SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — The state of San Francisco’s United Nations Plaza was captured on video this week as an angry crowd squared off with police officers who were protecting paramedics. The paramedics had called in police as backup and a person who needed emergency medical care became combative, the San Francisco Police Department told KRON4.
JJ Smith, an anti-drug advocate who frequently interviews the city’s unsheltered residents in drug-plagued neighborhoods, was in the plaza when tensions boiled over on March 6.
Smith’s cellphone recorded a dozen police officers forming a circle around paramedics as they gave medical aid to a patient on a stretcher. The patient was handcuffed. Smith said the scene looked like a “standoff” between the crowd and police.
Smith said, “There was an altercation going on. They kept screaming at everyone to get back.”
The video shows one agitated man in the crowd confronting an officer and a scuffle ensues. The agitated man was eventually handcuffed and escorted to a patrol car by officers.
KRON4 sent the SFPD Smith’s video inquiring about the incident. Police Officer Cristina Cistaro responded, “At approximately 2:44 p.m. officers were called to assist medics who were at United Nations Plaza providing EMS to a non-compliant patient. The patient was also non-compliant with officers and became combative. He was therefore detained in handcuffs as medics tried to continue efforts to render aid. The patient was taken by ambulance to a local hospital.”
Another social media savvy anti-drug advocate, Ricci Wynne, said UN Plaza has been transformed into a “drug bazaar” that’s too dangerous for filming videos at night.
Smith also described the plaza as an open-air drug market with major public safety issues. “It’s getting to the point where people don’t care if (police are) there or not. The board of supervisors and mayor know this is going on, (and) they don’t do anything to close the plaza.”
Smith went to the plaza when it was packed with people at 4 a.m. March 1. The video he recorded shows an eerie scene, which according to Smith, shows fentanyl drug dealers lurking around users.
The city is losing ground — not gaining — in its fight against the fentanyl epidemic, according to Smith. He said, “The city is getting torn down from the beautiful place it used to be.”
Smith is on a first-name basis with many people who live on the streets, including in the Tenderloin and UN Plaza. He said the day he shot the plaza video, he witnessed four body bags being transported away in other parts of the city. He said the victims had all suffered fatal drug overdoses.
Smith told KRON that he records videos, interviews young people suffering from drug addiction, and posts his footage on Twitter, “so the world can know what’s actually taking place in San Francisco. I want politicians to see. Who cares? I have to find somebody that cares.”
The San Francisco Police Department told KRON4, “SFPD has and continues to work with the Mayor’s Offices and various other community stakeholders to improve safety in and around UN Plaza.”
On Tuesday District Attorney Brooke Jenkins and Mayor London Breed held a press conference together in the Tenderloin pledging to improve public safety and prosecute drug dealers. (Watch the full press conference in the video player below.)
“Eradicating drug dealing in San Francisco is my top priority. (SFPD) increased drug dealing arrests, leading to almost 2x as many narcotics cases filed than under the previous DA,” Jenkins wrote.
Smith has lived in the city for decades, and he takes it upon himself to help people suffering in the streets find access to homeless shelters and hospitals. He said, “I was always raised to look out for others. if you can give someone a hand, give them a hand.”