Is Gavin’s Justice Lite Going To Be Justice Served ?
I left the “Town Hall” meeting on the city’s plans for a “Community Justice Center” last night at the library with far more questions and frustrations than when I entered it.
Pitched to the public as a possible solution to solving the spiraling street crimes & homeless situation downtown, I get the feeling no one left anymore reassured that it will actually work, including the organizers sitting on the dais.
For more on the public reaction to the Mayor’s not so “original”, or well thought out concept for community justice, read on…
About 100 citizens seemed intrigued, or at least curious enough to turn out, and wanted tidbits of information on the program and what it will entail. Despite a brief infomercial that told the story of a similar court in Brooklyn, no real solid information came forth.
Newsom apparently launched his plan with typical aplomb last year after seeing NYC’s version, and the Mayor in awe of his own political momentum as usual, acted as if this was a revolutionary concept.
This news particularly confused those volunteers who already participate in SF’s pre-established “Community Courts“. In fact SF was a groundbreaker in this field, and has been since November of 1998, when the SF District Attorney’s Office initiated it’s Community Courts, a neighborhood-based mini-court staffed by volunteers as a U.S. Justice Department pilot project.
Currently, SF’s pre-existent “Community Courts” operate in Bayview-Hunter’s Point, Outer Mission, Western Addition, Inner Mission, South of Market, Tenderloin, Excelsior, and Polk Street. These bodies are comprised generally of an informal panel of 3 neighborhood residents who act as judge and jury, and mete out punishments to “low-level” crimes the DA typically does not have time to prosecute.
The Mayor and his “people” basically did an end run around this existing framework to create their own “official” duplicate body who will perform essentially a lot of the same type of work, including similar calls for community service & referrals to non-profits. Why Gavin & Co. sought no input from those who’d already invested years in this more informal but at least already established community justice process is a mystery that he and his political aides of course refuse to answer at his typically scripted “town hall” meetings.
It turns out the Mayor, without first conferring with legal experts, discovered that California law doesn’t allow police to arrest and immediately bring before a judge people who are committing so-called “quality of life” crimes. In California, it turns out that offenses such as disorderly conduct and blocking sidewalks are considered merely “infractions”, for which people are ticketed and are allowed to appear in court in 45 days. Unless the legislature wishes to change that law, offenses the mayor actually wanted addressed with the CJC are not headed to his new CJCs anyhow. Hey, way to research that key factoid Gavin & crew !!!!
Despite a panel of seemingly well intentioned & educated individuals, including law enforcement reps, city mental health pros, and folks from the DA & PD office, the meat we were served by them all last night was old, cold, thin, and without much seasoning.
While Commissioner Ron Albers, the pointman for the project, went on & on like some sort of “New Agey” Chertoff character, it became hard for the Tenderloin Police Capt. Jimenez to even stay awake during much of the proceedings. While most on the panel did at least manage to keep their eyes open, no one else there on the city payroll seemed all that eager to speak up, or explain much either. There was a lot of nervous smiling, blank staring, watch checking, text messaging, whispering and general sitting still up there.
So we all learned very little that we didn’t already know, other than that they were seeking “input” and applications for potential candidates to sit on their advisory board.
So let’s review: We’ve at least come to understand that they’ve had to retool the concept here and there and that the Mayor has convened his handpicked bunch of experts to do something that’s more or less already being done.
Albers said CJC would not handle violent felonies, nor infactions, and apparently he had not drawn up a specific list of crimes or punishments the court would adjudicate. When pressed by citizens, the terms “misdemeanors & felonies” were thrown out, but any assurance that any of those cited for these would voluntarily show up at the CJC’s Polk St HQ for their hearings was vague at best. So far the CJC sounded like another social services intake center and less a “justice” center.
Tenderloin Station’s Capt. Jimenez managed to speak up and make prescient comments, once dramatically terming the CJC as merely a “hope”, and then he sorta fell in and out of consciousness while the usual cast of SF crazies grabbed the mic for the city’s frustratingly famous let’s give anyone 5 minutes of random ranting about whatever occurs to them.
Indeed, once it was time to open the mic, a few folks at least had enouraging words to add. These included a few residents of Rincon Hill & near the ballpark who wanted the borders to include their newer neighborhoods. One woman brought up her frustration of living in a neighborhood where her 14 year old must stay home or wade through a sea of sickos each 1st & 15th of the month.
Of course, many also apparently just wanted to talk & look at people looking at them while they had a chance to hear their own voice amplified via a microphone.
Then there were the generic professional “angry agitator” types.
Here in San Francisco, we all know that the 1st group of people who show up for these “public welcome” type forums are people who don’t want to listen to any information at a forum at all.
There is a whole subset in S.F of meeting & hearing junkies who actually hate meetings and hearings, but hope to get a chance to shout out their own most awesome opinions for as long as feasible back at those that rented the room.
Tonight that obnoxious role was filled by two employees of Randy Shaw’s “SRO Collaborative”. These two 20 something know it all guys did the usual “collaborative” mic hogging technique, and took their time lambasting every possible positive outcome that could possibly arise from the CJC.
I immediately knew we were all in trouble and going to get a tantrum like scolding for being there when the first of Shaw’s warriors, the chubbier of the two intoned ” I really tried to come here with an open mind”… which we all know means exactly the opposite.
They ripped into a litany of cliche’d complaints & asinine analysis of a program that doesn’t even exist yet. It didn’t take long for the CJC to be called a “War On The Poor” and then the THC employees complained that beer in a bar costs $5 which is apparently way too much. They loudly & belligerently bemoaned & bellowed out loud at their own preconceptions without anyone else allowed to speak but them.
While I may have occasionally agreed with some of his points, and appreciated his passionate beliefs in the THC’s vested interests, these paid reps likely did more in actuality to harm their cause than they ever will do to assist people. Amongst the couple dozen people they thoroughly alienated tonight might have been some future allies, and instead of being articulate spokespeople for an under represented population, they only managed to present a disgraceful and arrogant display of ball hogging that any sports fan might find offensive.
Taking from the public speaking school of pointless blowhardiness, the SRO Collaborative duo took a generally quiet room of reasonable neutral adults and within minutes were able to create lifelong enemies, and degenerate the situation into a veritable shouting match. As many people began muttering under their breaths, a few left and others even resorted to telling the two guys to sit down & stop disturbing the proceedings. Shaw’s mighty minions eventually sat down, and seemed quite pleased with themselves, while dozens glanced over at them warily as if to wonder what the hell they really were trying to accomplish.
At one point, near the end of the meeting, an elder black woman turned around to look at the smug gentlemen from the THC’s “SRO Collaborative” and asked them a series of pointed rhetorical questions. She mentioned living in the neighborhood for years, and wanted to know why if they say they “work” here, and are “helping” people in the ‘hood, why wouldn’t they even want to to help out with this project?
It was a question that made all in the room think, and most, if not all clapped… and with time up, we more or less left it at that…