By Sunny Schwartz
As a lifelong activist, I know as well as any seasoned reformer that authentic change won’t start and end with one individual. But leadership is critical, and one candidate gives us significant hope because she’s been right there with us every time we’ve demanded better from our law enforcement leaders: Suzy Loftus.
We trust and know Suzy will give us a seat at the table so we can work collaboratively to champion prevention and intervention based strategies that truly address the root causes of crime to interrupt the insidious cycle of crime and incarceration.
That’s why I joined a group of activists to co-author the letter below that outlines our perspectives on the race and why were chose to emphatically support Suzy Loftus as our next District Attorney in San Francisco.
“The first open election for District Attorney in more than 100 years has left many in San Francisco wondering who will step up as the next progressive visionary that can reform our broken criminal justice system while providing the voice and restoration to those harmed by crime. We write as advocates and activists, who for decades have been fighting for an overhaul of our system and a radical departure from mass incarceration. For us, Suzy Loftus is the clear choice. She has always been there for all of San Francisco’s communities — always in search of the best solution. She is deeply progressive, effective, tough and compassionate.
First, we have to face one hard truth: the despair and inequality we see in our communities won’t start or end with any one individual — regardless of how our ears perk up when Suzy talks about restorative justice, bail reform, alternatives to incarceration, or believing survivors of sexual assault.
There is tremendous work to be done. San Francisco’s criminal justice system is one of the most racialized in the nation (for example, while African Americans make up less than 6% of the City, they are nearly 53% of the jail population and a shocking 11 times more likely to be incarcerated.) Despite its progressive reputation, San Francisco still has a criminal justice system mired in the failed policies of the past where everyone suffers — victims and those who offend and our community.
We need to effectively expand alternatives to incarceration and provide comprehensive treatment and support instead of jail and punishment for youth and for people struggling with addiction and mental illness. Moreover, in the spirit of authentic restorative justice, we must provide meaningful support to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, child assault and elder abuse as a rule, not as an exception. Above all, we need our criminal justice system to focus single-mindedly on preventing crime in the first place.
We know Suzy will work with our communities to tackle all of these challenges and more. We trust her precisely because she trusts us. She believes in our ability to change the system together.
It’s rare to see such broad community support for a District Attorney’s race — and we mean grassroots community support from people doing the tough, gritty, often unrecognized organizing work required to transform neighborhoods for the better. Suzy makes it easy for us to support her because she has been right there with us every step of the way.
Even in her early days as a neighborhood prosecutor in the San Francisco District Attorney’s office, Suzy worked alongside community leaders in the Western Addition to reduce street violence and make our parks and playgrounds safer. Her priority was to partner with the community to expand economic opportunities and redirect offenders into programs that would prevent them from committing an offense again.
It was this experience working toward solutions outside the courtroom that propelled her to take her next big step. After years as a prosecutor, Suzy stepped out of law enforcement to work in the Bayview because she wanted to do more to address the root causes of what she was seeing every day. She gets that we will never simply arrest and prosecute our way to safety. She gets that there is a better way to address what causes crime in our communities — like exposure to poverty and the trauma of violence.
So Suzy joined renowned pediatrician Dr. Nadine Burke Harris to help build the Center for Youth Wellness — a ground-breaking center for kids in the Bayview that treats the physical and emotional impacts of trauma. Suzy understands that young people who experience violence in the community and their homes are those most likely to commit crimes themselves and, without strong supports, the odds are heavily stacked against them.
Suzy understands that far too many young people across our city’s neighborhoods face those painful odds and she is a leader in the work to ensure that every young person can thrive. One young patient at the Center, Michael, had witnessed 3 homicides by the time he was 6 years old. Suzy helped build the Center for Youth Wellness so that children like Michael would have a chance to heal and thrive instead of being ignored and set up to fail.
When a string of police shootings resulted in the tragic death of several of our neighbors, our communities flooded the streets demanding “not one more.” Suzy took action. Serving as the President of the San Francisco Police Commission, she met with families and activists one-on-one, heard hours of public testimony from members of our community, and took to heart the stories of hurt and mistrust. She took swift action. In the end, standing up to the police union, Suzy successfully championed meaninful reforms that have resulted in a significant reduction in police use of force. She also led the charge to ensure accountability and discipline for police officers, including firing officers accused of sending shameful racist and homophobic text messages. This is what it means to represent the people and what a real advocate looks like.
We have an opportunity in the November 2019 election to rethink the role of the DA’s office and chart a path forward that does the most good for those who most need our help. Community voices must be at the center of these conversations. It’s about people, not politics. With Suzy’s experience inside and outside of the courtroom, we trust no other candidate for DA to champion justice and equity. She’s one of us. She’s for all of us.”
Kathy Black, La Casa
Kim Shree-Maufus, PhD