Mothers of children killed by fentanyl and mothers of homeless addicts living on the streets of San Francisco launched the first in a series of blistering advertisements yesterday intended to warn tourists against visiting the city, citing deadly open-air drug markets.
The mothers held a press conference this past Monday in Union Square, San Francisco, to answer questions from members of the press.
By juxtaposing images of iconic San Francisco tourism landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge and cable cars alongside statements that highlight the city’s out-of-control fentanyl pandemic, the ads portray a striking “myth vs. reality.” While Mayor London Breed has been pitching the city as a tourist destination to Europe, Mothers Against Drug Deaths, the organization responsible for the ads, encourages people to stay away.
“Parents worldwide should know that San Francisco is unsafe for children and families,” said Jacqui Berlinn, co-founder of Mothers Against Drug Deaths. “My son is at risk of dying because the San Francisco city government, with the support of Governor Gavin Newsom, refuses to arrest him for breaking the law and mandate treatment.”
The ad campaign arrives on the heels of Breed’s attempts to rebrand San Francisco as a tourist destination. In truth, according to the US Census, from July 2020 – July 2021, nearly 55,000 people left San Francisco, second only to Manhattan in a county population decrease. Many of them left citing the city’s open-air drug markets.
Berlinn organized the first protest against open-air drug dealing in San Francisco in 2021. She and other mothers, including Gina McDonald, and Michelle Leopold raised money to purchase a large billboard in Union Square, one of the city’s main tourist destinations and shopping districts, and on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms.
“I feel Mayor Breed is putting their (tourists) children’s lives in danger just as she has done with ours.” Gina McDonald, whose daughter has frequented SF to buy and use drugs. “While many kids in this city have to be walked to school by SF hired patrol, this Mayor has the audacity to invite other families to visit. Breed’s status quo has failed both those suffering on the street and those who witness their demise.”
The ad was created by the local advertising firm Underground Advertising. Charlie Cardillo, who created the ads for the women, said the goal was to brand the deadly drug fentanyl, which caused the vast majority of the 1,362 drug deaths in SF in 2020 and 2021, as a stereotypical and globally recognized part of San Francisco as much as its Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars, Dungeness crabs, and sourdough bread.
Former San Francisco homeless addict and recovery advocate Tom Wolf said he supported the mothers and what they were doing. “San Francisco refuses to do what it must and shut down the open-air drug dealing and drug market. The city, especially the Tenderloin and downtown neighborhoods, has become unsafe for families and children.
“The open drug market and normalization of public drug use drew my daughter to San Francisco. Not the Golden Gate Bridge or The Embarcadero, and I never want another parent to feel this anguish. The mayor should really consider solving her own humanitarian crises at home before asking others to join in.”
“My son died from Fentanyl poisoning, and when I learned how he died, I vowed to do all I could to keep other parents from suffering the same endless pain,” said Leopold. “Yet San Francisco’s fentanyl poisoning numbers are exploding, as are the overdoses of those addicted to fentanyl. All that’s happened is a fence installed to shield drug dealing and drug use from being seen. I still have seen no positive results from the (declared State of Emergency and the) Linkage center, including no results that we anticipated for those asking for help with mental illness or addiction treatment… and inside the linkage, the center remains a safe place. For drug dealing.”
“The reality is that San Francisco is becoming as famous for cheap fentanyl and open-air drug markets as for the Golden Gate Bridge and beautiful redwood forests, ” said Jacqui Berlinn. “The epidemic and the open-air drug markets aren’t only killing San Francisco’s economy; they’re killing our children.”
Ellen Grantz, a mother of young teens in San Francisco who joined MADD to support their cause, said, “I worry every day about the complacency toward lethal drugs in our city; it’s not right for the people suffering from addiction, and it’s terrifying for kids to witness it as an accepted way of life.
“We often hear there are not enough resources, but the truth is there are hundreds of treatment beds vacant while the city doubles down on distributing Narcan and flyers on how to use fentanyl. It must be demoralizing for frontline staff to work tirelessly to help people when the system is clearly failing. We are asking the city to shift from addiction maintenance, which is killing people, to addiction recovery.”
Leaders of the grassroots organization want Governor Newsom to lead the effort for local governments to break up the open-air drug scenes, for drug dealers to stop selling dangerous drugs, and for (people who suffer from addiction) who break the law, to restore mandatory drug treatment as an alternative to jail.