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Don Lemon Tonight
New Study Finds No Evidence Omicron Less Severe Than Delta; Broadway Cancels Shows, Companies Delay Returns Over COVID; Cannabis And Children With Autism; Biden Agenda Stalled Before The Holidays; San Francisco Crime Crackdown. Aired 11p-12a ET
Aired December 17, 2021 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Coronavirus cases spiking across the country as a new study out of the U.K. finds that there is no evidence that the Omicron strain is less severe than the Delta variant.
Plus, President Biden's agenda stalled. Key priorities like his social spending bill, voting rights, and immigration won't make it through the Senate this year. Will Democrats be able to turn things around?
And the mayor of San Francisco declaring a state of emergency to crack down on crime. She is vowing to tackle what she calls the B.S. destroying the city. San Francisco's chief of police is here to respond.
I want to turn straight, though, to CNN's Kyung Lah for the very latest on the dramatic spike in COVID cases across the country.
KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): America's COVID time warp: long testing and vaccination lines in Miami and familiar fears of exposure.
UNKNOWN: He doesn't live in my house but I'm so scared, so I decided to make an appointment to get tested just for, you know, just in case.
LAH (voice-over): In New York City, the positivity rate has doubled in just four days. The city health advisor tweeted, "we've never seen this before in NYC."
LAH (voice-over): A return to holiday tradition is halted once again. Radio City Music Hall announced its Christmas spectacular shows are cancelled for the rest of the season due to increasing challenges from the pandemic. And pharmacies, store shelves for rapid tests sit empty, all echoes of the past. People here waiting more than an hour to be tested as Omicron reveals its rapid spread.
UNKNOWN: This is after coming yesterday twice and then not being able to get tested here.
MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO, MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK: This is a whole new animal and we got to be honest about the fact that it's moving very fast and we have to move faster.
LAH (voice-over): The past is prologue as New York's mayor redoubles restrictions and considers scaling back the Time Square's new year eve celebration.
A visible return of sports restrictions. Hockey in Montreal played to empty stands. The NHL shut down two teams because of COVID spread and the NFL postponed three games this weekend.
Overall, deaths are increasing nearly half of U.S. states up sharply in seven. That's an increase of eight percent from just last week.
MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASE RESEARCH AND POLICY, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA: I think we're really just about to experience a viral blizzard. If you look at what has happened in South Africa, you look at what is happening in Europe, I think in the next three to eight weeks, we're going to see millions of Americans are going to be infected with this virus.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We are looking at a winter of severe illness and death for unvaccinated.
LAH (voice-over): As with previous surges, the unvaccinated are filling hospitals as worried doctors warn they are exhausted and losing staff.
SHELLEY STANKO, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, SAINT JOSEPH HOSPITAL: The reality is you can't -- you can't just create humans in order to provide that care and, you know, staffing is a challenge everywhere.
LAH (voice-over): What makes this winter different while Omicron may be highly, highly transmissible, vaccinations, especially boosters can protect you from serious illness. But in a setback to parents of 2 to 5-year-olds, Pfizer said two doses of its vaccine did not produce enough immunity, saying they are now testing out three child-sized doses, a delay until the second quarter of next year.
ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISOR TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You want to really get the right dose and the right regimen for the children. So, although you don't like it to be a delay, you want to get it right, and that's what they're talking about.
LAH (voice-over): Kyung Lah, CNN, Los Angeles.
LEMON (on camera): All right. Kyung, thank you very much for that. I appreciate it.
I want to bring in now Dr. Jonathan Reiner. He is a CNN medical analyst. Doctor, good evening to you. This new study out of the U.K. finds that there is no evidence that the Omicron variant is less severe than Delta, but, I mean, we know it's much more transmissible. How worried are you tonight? What do you think of this U.K. study?
JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I don't know what to think of it because the U.K. study did not have a lot of data on hospitalizations.
So, the -- you know, absence of evidence is not the same as the evidence of absence. And in fact, a pretty in-depth, detailed study out of South Africa today did suggest that at least in the South African experience, the severity of illness is less, less severe. I think they documented about 1.7 percent hospitalization rate, which was lower than in their prior surges.
So, it's really too soon to know. One study suggests that it's less virulent. Anecdotal experiences show that. Imperial College study, you know, doesn't really show that. We will have to see. We have to see what happens in the United States.
LEMON: Okay. So, then, what does this mean in practical terms for people, doctor? Are they protected if they're wearing a mask? What type of exposure? How long of exposure to Omicron does it take to get this virus?
REINER: So, first of all, even if this is less virulent than earlier strains, if we have a point where we're seeing half a million cases a day or more, we are going to swamp our hospitals. Even with a relatively low rate of hospitalization, when you have that kind of denominator, our hospitals will be completely underwater as they are in some parts of the country now like Western Michigan.
What we know works is masking with a good mask. It's no longer really effective to wear a cloth mask. So, get rid of your cloth mask. Get yourself either KN95 or an N95 mask and wear that in crowded situations, wear that indoors.
We have now really, I think, emerging data set that suggests that people who are boosted are very well protected against both illness and even better protected against severe illness. So, if you are triply-dosed or doubly-dosed, if you had the J&J vaccine, you're in pretty good shape in terms of being protected against severe illness.
