Journal Times editorial: In San Francisco, actions should mean more than words
Our Perspective

Journal Times editorial: In San Francisco, actions should mean more than words

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The innovative, but thankfully not often replicated, city and county of San Francisco have come up with a new plan to deal with pejorative language associated with the criminal justice system: Rebranding.

Yes, rebranding.

In what could go down as a marketing triumph, “felons,” “ juvenile delinquents,” “parolees,” “addicts” and “convicts” will be swept from the City By The Bay forevermore. At least in name.

San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors has proposed, by a near-unanimous voice vote, that the city and county sanitize language dealing with the criminal justice system and swap some of the terms out with people-first language which, according to news reports, are phrases that strip any objectification or pejorative descriptions for more neutral and positive descriptions.

So, yes, Frisco or San Fran, as it is sometimes pejoratively called, is pursuing the path of enlightenment and looking at adding crime record-shaming to the ranks of other shamings — fat-shaming, age-shaming, mom-shaming and others.

Under the board’s proposal, which has not yet been endorsed by Mayor London Breed but has the blessings of the district attorney, a felon or offender would be known as a “returning resident” or “formerly incarcerated person.” A parolee would be referred to as a “person under supervision.” A convict would be rechristened a “currently incarcerated person.” A drug addict would become “a person with a history of substance abuse.” And a juvenile offender or delinquent would get a fresh start by being rebranded as a “young person impacted by the justice system.”

We suspect more than a few of those young persons got into that system because they were negatively impacting other good citizens in the city.

Advocates for the proposal say that criminal records dehumanize and stigmatize individuals.

“We don’t want people to be forever labeled for the worst things that they have done,” Supervisor Matt Haney told the San Francisco Chronicle. “We want them ultimately to become contributing citizens, and referring to them as felons is like a scarlet letter that they can never get away from.”

That will likely draw some sympathetic nods. But, then again, perhaps the city should upgrade its definition of crime victims. Maybe something like “people formerly impacted by knife-wielding returning residents with a history of substance abuse issues who were reluctantly involved with the justice system because they were trying to remedy a cash flow problem.”

Now that the board has successfully dealt with the naming problems in its criminal justice system, it can turn its attention to the rampant homelessness that afflicts the city.

Perhaps another round of rebranding would work. They could become “domicile challenged” or “edifice impaired.” Poof, the homelessness problem is cured.

The San Francisco community would be better served if the Board of Supervisors focused on the real and tragic issues of homelessness and criminal justice and finding solutions instead of mincing words.


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