In a Q&A at Manny’s, appointed District Attorney Brooke Jenkins last night shared personal anecdotes and broadly promised accountability. Meanwhile, outside the cafe, protesters chanted and blared sirens.
Inside, Jenkins said she wants to “be the voice for people who are suffering.”
She accused the media of polarizing the city, and said her presence as a Black and Latina woman in law enforcement could help change the Black community’s distrust in the system.
Manny Yekutiel, who hosted the talk at his namesake venue in the Mission, read questions from audience members who wanted to know how the DA would hold police accountable. That was a big concern for critics of the San Francisco Police Department, including the dozen protesters who chanted outside throughout the event.
One audience member asked for reassurance that some 10 San Francisco police officers facing charges from prior DA Chesa Boudin would still be prosecuted. Some officers face charges for destruction of evidence, while others have been charged in killings of unarmed civilians.
Jenkins did not respond directly, and instead shared a story. Her family believed that her great-uncle had been killed by police in the segregated South, Jenkins said, and she knew the feeling of being treated unfairly.
“Any cop that has broken the law will be prosecuted,” Jenkins said. “If we can prove that case, we move forward.”
It was unclear from her response how she plans to move forward with the specific, currently pending cases against San Francisco police officers — all of which are reportedly being reviewed or have been delayed since Jenkins took office. Jenkins has also fired or demoted all of the prosecutors who were previously working on those cases.
“It’s very easy for her to step off and say, ‘Well, I can’t win that.’ So that’s what was going on here, just complete indirection all over the place,” said John Talbott, a business consultant who attended the event. He called Jenkins a skilled attorney who knew how to talk to a crowd.
Former American Civil Liberties Union attorney John Crew said the mere fact that all police misconduct cases are being reviewed under the new DA shows that SFPD members accused of crimes are already being treated differently from the rest of the public with pending cases.
Asked how she would protect vulnerable communities that have experienced injustices at the hands of police, Jenkins simply said that the DA’s office should serve as a “check and balance on policing,” and handle seemingly biased cases differently.
The specifics of how this would be executed, however, were not given.
In the packed, sweltering room at Manny’s, audience members fanned themselves and clapped enthusiastically at several of Jenkins’ responses. All the while, protesters outside shouted through megaphones and rapped on the windows.
Yekutiel kept the mood light, joking with Jenkins about having faced protesters himself. After the event, a brief scuffle broke out at the corner of 16th and Valencia streets, before the apparent instigator quickly left the scene.
Flustered participants, including one protester with a ripped shirt, believed that the man who started the physical altercation had come from inside Manny’s, but Mission Local could not independently confirm this.
“I’ve never been protested before; I’m not even sure what they’re upset at me about!” Jenkins told Yekutiel on stage. The protesters outside carried signs about high-profile police killings and alleged corruption by Jenkins and other politicians.
Jenkins insisted that she values transparency and spoke about recent news stories, appearing first in the SF Standard, that she had been paid by the anti-Boudin forces.
“In retrospect,” she said she wished she had disclosed to the public the controversial income she earned through an organization that helped fund the recall of former DA Chesa Boudin.
But she insisted that income — purportedly earned for consulting work separate from her volunteer work as a recall spokesperson — was “totally irrelevant.”
“I have not done anything to lose [the public’s] trust, in my view. I understand, like I said, how people would have liked to know the information about what I was doing on the side.”
Attendees at Tuesday’s event said they respected Jenkins’ openness to speaking in a public forum and her admission that she should have been more forthcoming, but not all were convinced by her answers onstage.
“She’s definitely a politician; she knew how to really not answer the questions,” said Boudin supporter Gayle Whitley, who attended the event. After the talk, Whitley blocked protesters making their way into Manny’s from entering the room where Jenkins and other audience members were.
Whitley was concerned about Jenkins’ commitment to police accountability, and was unsure how the DA could go about resolving the drug crisis, which she pointed out is not unique to San Francisco.
Jenkins said her policy is to allow people four citations for drug infractions before intervention from the DA’s office. According to data from the DA’s office, the SFPD has ramped up misdemeanor drug enforcement, with most of those cases being discharged, thus far, by Jenkins’ office. Upon the fifth citation, Jenkins said, her office would “take jurisdiction” and get involved.
Jenkins said that one of her priorities as DA is to go after drug dealers, though she did not specify how she plans to approach these cases, other than saying she would avoid deportation. She accused Boudin of releasing drug dealers without sufficient or effective consequences.
Though Jenkins has, on multiple occasions, called herself a progressive prosecutor who values alternatives to incarceration, these types of statements raised doubts about what she will actually do.