This week, I convened a discussion about building safety in response to the recent attack that happened on the Embarcadero. I know so many of us saw the video of the woman fighting for her life. In the room were women leaders from the Latinx, African American, AAPI, LGBTQ, labor, and criminal justice reform community — and what everyone had in common was a common frustration with feeling unseen and unheard when it comes to crimes committed against women. These are the stories that don’t make it to the evening news.
I’ve had hundreds of recent conversations with women who often do not feel safe in our city because of the mental health and addiction crisis they see on our streets. I believe most women in San Francisco would have been shocked, but not necessarily surprised by what they saw in that video.
I’ve had these conversations with women of every race, color, age, circumstance and neighborhood. Some women have shared experiences of being chased and threatened, sometimes assaulted and often harassed. These women have shared with me that they often feel guilty of being scared of people who are obviously struggling and need help. But nonetheless, they are frightened.
I have been asked more than once: Is this what we must endure to be a progressive city?
The answer is no. We should never have to choose between being progressive and being safe. San Francisco is my home — it’s where I’m from, where I took Muni to my public school and it’s where I’m raising my family. If I know one thing for sure it is this — when we put our progressive values in action, we will build safety.
When a violent act occurs on our streets, we need to hold people accountable. And, we need to prevent these horrific acts from happening in the first place.
To center our priority on prevention, we should double down on our most effective crime prevention strategies, like Behavioral Health Court, and build a seamless web of services that addresses the gaps that left individuals like the man in the video on our streets and able to attack and hurt a woman merely trying to get home. Our public health and public safety partners can and should jointly identify treatment options for the people creating the greatest public safety threat. Our focus on the use of public health models for developing responses to individuals in crisis is crucial and will help keep both the people on our streets and law enforcement officials safe. Law enforcement responding to a person in crisis because of mental or substance abuse problems challenges should be from the Crisis Intervention Team — officers who are trained in de-escalation techniques. The justice system should be designed to include individuals with lived experience as trainers, peer resource, court navigators and policy experts to build a spectrum of solutions throughout our public safety system.
Prevention coupled with accountability will make our streets safer. We must fix the broken District Attorney’s office that provided incomplete information to the judge in Ms. Kosarian’s case and was quick to make excuses. We need an experienced leader who will run a world-class law office where prosecutors are trained to make a record that includes all the key evidence about the possible release of a defendant who poses a danger. And if a judge is planning to release someone who poses a risk to our community, the District Attorney’s office can’t give up; leadership means bringing in a senior prosecutor to review what has been presented and providing an even stronger argument. The prosecutor is the person in court charged with doing justice — they are the one who must ensure that all of the evidence is provided and the strongest arguments are made.
This is not an academic exercise to me. I’m raising my three daughters in our city. They take public transportation, walk down our city streets and attend our public schools. I’ve already had the talk where I explain why someone is screaming at them. We’ve talked about people needing medicine and needing help. But what I don’t know how to explain is this: why so many people who are clearly struggling are not getting the help they need. I don’t know how to explain why our city can’t work more effectively together to keep all of us safe. Because I know that we can.
Suzy Loftus is a candidate for San Francisco District Attorney