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Breed defends drug arrests, slams progressive lawmaker: ‘As if you’re the savior’

Mayor London Breed address questions from Supervisor Dean Preston on March 7, 2023. | Justin Katigbak for The Standard

San Francisco Mayor London Breed defended the city's recent arrests of drug users in a tense exchange Tuesday with a progressive lawmaker.

Alongside a stepped-up state and federal response, Breed has increasingly taken a harder line on open-air drug activity, saying in an interview last week that 25 people had been arrested for public intoxication. San Francisco police data shows 176 arrests or citations for drug offenses in the past month, largely in and around Downtown; the Sheriff's Department is also deploying deputies to make arrests.

District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston and Mayor London Breed got into a heated exchange after Preston posed questions about Breed's approach to the drug addiction epidemic in the city at a Board of Supervisors' meeting on Tuesday. | Courtesy SFGovTV

"Here we go, another white man talking about Black and Brown people as if you’re the savior of these people," Breed told Supervisor Dean Preston, a frequent critic of both the mayor and police, whose district includes the troubled Tenderloin neighborhood.

At Breed's regular appearance before the Board of Supervisors, Preston interrogated the mayor on her plans to open so-called "wellness hubs" for overdose prevention, as well as the recent drug-related arrests. Preston quoted from a Department of Public Health report that discouraged "punitive policies" and noted that Black, Brown and Indigenous communities have long been targeted by drug crackdowns.

"The fact is, it's not just services; it's also force," Breed responded, using the example of a friend who had entered treatment after an arrest. "You can quote all these statistics all you want, but at the end of the day, you've never lived in it."

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At one point in the exchange, Board President Aaron Peskin offered to facilitate a meeting between Breed and Preston to hash out their differences.

"We don't need a babysitter. We're grownups," said Breed.

Preston asked Breed to commit to issuing a request for proposals for the wellness hubs, which were initially planned as successors to the Tenderloin Linkage Center but were put on pause over legal issues. The hubs are conceived as health access centers where people may use drugs under supervision and find connections to housing, medical care or other services.

After Preston described the mayor's enforcement policy as harmful to communities of color, Breed responded by accusing Preston of acting as a savior for those communities without understanding their needs. | Courtesy SFGovTV

Breed's citywide budget proposal includes funding for three wellness hubs but specifies that any "possible inclusion of safe consumption would be funded by private entities," in line with legal guidance from City Attorney David Chiu. The funding of safe-consumption sites has been a source of contention among members of the Board of Supervisors, with some pushing the city to pay for the sites with public funds.

Preston criticized the shutdown of the Tenderloin Linkage Center last December, saying that the closure had contributed to an increase in overdoses. More than 300 overdoses were reversed at the center during its 11-month tenure, but the site also drew criticism for connecting few guests with treatment.

Breed suggested that Preston wasn't listening to residents of the Tenderloin, a neighborhood long plagued by open-air drug activity, poverty and blight.

"The fact is the [Tenderloin Linkage Center] wasn’t doing what it was supposed to be doing," said Breed. "Every constituent I’ve talked to—not service providers, constituents [...] they want to see safety."

Annie Gaus can be reached at annie@sfstandard.com