Proposal for violence task force to address Bayview shootings an empty gesture 

click to enlarge From left, Police Chief Greg Suhr, mayor’s Deputy Chief of Staff Paul Henderson, Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi and ShotSpotter’s Joseph Hawkins attended a news conference about gun violence. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • mike koozmin/the s.f. examiner
  • From left, Police Chief Greg Suhr, mayor’s Deputy Chief of Staff Paul Henderson, Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi and ShotSpotter’s Joseph Hawkins attended a news conference about gun violence.

Supervisor Malia Cohen stood on City Hall's steps last week calling for a "cease-fire" in District 10 and said she aims to form a task force to deal with the spike in violence.

The news conference was the first major public statement by Cohen, who is up for re-election in the fall, following the Fourth of July weekend shootings that left five people dead in the southeast portion of The City.

But some local law enforcement officials and political opponents said Cohen's task force proposal is an empty gesture for a community that has seen similar toothless efforts come and go before without having any impact.

"When an area like the Bayview is suffering the absence of permanent solutions to its most vexing problems, another task force could be seen as just another diversion," said Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, who attended the July 29 news conference. That being said, Mirkarimi said he hopes the task force does have depth and substance so it can do some good.

"We have never had a unified conversation on gun violence," Cohen told The San Francisco Examiner in a statement. "This Gun Violence Prevention Task Force is something that has never been tried before in our City -- ever."

However, Cohen's plan is not unprecedented. In 2005, The City formed the Select Committee on Ending Gun and Gang Violence, which morphed into the Public Safety Committee.

The 2005 committee was set up to "hear public testimony, evaluate current City coordination and strategies, and propose policies, programs, and budgetary actions necessary to end gun and gang violence in San Francisco."

Cohen's legislative aide, Mawuli Tugbenyoh, explained that Cohen's task force, when it is convened in the fall, will help coordinate communication, work to get guns off the streets and advocate prosecution of gun traffickers -- all efforts already underway.

But the task force won't solve gun violence immediately, said Cohen, who said at the news conference that it could take two to three years before the task force finishes its work.

"The [task force] is not a fix-all solution to gun violence in our city," Cohen said. "It is a complement to the work we have already been doing."

District 10 supervisor candidate Tony Kelly, a Potrero Hill activist, called the response to the shootings just a rerun of previous empty gestures that did little to address the root causes of violence in the area.

"Two to three years. So how many people are going to be shot in that time and how many is OK?" Kelly said. "How many people are cool with ... yet another task force?"

Shawn Richard, a community activist who runs Brothers Against Guns and is a candidate for Cohen's seat as well, said similar efforts were made in the years when Mayor Willie Brown was in office, and then again when Gavin Newsom was mayor. This latest plan is just an effort by Cohen to look like she is doing something when in actuality nothing is changing, he said.

"It's election time, so ... an incumbent will reach to make it seem like you are active when you haven't been active in the community for the last four years," Richard said.

Cohen highlighted some of her efforts to combat violence in her nearly four years on the board, such as the community-policing initiative Interrupt, Predict, Organize and gun buyback programs.

"And to the critics that say this effort is too late, I say it is never too late to save a life," she said of the task force.

Mary Ratcliff, editor of the San Francisco Bay View newspaper, which covers the black community in Bayview-Hunters Point, said she is glad whenever the issues around violence are focused upon, but doesn't see such efforts doing much to change the fundamental facts on the ground: poverty and a lack of jobs.

"The shooting won't stop until the jobs start," she said.

About The Author

Jonah Owen Lamb

Jonah Owen Lamb

Born and raised on a houseboat in Sausalito, Lamb has written for newspapers in New York City, Utah and the San Joaquin Valley. He was most recently an editor at the San Luis Obispo Tribune for nearly three years. He has written for The S.F. Examiner since 2013 and covers criminal justice and planning.
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