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Giving Away More Money to SFPD Won’t Fix the City’s Problems

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By Aditya Bhumbla and Humphrey Obuobi, Co-Chairs of DSA SF’s Afrosocialists and Socialists of Color Caucus

At a time when many working class residents and San Francisco city workers are facing potential eviction, hunger, wage theft, underemployment and low-paying jobs, and countless other crises that could be addressed by local government, it is unsurprising but disappointing to see the mayor and many supervisors fighting to spend more money on policing.

Compared to similar jurisdictions around the country, the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) already spends more per capita on policing, and has a higher police officer to resident ratio than similar cities. And yet last year, the Board of Supervisors approved an amendment to the Police Officers Association’s memorandum of understanding (i.e., contract) to include longevity bonuses, pay raises, and sign-on bonuses. In addition to the fact that the city voluntarily opened up the SFPD contract for negotiation, the SFPD was the only agency that received all three of these concessions from the city. Teachers, sanitation workers, firefighters, bus drivers, and other essential workers were denied such consideration.

Now, the Board of Supervisors will soon be discussing a proposed $27.6 million budget supplemental for the police department. This latest move continues an ongoing trend of increased police spending, despite data from the San Francisco Police Department itself showing that crime has decreased compared to previous years. Meanwhile, the SFPD is taking longer and longer to respond to calls, including serious calls about violent crime. All of this paints a clear picture of blatant SFPD exceptionalism which does nothing to solve the root causes of San Francisco’s tattered social fabric.

Throughout the country, we have learned time and time again that a community’s safety is dependent not on policing but our social pillars, such as health and education. And yet, the fact remains that our city severely underfunds crucial functions that boost the city’s wellness. Well-tenured teachers in San Francisco typically make less than $80,000 annually, putting them near the poverty line and below the earnings of a starting police officer. Similarly, City College of San Francisco is facing a budget crisis, with many educators being laid off and many others being forced to part time roles as classes are canceled. Many public health workers were supposed to be hired to support linkages to housing and medical treatment in the Tenderloin, but plans have repeatedly fallen through with little accountability. Muni faces a $215 million deficit as federal pandemic funding runs out, and could potentially cut service by 25%.

All of these failures leave our city’s working class struggling to survive, and it is exactly that desperation that incentivizes crime. An approach that only calls for increased surveillance, incarceration, and threats of violence will never resolve the issues at hand; rather, the criminal justice system regularly breaks families apart, places inordinate fees on them, and reinforces the same desperate situations that lead to more crime. In the face of this injustice, we ask every San Francisco resident: when we give the Police Officer’s Association and SFPD priority and political weight over our teachers, public health workers, and public transportation, what does this say about our values?

We present an alternative path: investing in social cohesion and community health. True justice is transformative and aims to build better people rather than punish them; building better people starts with fulfilling their basic needs, from housing, education, and overall stability. Such an approach honors the fundamental goodness of our people, and is ultimately bound to be more effective than an order rooted in city-sponsored violence.

We can start acting to invest in the long-term health of our communities today. With the hearing for the police department’s budget supplemental fast-approaching March 21, San Francisco community groups must band together to demand better uses for city money than increased policing, much like Rapid Revolt and their coalition in Oakland. On a more personal level, you can talk to your friends and family about ways we can meet our community’s collective needs and keep each other safe. Read about how radical indigenous movements such as the EZLN promote justice without police. And of course, send an email to your supervisor and the mayor to push back against the most recent proposal.

It’s time to push back against increased policing, and in favor of the services that uplift our community and address the root causes of the issues we see today.

The Democratic Socialists of America’s AfroSocialist and Socialists of Color Caucus (AfroSOC) is an organizing space for Black, Indigenous and socialists of color within occupied Ohlone land that we know as San Francisco.

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