A Tale of Two Cities

Part 4 of a 4-part series on the causes and effects of the Tenderloin’s fentanyl crisis

Tale of two cities is the perfect way to describe the city of San Francisco, California. Despite being one of the wealthiest places on the planet, it has areas that resemble a fourth world nation. The rampant drug use and lack of consequences for drug dealers is creating a circle of crime and violence.

A record 712 people died in San Francisco of accidental drug overdoses in 2020, a 61 percent increase from 2019. Between January and April of 2021, the medical examiner recorded 252 accidental overdose deaths — a little more than two per day — putting the city on track to lose nearly 1,000 lives this year.

At a virtual town hall held July 25, 2020, District Attorney Chesa Boudin told a stunned audience that prosecuting drug cases came at too steep a price — for dealers. “A significant percentage of people selling drugs in San Francisco, perhaps as many as half, are from Honduras, and many of them have been trafficked here … we need to be mindful of the impact our interventions have. Some of them have family members in Honduras who have been or will be harmed if they don’t continue to pay off the traffickers who brought them here.”

Boudin prefers to send dealers to drug court, which is meant for drug users. “They sit right next to their customers,” one prosecutor says. “The judge will send the dealers to counseling meant for users, they don’t show up, they go right back to the same corner, and keep selling drugs.”

In the first five-and-one-half months of 2021, SFPD seized more than 19 kilos of narcotics in the Tenderloin alone. In June, officers seized seven kilos of fentanyl, which SFPD Chief William Scott noted was “enough lethal overdoses to wipe out San Francisco’s population four times over.”  Officers also made 257 narcotics arrests. From 2019 to First Quarter 2021, 89 drug dealers were apprehended between three and seven times for the same crime.

Award-winning journalist Stanley Roberts spent a week at ground zero — the Tenderloin District— which has more children per capita than any other neighborhood. The danger and despair would cause most people to throw up their hands and give up. However, that is not the case: A long line of officers wait to work in the Tenderloin because they know the station’s captain — he lives there, he works there, and even his father was a beat cop there in the eighties.

Here is Part 4 of his Gotham by the Bay series on the Tenderloin’s opioid crisis, A Tale of Two Cities.


A guest post by
If you lived anywhere in the world chances are you’ve seen Stanley Roberts’ award-winning news segments (People Behaving Badly and Caught Misbehaving,) once a regular feature on TV in SF, is now the executive producer for Mr Badly TV