Pubdate: Thu, 05 Mar 2015
Source: SF Weekly (CA)
Copyright: 2015 Village Voice Media
Author: Chris Roberts

Why Are the U.S. Attorney and DEA Taking an Interest in Everyday 
Tenderloin Crime?


Ivan Speed is not a model citizen. Since growing up in the Alemany 
housing projects, Speed has spent his adulthood running the streets 
in San Francisco, racking up the kind of record -- assault, theft, 
drugs, guns -- that would earn even a fallen choir boy the title of 
"career criminal."

Not that anyone in the Marina has anything to fear from the likes of 
Speed. His crime spree as of late has been contained to the 
Tenderloin, where his alleged misdeeds -- stealing $25, swiping a 
phone, selling $50 worth of crack cocaine -- are seemingly trivial, 
especially considering these daily occurrences often take place in 
full view of rollerbag-dragging tourists who wandered a block too far 
from their Union Square hotel.

But Speed's multiple stints in custody in between filling the police 
blotter are not entirely harmless. Speed and many others like him 
stuck in the criminal justice system's revolving door are why are San 
Francisco has the highest recidivism rate in the state -- 77.9 
percent, according to the California Department of Corrections and 
Rehabilitation. They also create a constant headache for frustrated 
police, who are tired of arresting the same people for the same 
crimes in the same place. Cops blame an accommodating district 
attorney and lenient judges for sticking them with the regular cast 
of recalcitrant reoffenders. Multiple offenses might lead to nothing 
more than probation, which means a swift return to the streets.

It appears that police have found an innovative solution to this 
revolving door. Thanks to the federal Justice Department, which in 
between dealing with terrorism and immigration has taken an interest 
in policing the Tenderloin, "business as usual" on Turk Street can 
now lead to a federal prison term.

This month, Speed is scheduled to stand trial for allegedly 
possessing a gun -- a no-no for a felon on probation. The gun was 
allegedly used in a May 2012 robbery, where four men allegedly robbed 
a victim of a phone and $25 in front of a Tenderloin liquor store. As 
of now, there might not be a victim in this crime: The robbery victim 
gave police a fake name and a fake address before disappearing 
completely, according to court filings, and no witnesses are 
scheduled to testify in court.

If convicted, Speed could serve more than 200 months in prison, court 
filings say.

Mellina Williams' situation is similar. In 2013, San Francisco cops 
nabbed the now 32-year-old black woman for selling 1.4 grams of crack 
to an undercover cop -- a kind of "buy-bust" that clogged court 
dockets with dope fiends and stuff narcs' pockets with overtime pay 
during the crack era's heyday. This anachronistic practice is dying 
out. Courts don't want to deal with hordes of nonviolent drug 
offenders any more than overcrowded prisons want to house them.

But for her cheap rock, Williams did over a year in federal lockup. 
Williams and Speed were both arrested in "Operation Safe Schools," a 
2013 caper in which S.F. cops working with Drug Enforcement 
Administration agents brought in 10 people for selling crack on the 
streets of the Tenderloin. In federal court, treasured San Francisco 
innovations like drug court, pretrial diversion, and other 
alternatives to incarceration do not apply, and judges working with 
mandatory minimums are not compelled to treat drug sales, no matter 
how petty, with probation.

The purpose of "Safe Schools," according to the feds, is to crack 
down on drug dealing near schools. And as happens in the central part 
of a densely populated city, all of the Tenderloin's reliable drug 
corners -- Turk and Taylor, Golden Gate and Hyde, to name a few -- 
are within 1,000 feet of a school. That triggers tougher penalties 
and justifies the federal government's interest in dime and nickel 
rocks of crack.

Eight of the 10 suspects arrested in the first Safe Schools sweep 
were black women, an inexplicable discrepancy unlike any other I've 
seen. Most were in their late 20s or early 30s, and most were mothers 
themselves, according to court documents. Nearly all had a string of 
prior convictions for the same offenses: possession of drugs, 
possession of drugs with the intent to sell, sale of drugs to an 
undercover officer. Instead of probation, all of them did at least a 
year in federal lockup.

If the first Safe Schools failed to impress, check out the sequel. In 
February, federal prosecutors announced another Safe Schools haul. 
This one -- 19 people -- is even bigger, but it's more of the same: 
repeat offenders, black men and women, the denizens of the Tenderloin 
at the mercy of a federal government that, unlike San Francisco, is 
not giving up on the drug war.

SFPD Chief Greg Suhr, the former narc who received praise from 
liberal and libertarian media in December for supposedly "disbanding" 
the city's narcotics unit, is a huge fan. In a press release 
announcing Safe Schools II, Suhr praised the DEA and the U.S. 
Attorney and offered harsh words for the drug dealers "preying on 
young children."

Which they aren't. Speed is accused of holding a gun during a liquor 
store holdup. Williams sold a rock to an undercover cop. These crimes 
do not involve kids. Even if Safe Schools is 100 percent successful 
of ridding the TL of dope dealers, school kids will still have to 
navigate a maze of chronic inebriates and mentally ill people while 
traversing the Tenderloin.

"Safe Schools" seems to serve one main purpose: It gives those cops 
tired of seeing the same faces a workaround to avoid local leniency 
and give dope fiends real punishment, with rules that favor the cops 
instead of the robbers.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom