This past week, the No New SF Jail Coalition ramped up resistance to imprisonment and policing in San Francisco. On Monday, over 100 community members rallied at City Hall to demand the closure of the jail in the Hall of Justice at 850 Bryant St, while also opposing the Board of Supervisors’ and Mayor’s approval to expand the San Francisco Police Department by 200 new positions. On Wednesday, we mobilized to a city hearing to give public testimony to make our demands heard.
Despite a city-wide consensus that the Hall of Justice is decrepit and seismically unsound, along with a unanimous commitment from the Board of Supervisors to close the onsite jail, city officials have taken few steps toward this commitment. The Coalition is urging the Board to take urgent action to fulfill its promise to close 850 Bryant without reopening or constructing new jails, especially due to the imminent risk that imprisoned people face in the case of an earthquake.
During the rally, a banner was raised up to Mayor Breed’s window on the second floor of city hall to demand no more police hires or jails in San Francisco while protest participants shouted out what they’d like to see instead of cops and jails.
Coalition member Ms. Janetta Johnson of TGI Justice Project spoke about the urgent need for more community resources and alternatives to policing and imprisonment that the city should invest in, rather than wasting money on hiring more police officers. Other representatives from the Idriss Stelley Foundation and the Do No Harm Collective spoke about the first hand experiences of imprisoned people and advocated for appropriate solutions to providing mental health resources within the community rather than locking people up, which will inevitably result in the neglect of people’s health. Juliana Morris with Do No Harm Collective said, “We see the current policing and incarceration in our communities as a major health crisis and believe strongly that resources need to be redirected to support housing, community programs, mental health services and other health services.”
During Wednesday’s Public Safety Committee hearing, we heard from the Workgroup to Re-envision the Jail Replacement Project, an ad hoc workgroup that was convened by the Board to develop alternatives to jail construction. City departments and other presenters described how the jail population hasn’t decreased but has even increased slightly in the last two years. While Supervisors were appropriately baffled not seeing a reduction in the number of people in custody, we know that this is the inevitable result of increased policing rather than investments in housing and supportive resources.
Sheriff Vicki Hennessy continues to argue that her only options will soon be to either use $9 million to reopen the closed County Jail 6 at San Bruno or to lease bed space in Alameda County’s Santa Rita jail for an estimated 10-15 years until a new jail can be built on the site of the Hall of Justice. These are not viable options for our communities and directly contradict city commitments to not to build a new jail.
Organizers and anti-jail advocates provided testimony that increased policing and criminalization will only result in more people in jail and emphasized that even seismically safe jails aren’t safe. Instead of focusing solely on numbers, organizers reminded city officials that jails are caging poor, predominately Black and Brown people and demanded that the public safety committee focus on life affirming resources that actually strengthen our communities, such as housing and mental health care. Until we win, will continue to raise our demands:
- Close 850 Bryant Now
- Oppose any new jail renovation or construction
- Invest in cooperative housing and neighborhood based services
- Support transformative justice practices instead of imprisonment
- Reverse the increased size of police force