently lost to violence.
Meanwhile, Board President Aaron Peskin introduced a resolution urging state and federal authorities to examine evidence in the shooting death of activist Banko Brown. But a contentious vote on one aspect of the future of the Castro Theatre was postponed until June 6.
Following up on his statement Monday, Peskin introduced his resolution urging state Attorney General Rob Bonta and the U.S. Department of Justice to review evidence in the controversial Banko Brown shooting case.
Brown was killed on April 27 by a security guard at a Downtown Walgreens. District Attorney Brooke Jenkins has declined to press charges against the guard, Michael Earl-Wayne Anthony, saying that evidence indicated he acted in self-defense.
Anthony told police Brown repeatedly threatened to stab him during a scuffle over shoplifting. Brown later lunged toward Anthony and spit at him, at which point Anthony shot Brown. Police said no weapon was found on Brown.
In a brief but somber speech, Peskin said, “This is not who we are. In the 23 years since I was first elected never have I encountered anything like this. […] This is what we read about or see on TV in states like Georgia, not in cities like San Francisco.”
The full board is expected to vote on the resolution on May 23, and members Shamann Walton, Hillary Ronen and Connie Chan have already pledged support. It urges the state and federal agencies to, in Peskin’s words, “look at the evidence in this case and come to their own conclusions.”
According to experts who spoke with The Standard, the state attorney general is more likely to be in a place to intervene in the case.
Later in the meeting, a large majority of public commenters urged support for Peskin’s resolution and, as in previous meetings, condemned the killing of Brown, as well as systemic issues that they implicated in his death, such as armed security guards in retail stores.
Last week, District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston announced plans to introduce tighter curbs on the use of firearms by security guards.
Meanwhile, District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey introduced a resolution urging the board to support Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi’s appeal to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to help combat the city’s fentanyl abuse epidemic.
Pelosi sent a letter to Garland on April 28 requesting that San Francisco be added to the Drug Enforcement Agency’s Operation Overdrive initiative, described as “a data-driven, intelligence-led approach to identify and dismantle criminal drug networks operating in areas with the highest rates of violence and overdoses.”
The program was launched in February 2022 in 34 cities in 23 states. Most recently, the program has been credited with 53 arrests on drug and violence charges and the recovery of 50 guns in Columbus, Ohio.
“I strongly share Nancy Pelosi’s view that fentanyl trafficking by drug cartels is causing the unprecedented level of drug overdose deaths and related harms San Francisco is now facing, and that federal help is urgently needed,” Dorsey said in introducing the resolution.
He added, “Sadly, San Francisco has become a destination city for street-level drug dealing and use, and robust support from our state and federal partners in law enforcement is needed to end it.”
Dorsey cited chilling statistics from the April report from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, showing 268 overdose deaths in the first four months of 2023 in the city, with fentanyl figuring in almost 80% of these. Black San Franciscans made up a third of the deaths, though they account for 5% of the population.
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District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman asked that the board adjourn in memory of two of his constituents who recently fell victim to deadly violence.
The first was for Debra Hord, a homeless woman living in the Glen Park neighborhood who was well-known and beloved by neighbors. She died on March 23 after having her head slammed to the ground in a robbery.
The second was for Mei Ran Hu, 64, who was stabbed to death on May 5 inside the senior housing complex where she lived by a neighbor, Jesus Esparza, who appeared to be suffering from behavioral health issues.
“Mei’s death has shaken the Duboce Triangle neighborhood and the city more broadly. The facts are sad and scary and horrific: an elderly Asian woman killed in her own home by a neighbor,” Mandelman said during the memorial.
He added, “In the wake of her death, we have to grapple with difficult questions, like why that neighbor, a 48-year-old man with severe mental illness and apparently a history of troubling anti-social behavior, was living in senior housing, and whether a more compassionate and functional society, with more appropriate placements for people with severe mental illness, would have avoided this tragedy.”
Supervisors voted to postpone what promised to be a lively debate on changes to the landmark status of the storied Castro Theater. The discussion is being moved to June 6, so that District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani can participate. Stefani was absent Tuesday to be with her father, who is suffering from Lewy body dementia, according to the Bay Area Reporter.
The theater's new operator, Another Planet Entertainment, is seeking to make changes to the theater’s seating to accommodate uses other than film screenings. The plan has been the source of controversy since last year, and activists and others allied with the film industry formed a front to oppose the changes.
Last month, Peskin challenged Mayor London Breed to defend current policies regarding the drug abuse epidemic in the Tenderloin during an upcoming “Question Time” session with the board and suggested that it be held at United Nations Plaza.
The plaza, which is the gateway to City Hall, has long been considered to be the epicenter of the city’s most stubborn problems—homelessness, drug abuse, petty street crimes and blight. Though questions remain on the practicality of holding a Board of Supervisors meeting outside on the plaza, it has been officially scheduled for May 23, according to a notice published May 5.
The discussions next Tuesday will happen at 2 p.m. at the plaza, after which the board will recess and reconvene at City Hall for the rest of the session. The event will be livestreamed.
Mike Ege can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org