Get SF Weekly Newsletters

Thursday, April 9, 2015

VIDEO: Why SFPD's Excuse For All Black Tenderloin Drug Busts Is Bullshit

Posted By on Thu, Apr 9, 2015 at 7:00 AM

The above video is a rare peek at the Tenderloin illegal drug market in action, from the perspective of both the police and the street.

The scenes were shot in 2013 and 2014 during Operation Safe Schools, a joint San Francisco Police Department/Drug Enforcement Administration task force that, according to law enforcement officials, is meant to crack down on drug dealing near schools. 

All 37 of the people arrested during "Safe Schools" are black. Since they've been charged in federal court rather than state court, tougher mandatory minimums apply; none of the local incarceration alternatives (drug court, diversion) apply.

In the video's opening seconds, an unidentified SFPD officer conducting surveillance from a rooftop utters "Fucking BMs." BMs is law enforcement shorthand for "black males." According to SFPD Chief Greg Suhr, who is in the middle of a widening racism scandal in his department, that's the only thing remotely wrong with all of the above.

But there's more. For instance, from a citywide perspective, "Safe Schools" clearly has nothing to do with schools.

Defense attorneys for some of the men and women arrested in Safe Schools filed a motion in court last week to have the cases dropped due to a clear racial bias. To the casual observer, it does appear that those arrested  were targeted because of their race: In one instance — which you can see in the video — the confidential informant rejects drugs from an Asian woman in favor of the "good shit" from a black woman. 

For context: 56 percent of people arrested in San Francisco are black, while fewer than 6 percent of the city's overall population is black. SFPD, meanwhile, is over 50 percent white. 

This doesn't look good. But at a press conference last week in which Suhr outlined his plan to fire eight senior officers for sending the racist text messages to another former officer recently convicted on federal corruption charges, the chief stood by the busts.

“They all deserved to be arrested. If you sell drugs around a school in San Francisco … you belong in jail," said Suhr, who added that the only thing subject to scrutiny is the officer who made the "BMs" comment (shortly before he was shushed by his partner).

Except, as defense attorneys point out, "Safe Schools" was conducted nowhere near schools — and hundreds of drug crimes committed right in front of public schools in San Francisco did not attract the same attention.

Here are two maps. The first one is where every public school in the city is located; the second is where drug crimes were reported in 2013 and 2014.

click to enlarge SF public schools. - COURT FILINGS
  • Court filings
  • SF public schools.

click to enlarge Drug busts, 2013-2014 - COURT FILINGS
  • court filings
  • Drug busts, 2013-2014

Now here's the two maps superimposed. 

click to enlarge schools_3.jpg

As you can see, there are literally hundreds of drug incidents — arrests for sales, use, and other crimes — that took place right in front of schools in the city.

And lastly, here's a map of drug crimes that were committed just in the Tenderloin — like the ones that now face federal charges under "Safe Schools" — and public schools.

click to enlarge schools_4.jpg

Not pictured on the map is SF City Academy, a private school on Jones Street in the heart of the Tenderloin, which is the school cited in many of the charging documents.

There are several other factors at play here. All of the people arrested in Safe Schools are repeat offenders known to police who received probation or other lenient sentences rather than jail time for prior drug dealing. Police have also made known their dissatisfaction with recent efforts to ramp down the drug war, including Prop. 47 (of which District Attorney George Gascon was the chief proponent).

Is Safe Schools just a convenient excuse to go after people SFPD are tired of seeing — all of whom happen to be black? 
  • Pin It

About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.

Comments (15)

Showing 1-15 of 15


Comments are closed.

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed

Like us on Facebook


  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"