On Guard: Senate shuffle, mental health shootings and more rankle San Francisco 

click to enlarge When U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer announced last week she would not seek re-election, it opened the gates for the next wave of Democrats to begin jockeying for position. - CLIFF OWEN/2014 AP FILE PHOTO
  • Cliff Owen/2014 AP file photo
  • When U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer announced last week she would not seek re-election, it opened the gates for the next wave of Democrats to begin jockeying for position.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer announced her retirement just a week ago, and the political musical chairs is already well underway.

Gavin Newsom, for one, has spoken up to say he's not running for her Senate seat (which he announced via Facebook. Thanks, Mr. Citizen-ville). The opportunity is ripe for Attorney General Kamala Harris to sweep into the Senate, leaving our slick-haired lieutenant governor the opportunity to drop the "lieutenant" in his title.

With the stage set, the glad-handing was on full tilt at the African American Art & Culture Complex on Saturday as political big-wigs staked their claims on races of 2015 and 2016. Though the vote was for seemingly low-stakes Democratic delegates in Assembly District 17, the line of voters stretched down three floors worth of staircase and far out the door down Fulton Street.

At least it was a sunny day.

State Sen. Mark Leno was there (relaxed by virtue of not wearing his suit, he pointed out to me), Supervisor Scott Wiener, Assemblyman David Chiu, Supervisor David Campos: The whole gang.

Chiu and Wiener brought a whole cadre of support from the local trades and firefighters, and perhaps that show of strength was what won the day for the moderate delegate slate.

And boy, they did clean the clocks of the progressives.

Come November 2016, those delegates will likely grant Wiener, or his allies, an endorsement for state Senate.

Progressive candidates did manage to squeak into the delegate list, including SFUSD Board of Education Commissioner Matt Haney, and the United Educators of San Francisco's Ken Tray. It was not, though, a banner day for the left. What day has been lately?

Speaking of Fulton Street, by the time you read this, the African American Culture Complex will have hosted a more somber event: A Monday night vigil for the four slain young men in Hayes Valley.

Manuel O'Neal, 22, Yalani Chinyamurindi, 19, Harith Atchan, 21, and David Saucier, 20, had hardly begun their adult lives when they were ended by a hail of bullets.

Amid national talk of police reform, finding the need to bring their killers to justice is a stark reminder of why we need the Police Department.

For Board of Supervisors President London Breed, the deaths are personal. Two of the young men were regulars in a cultural center in her neighborhood, and Breed was close friends with the mother of one of the victims.

"We played dolls together, every day," when they were young, Breed told me. "To have her lose her son, this is so heartbreaking."

It also harkened back to her time in college, when a phone call from her home in San Francisco's Plaza East likely meant someone had died.

It was a stark reminder that the specter of violence erupting in The City is not confined to the past.

That said, nothing having to do with police work is simple. The American Civil Liberties Union and 42 other organizations wrote an open letter Thursday to San Francisco, urging it to drop its appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court of a case involving a 2008 officer-involved shooting of a woman with mental illness.

The ACLU says Teresa Sheehan was wrongly shot (though she survived). She was having a psychiatric crisis, they said, and the Police Department should have used crisis-intervention methods.

But specifically, the case centers on whether or not the American Disabilities Act applies to the police. If the case goes before the Supreme Court and the city attorney wins, San Francisco could be responsible for dismantling ADA rights in police-work nationwide.

If you think that's frightening, don't worry, you're not the only one.

"Everyone is saying what, this is coming from San Francisco? We were expecting it from the South," Susan Mizner, disability counsel at the ACLU, told me.

And news reports have found that 58 percent of people involved in SFPD officer shootings were those with mental health issues, often in crisis.

"We want that number to go down," Mizner said, "not up."

The City Attorney's Office told me the fallout of the case will likely be much narrower, and they don't expect a sweeping ruling that will change police work across the country.

Let's hope not. If this gets any worse, the #BlackLivesMatter movement may need a supplement: #DisabilityLivesMatter. No one can argue police don't have difficult choices to make while staring down a barrel of a gun or the blade of a knife, but the number of mentally ill shot by officers is startling. Hopefully the case is resolved before the need arises for a new hashtag.

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each Tuesday. Email him at joe@sfexaminer.com.

About The Author

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

Born and raised in San Francisco, Fitzgerald Rodriguez was a staff writer at the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and now writes the S.F. Examiner's political column On Guard. He is also a transportation beat reporter covering pedestrians, Muni, BART, bikes, and anything with wheels.
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