Thirteen months after the murder of George Floyd, San Franciscans’ opinions on whether to defund the police appear to have fractured. Whereas Mayor London Breed committed to reroute $120 million from law enforcement into Black communities last year, that investment no longer comes from law enforcement exclusively. A campaign to recall District Attorney Chesa Boudin has reached a fever pitch, and the debate over whether his restorative justice policies are responsible for pandemic-era crime is making national headlines. In the largely Black, immigrant, and working class neighborhood of Bayview-Hunters Point, the mere suggestion that police should be called on perpetrators of nonviolent crime can lead to Nextdoor threads over 100 comments long.
There are many potential reasons for the fracturing, but one factor is undeniable: a perceived increase in crime. Videos of shoplifting now go viral. Several notable, senseless attacks put Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and the elderly on even higher alert. So many videos of unhoused or drug-addicted people living in the Tenderloin have made it to the social media feeds of national political figures, it’s hard to keep track.
On June 23, a particularly violent attack hit San Francisco’s first Black-woman owned dispensary, Posh Green Cannabis Boutique, when two gunmen opened fire directly outside the building where Posh Green is located. According to dispensary owner Reese Benton, the shooting was not an attempted robbery, but a targeted attack on her security guard and son. When the targets ran into the pet supply shop next door, Shipyard K9 Supplies, the gunmen shot at the shop and shattered their outer window displays. The security guard is suffering from a broken arm. The owner of Shipyard K9, Daniel Howard, said online he was “grazed” by bullets while his son was unscathed. A GoFundMe has been published by a friend of Posh Green to help pay for the security guard’s medical expenses, while Benton is herself offering a $15,000 reward to anyone who can provide more information about the perpetrators.
Benton believes the shooting is related to a year-long feud that started with dispensary security asking an individual to move their car from where it was parked in a yellow loading zone. According to Benton, what started as a parking dispute was inflamed by additional personal disputes and further fueled by jealousy at her recent success. Benton filed a restraining order against the individual prior to the shooting.
“It’s exactly what happened to Nipsey,” she says, referring to the rapper Nipsey Hussle, who was killed outside his clothing store in March 2019. “He started going back and doing what he was supposed to do for his community, building up his community, but some people don’t like that, because it’s not a reflection of what they’re doing.”
A police investigation is ongoing.
Four days before the shooting outside Posh Green, on Juneteenth, multiple shooters at Lake Merritt killed one and injured seven others. Tinisch Hollins, co-founder of SF Black Wallstreet and executive director of Californians for Safety and Justice, says that shooting was also over a San Francisco-based feud. She points to reports that 6.5 percent of American adults purchased guns in the last year — an increase of 1.2 percent from 2019. In Black neighborhoods that already are neglected by government resources, Hollins argues people feel they need to take matters into their own hands in some cases. In others, she says, bad actors capitalize on the fact that victims are more likely to go ignored.
“Public safety is wrapped up in the public health crisis,” she says.
Some, however, say the issue isn’t so complicated. The Recall Chesa Boudin campaign, for example, squarely places blame for increased crime on the district attorney’s reform-minded rhetoric. “Criminals are emboldened due to lack of accountability,” the campaign’s website states. “Our beloved city has seen an astronomical increase in violent crime, home invasions, shops looted, car-jackings, rampant and unchecked drug dealing and business property theft, even under COVID-19 restrictions.”
For the record, violent crime in San Francisco actually decreased in 2020, Boudin’s first year in office, according to an analysis of police data conducted by SFGATE. In fact, the city’s total crime rate decreased, though burglaries and car thefts, specifically, increased over the course of the year. There were 48 homicides in 2020, up from a relatively low number of 41 homicides in 2019, but on par with homicide rates from two years ago.
For Benton’s part, she doesn’t think the police need any more funding. Rather, she thinks both SFPD and Boudin simply need to be more proactive and focused in their efforts. Several violent crimes have occurred within a few blocks of Posh Green in the last year, and police are not systematically addressing the issue in the ways Benton would like to see.
She suggests they install security cameras, for example, or arrange for more consistent patrols. Simultaneously, she says the district attorney has avoided prosecuting known perpetrators of violent crime in the Bayview because, she believes, investigating them would be more difficult for the DA and not politically advantageous. Problems of crime aren’t about a lack of resources, she says, but those resources not being used effectively by people in power.
Police have been well-funded for years, Benton says, and have not stopped violent crime in Bayview-Hunters Point. “It’s more like they need to do their job.”
Both SFPD and the Office of Chesa Boudin did not respond to immediate requests for comment.
Correction: A previous version of this article, which ran online and in print, misquoted Reese Benton as saying crime had gone down in Bayview-Hunters Point. It also misstated that security requested that an individual move their car when it was parked in a yellow loading zone. A staff member requested they move their car, not dispensary security.