Body Politic: Tragedy and Blame

Written by Adriel Hampton. Posted in Crime, Immigration, News, Politics

Tagged: , , , , ,

Published on July 12, 2015 with 20 Comments

San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi held a press conference, 7/10/15, to "set the record straight" over the shooting death of Kate Steinle by convicted, undocumented felon, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez on July 1. Photos by Luke Thomas.

San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi held a press conference, 7/10/15, to “set the record straight” over the shooting death of Kate Steinle by undocumented felon, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, on July 1. Photos by Luke Thomas.

By Adriel Hampton

July 12, 2015

Random violence captures our social conscience like nothing else, and random violence in liberal San Francisco is especially attractive when it allows pundits and Republican presidential candidates to attack immigrants and progressive lawmakers.

The killing of Kate Steinle on July 1 has also enforced rifts in the City’s own body politic, with legislators and executives scrambling to assign blame and to continue old scores. Mayor Ed Lee and former Mayor Willie Brown, in the Sunday Chronicle, have both joined the national right in blaming Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, who’s on the ballot this November, for the killing – even as a widely supported City law passed in 2013 guided his department’s actions.

Under local law, release of alleged killer Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez without notification to immigration officials was a routine matter. He was, before July 1, a non-violent felon and undocumented immigrant brought to San Francisco after release from federal prison to clear a 20-year-old drug charge. One of many unique cases that local authorities throughout California and other states routinely process without regard to immigration status.

Steinle’s death, and the on-camera interview in which Lopez-Sanchez admits to killing her, has conservative media in uproar.  But while some local politicians are responding with calls for reform, the 2013 “Due Process Ordinance for All” ordinance was originally even more permissive. Late amendments supported by the Mayor and some supervisors – and passed by the full board – carved out exemptions for violent felonies within seven years plus probable cause to believe the individual has committed another violent felony.

The Body Politic spoke Friday with Supervisor John Avalos, author of the 2013 law written in reaction to Immigration and Customs Enforcement policy of requesting 48-hour pre-release holds of undocumented immigrants flagged in fingerprint screens.

Avalos said Lopez-Sanchez – not guilty of any violent felony and having served his time – was just one of 10,000 ICE detainers that have been recently ignored in California, each with its own unique characteristics. The law was intended to ensure that law enforcement in San Francisco does not hold individuals solely based on immigration status, which stakeholders argue leads to less cooperation and trust in law enforcement among immigrant communities, and a resulting decline in public safety. (See “Sanctuary Cities are Safer” in Mother Jones.)

Avalos said he has not seen or heard any proposed changes in the law that would have affected Lopez-Sanchez’s release without gutting the public policy intent.

“It would actually create a huge loophole that would undermine the effectiveness of the ordinance itself,” Avalos said. “I don’t understand why we would roll back law because of this one incident.”

Early Friday, scores of scribblers, TV reporters, photographers and video cameramen crowded into Mirkarimi’s press briefing room to pepper the jailer-in-chief with what-ifs. Mirkarimi, a former legislator, offered documents and a narrative to support his office’s handling of Lopez-Sanchez’s release. A deputy cannot, Mirkarimi said, make discretionary judgements about who to call ICE on – they must follow procedures based on the “mesh and sync” of local, state and federal laws. The Due Process Ordinance leans on a federal decision that local law enforcement may actually be liable for following ICE’s extrajudicial detainer requests. City law states that ICE must issue its own warrant or judicial order of removal in order for local law enforcement to take any action.

Mirkarimi also criticized federal authorities for not deporting Lopez-Sanchez directly from federal prison in Victorville.

ICE, “do your job,” Mirkarimi said.

Lopez-Sanchez was instead referred to San Francisco on a 20-year old warrant for drug charges, obligating Mirkarimi’s office to transport Lopez-Sanchez to the City for resolution of his case. The charges were not pursued and Sanchez was released.

Mirkarimi proposed work to resolve conflicts between local law, Constitutional protections and ICE compliance, review and possible purging of stale felony warrants like the one that brought Lopez-Sanchez back to San Francisco, and legislative direction from the mayor and supervisors.

“Our laws apply to citizens and non-citizens alike,” Avalos said. “It’s not in [local law enforcement’s] purview to deport people.”

This case has grabbed national attention, and it’s also likely to figure into local elections. Surely headlines will be reprinted and mailed to tens of thousands of voters by political consultants and their funders just as opportunistic as Donald Trump.

Should public policy be determined by process or by punditry? And where were the local critics when this law was being voted on and signed by Mayor Lee? (A file presented by Mirkarimi has just a handful of public comments on the law – including support for the more liberal original version, support from the Public Defender, and just two angry emails.) Supporters packed the board chambers at the time.

From our Facebook perches, how much do we follow the lawmaking process outside of the crushing force of public opinion shaped by tragedies such as Ms. Steinle’s death? So many of us simply leave our lawmakers to their business, until the cut strikes close.

Adriel Hampton

Adriel Hampton is a writer, investigator, strategic consultant and mindfulness practitioner. He runs The Adriel Hampton Group Ltd. in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and was a founding member of NationBuilder. Adriel is founder emeritus of SF Tech Dems and a board member at Legination Inc. Before joining NationBuilder, Adriel worked for SF City Attorney Dennis Herrera, and for the SF Examiner, Hayward Daily Review and Lodi News-Sentinel. He also founded SF City Camp and Gov 2.0 Radio, and, in 2009, ran for Congress in the East Bay.

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