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Newsom calls in National Guard as fentanyl crisis grips San Francisco

By Savannah Hamilton
|
April 23, 2023

California Governor Gavin Newsom has called for a partnership between the National Guard, state police, and local law enforcement in an effort to address the ongoing chaos in San Francisco. The first steps will focus on addressing the drug problem and target distributors of illicit substances.

San Francisco has been rapidly deteriorating due to a growing homeless population, as well as an increase in drug use and trafficking. 

Last year, it was estimated that there were at least 8,000 homeless people and over 600 overdose deaths. It is believed that these numbers are much higher now.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, it is estimated that the number of overdoses in the city has jumped 41% since the start of the year. 

The Tenderloin and South of Market districts are said to have it the worst and are infamous for having the highest crimes rate in the city. According to locals, it is common to see open-air drug dealing and usage even in broad daylight.

Despite many efforts, liberal policies in the city have made it difficult to tackle the problem and some argue that they’ve only made things worse.

One such failed example was the introduction of a harm-reduction center which cost taxpayers $22 million but reportedly helped only 1% of its visitors.

Several local politicians have repeatedly asked both the state and federal governments for help. It wasn’t until last week that Newsom finally responded.

Tour de Tenderloin

Following yet another appeal, Newsom decided to pay a visit to The Golden City and walked through the streets alongside Attorney General Rob Bonta and Sean Elsbernd, San Fran Mayor London Breed's Chief of Staff.

He reportedly was shocked at how severe the situation has gotten, which pushed him to take immediate action. Newsom then asked the National Guard to allocate personnel and resources for drug trafficking operations and highlighted that fentanyl distribution should be a main focus.

In a statement, Newsom said, “San Francisco's violent crime rate is below comparably sized cities like Jacksonville and Fort Worth [but] there is also more we must do to address public safety concerns, especially the fentanyl crisis.”

He also added, “Through this new collaborative partnership, we are providing more law enforcement resources and personnel to crack down on crime linked to the fentanyl crisis, holding the poison peddlers accountable, and increasing law enforcement presence to improve public safety and public confidence in San Francisco.”

It’s All for Show

Not everyone thought Newsom was taking things seriously, however, with some calling his walkabout political theatre. Local activist JJ Smith, who has been documenting the city’s downfall for some time, was not pleased by his interaction with the governor. 

“What are you going to do about this fentanyl epidemic,” Smith asked, to which Newsom shrugged and responded with, “What should I do JJ? ... I need you to tell me what we need to do.”

The lack of a proper response did not go over well with Smith, as he later complained, “I'm a citizen, I pay taxes. I've been paying taxes in San Francisco for many years and I deserve [for him to] at least stop and say something to me about that.”

Martial Law?

Others were also concerned that Newsom’s plan will not be enough as it will mainly “focus on holding drug suppliers and traffickers accountable” without addressing the problematic population that is using the drugs.

Although the governor stated that the new partnership “will not seek to criminalize those struggling with substance abuse,” some are wary that it will end that way.

Former San Francisco police commissioner Bill Hing fears the enforcement push would “end up criminalizing a lot of people that need help.”

“It sounds like the military coming in to help address the war on drugs,” he said, adding, "Nothing about the war on drugs that included more law enforcement led to anything good. It led to racist outcomes, and it did not diminish the desire for drugs.”

It is not clear when Newsom’s plan will go into action or how it will be implemented. No specifics were stated on Friday on how many officers would be deployed or for what period.