San Francisco: Parts of the city have become 'an open-air narcotics market'

The San Franciso Chronicle published a story Saturday about the city’s “safe sites” for drug dealers. Officially there aren’t any such sites but unofficially, police say it’s almost impossible to get convicted of drug dealing in parts of the city, including the Tenderloin. In fact, parts of the city have become an open-air drug market, drawing in dealers from other parts of the city because of the sense that there are places where the law isn’t being enforced very stringently:

“It’s almost impossible to get convicted in this city,” said [Sgt. Kevin] Healy, who works in the Police Department’s narcotics division. “The message needs to be sent that it’s not OK to be selling drugs. It’s not allowed anywhere else. Where else can you walk up to someone you don’t know and purchase crack and heroin? Is there such a place?”…

Police say drug dealers from the East Bay ride BART into San Francisco every day to prey on the addicts slumped on our sidewalks, and yet the city that claims to so desperately want to help those addicts often looks the other way.

You can walk through the Tenderloin, Civic Center, South of Market and the Mission and easily spot men handing over little plastic baggies with drugs in exchange for cash like it’s no big thing. In broad daylight. In front of pedestrians. Even in front of police…

I walked with Officer Brian Donohue, who works out of Northern Station, around Van Ness Avenue, Polk Street and parts of the Tenderloin on a recent afternoon. Unlike so many of our city leaders, it’s clear Donohue is really trying to combat the problem. He’s worked with Healy and his partner, Officer Calvin Wang, to build cases against a raft of drug dealers, almost none of whom has a San Francisco address.

He called the Tenderloin and surrounding neighborhoods “an open-air narcotics market” where dealers wrap drugs in plastic so they can easily swallow them if they see police.

One result of this open-air drug market is a lot of addicts living on the streets. San Francisco’s new Mayor, London Breed, is committed to dealing with the rampant homeless problem but doesn’t seem to have any plan for making a crackdown on the dealers whose product ensures the addicts remain on the street. She tells the Chronicle, “What I’m trying to do is offer some individuals who are selling drugs an alternative.” Here’s an alternative offer: Stop selling drugs or we’ll put you in prison. That doesn’t seem to be an option.

San Francisco recently got a shock when a major medical convention decided it would stop returning to the city because of the conditions in the streets. A city that survives on tourism (which brings in $9 billion a year), can’t afford to lose deals like that which bring in $40 million in a week. But the response so far has been to plan for more bathrooms and a new poop patrol to deal with the people who don’t make it to the bathrooms.

The city isn’t going to make major improvements in reducing homelessness so long as one of the major drivers of the problem (drug addiction) has a free reign in parts of the city. Until the city gets serious about shutting down the drug markets, things are going to keep getting worse for people hooked on the poison the dealers are selling and for the city itself.