DA calls for witness protection summit

Just days after the slaying of a San Francisco man who was in the district attorney’s witness protection program, DA Kamala Harris on Wednesday stood in front of the Ella Hill Hutch Community Center — the site of another recent daytime slaying — to announce a June 16 summit of law enforcement and community leaders.

The summit, Harris said, would be the first chance to “have a conversation between the community and law enforcement about what we can collectively do about witness intimidation.”

The announcement comes on the heels of last week's killing of murder witness Terrell Rollins, 22, who was enrolled in the witness protection program. The Ella Hill Hutch Center was rocked the previous week when suspected gang members shot and killed 22-year-old employee Dante White in the gym while he played basketball with children.

Harris characterized Rollins' killers as “terrorists” and displayed a T-shirt that read “Don't Snitch,” which she said had been distributed widely throughout crime-ridden areas of The City. “There are too many people living in a state of fear,” she said.

Several civic and community leaders spoke at Wednesday's news conference, including Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who criticized law enforcement's solicitation of witnesses, calling it “deficient.”

Harris announced Monday that her department had reassigned seven investigators to the witness protection program.

San Francisco police Capt. Kevin Cashman, of the personal crimes division of the investigations bureau, said Wednesday that his department is “extremely effective in identifying and relocating witnesses,” but witnesses often “sincerely fear retaliation” and do not want to testify.

Rev. Edgar Boyd of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church invoked Franklin Delano Roosevelt's speech after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” he said. He said it is ironic that today fear keeps justice from being done in predominantly black neighborhoods made great by the ship-building boom of World War II.

London Breed, who runs the African American Art and Culture Complex in the Western Addition, said, “Our children don't feel safe.” She said law enforcement and elected officials would gain more trust in her community if they “stop worrying about who gets credit and put real, basic feeling” into solving the problem of violence.

“If we're just running our mouths, there's no substance,” she said.

amartin@examiner.com

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