Ballot-box alliance

Pub date May 30, 2006
WriterG.W. Schulz


Maggie Agnew knows more about gun violence than anyone should ever have to know. Three of her children have been murdered since 1986, all of them during altercations that involved guns.

The church she attends has done all it can to help her and other parents of homicide victims. But not everyone attends church, she says. More needs to be done.

That’s why she along with three other women affected by the city’s epidemic of violence has signed her name to Proposition A, a June ballot measure authored by Sup. Chris Daly.

Prop. A would allocate $10 million a year for homicide-prevention services from the city’s General Fund for each of the next three years.

It would also create a survivors’ fund in the District Attorney’s Office to assist with burial expenses and counseling.

Agnew says that it’s a good start.

"There are so many parents who are like me; they can barely have a funeral and bury their children," Agnew told the Guardian recently. "You’re left with big bills, heartache, and pain. If you don’t have support, you’re out in the cold."

The Prop. A campaign is about more than just the relatively modest $10 million. Progressives and communities of color have begun to build an alliance around the measure that hasn’t always existed in the past which is a polite way of referring to the left’s sometime failure to address problems afflicting minority communities.

The San Francisco Peoples’ Organization, PowerPAC, and two past presidents of the Harvey Milk Democratic Club have appeared as supporters in election literature, along with Agnew, Betty Cooper, Kechette Walls Powell, and Mattie Scott, four women who have lost relatives to homicide. The effort began earlier this year as the board debated making supplemental appropriations from surplus budget money for similar support services after the city’s homicide rate approached the triple digits.

Sharen Hewitt, director of the Community Leadership Academy Emergency Response project, said the alliance is a small step in the right direction.

"It ain’t been no lovefest," she said frankly. "I am a progressive, as you know. But my community has been dropping dead in the street, and we’ve been focused on bike lanes…. We came together with a struggle."

Hewitt said the proposition allows for a considerable amount of flexibility: Money will go to the neighborhoods most affected by homicide, not simply those presumed to be in the most need. Overall, she said, the city has relied too much on the police, and the symptoms of violence, such as poverty, still need to be addressed.

"We have to be candid with each other, so we can form a real progressive agenda and not leave anyone behind," Hewitt said.

Prop. A is not without its critics. Sups. Sean Elsbernd, Michela Alioto-Pier, and Jake McGoldrick and Mayor Gavin Newsom all oppose it.

San Francisco is already struggling to abide by a charter mandate that requires the city to maintain a force of at least 1,971 police officers at all times, critics complain. Newsom and his allies on the board believe hiring new cops is more important than what the ballot measure proposes.

Elsbernd told us he’s also opposed to Prop. A because it locks in yet more budget requirements, when supplemental appropriations could be used to keep control in the hands of board members.

"My concern is it’s a set-aside," he said. "It binds the hands of the executive and legislative branches…. This is ballot-box budgeting."

Money from Prop. A would target areas with high rates of violence by focusing services on job creation and workforce training, conflict resolution, substance abuse and mental health treatment, and probation and witness relocation services. The measure would also form an 11-member community planning council charged with drafting and revising an annual homicide-prevention plan.

PowerPAC president Steve Phillips agrees with the other Prop. A proponents that the police approach hasn’t been sufficient, and says progressives and minorities need to show more allied leadership to promote better answers.

"There’s been an epidemic of violence that the city’s been unable to address," he said. "We wanted to give money to those communities most impacted by violence." SFBG