Test yourself. Have tests at home. If you want to meet with friends and family, test yourself before you go. Have them test before you meet. That increases your level of safety.
All the things that we learned from the first several waves in the first two years of this odyssey still are in place: socially distancing, wearing masks, and being fully vaccinated.
And as one of your earlier guests mentioned, you're no longer fully vaccinated if you're not boosted. I want the CDC to say that because we know with certainty with Omicron, two doses just don't cut it.
LEMON: I want to ask you because, listen, the issue that we dealt with during the height of COVID, right, before the vaccine -- the hospitals, you know, medical facilities were overwhelmed. We're also hearing that Ohio Governor DeWine is mobilizing 1,050 National Guard members to assist hospital workers across his state. Are we about to see hospitals get overrun again?
REINER: This is the problem. Before the pandemic, hospitals were short on really skilled nurses. And then the pandemic hit. And we lost some nurses because, you know, there is only so much some people can take. When you're working in literally a battle zone where your patients are dying every day, a lot of people have left the profession. And we can't run hospitals without nurses. When hospitals became short on staff, other hospitals started a bidding war.
So, a skilled nurse now in the United States, a critical care nurse for instance, someone who works in an ICU, can go to a place like Ohio or Michigan or maybe in Rhode Island now and get paid between five and $10,000 a week. And they're worth every penny of that. They are worth every penny of that. But that sucks staff out of other hospitals.
So, all over the United States, ERs for instance, are filled with ICU patients who don't have a bed in the intensive care units because -- not because there are no beds, but because there are no nurses. Now, layer on top of that baseline, a surge in people being admitted with COVID and it's a prescription for disaster.
And what the public needs to do now is lock arms and rally behind our health care professionals, protect our hospitals. And the way to do that is to mask up, vax up, and boost up. Otherwise, if you have a heart attack or you have a stroke, your hospital isn't going to be able to help you.
This is a real problem in this country. And the public needs to understand that if cases sore, even if a lot of them are mild, our hospitals are not going to be able to handle this.
LEMON: Dr. Reiner, hope they're paying attention to you. Thank you, sir.
REINER: Have a good night, Don.
LEMON: As Kyung Lah mentioned at the top of the show, the Christmas spectacular starring the Radio City Rockettes cancelled for the rest of the season due to the spike of COVID cases. Multiple Broadway theaters also shutting down as New York State reports more than 21,000 new COVID cases in just the past 24 hours. Sadly, that is a new pandemic record.
Joining me now is Charlotte St. Martin. She is the president of the Broadway League, which represents all of Broadway and commercial theater in the U.S. and around the world. That's a pretty big job. I'm so glad that you're here to talk about this, Charlotte. Thank you so much.
We want to put up a list on the screen that shows who is cancelled this week, including Hamilton and Moulin Rouge. Some shows are still on. But realistically, do you expect to see more closures ahead during these key -- these key holiday weeks?
CHARLOTTE ST. MARTIN, PRESIDENT, THE BROADWAY LEAGUE: Well, we still have 25 shows that are performing. As tonight, seven shows are not. But, every day, the number is different. For example, yesterday, we had several shows that missed one performance and are back up today.
So, we think that things will continue to change daily, but we believe that enough shows -- a lot of shows that are Tony award-winning shows are playing. And so, Broadway is open and we plan to keep it open.
LEMON: So, what is -- listen, I think everyone wants Broadway to be open, right? We love our Broadway here and people love it around the world.
ST. MARTIN: Right.
LEMON: But what is going to be the breaking point, Charlotte? Do you think Broadway could shut down again?
ST. MARTIN: I really don't unless there is something we don't know, and I don't have a crystal ball. And we certainly have three epidemiologists that we work with that are giving us information on a daily or every other day basis if things changed.
But we've been very serious from the day we opened because we said from day one that we -- our number one priority is to keep our casts, crew and theater-goers safe. We have toughest protocols in the business. I think it is why we have been able to be open for four months and not have to have shutdowns.
The little Omicron variant is certainly not a pleasant visitor to Broadway, but at the end of the day, we still have quite a few shows open and running and very happy audiences.
LEMON: Listen, I know you said that Broadway protocols are the gold standard, but are there conditions that you can't change that up the risk here?
ST. MARTIN: I'm not aware of them. We would not have opened had we thought there were things we should be doing that we weren't doing. We have the best advising us. So, at this point, based on what we know, we don't believe we're putting people at risk.
We believe the protocols are working, which is why these shows are not open tonight because, for example, several times this week, several cast members tested positive. But they were false positives. So, they were literally able to go on that evening because several of those things happened at the Wednesday matinees. So, we believe that the protocols while strong are what are keeping us open.
LEMON: You said they're gold standard. So, if they are, what should people be thinking about when going to concerts or even school performances going into holidays across -- all across the country?
ST. MARTIN: Well, they absolutely have to wear their masks. And many people are tired of wearing masks, but we absolutely enforce it and remind everybody all evening. If anyone tries to slip that mask off, someone walks around and says, put it on. So, wear your mask. Of course, we require vaccinations before you can even walk in the door.
So, we believe that those things, plus the things that we are working inside the theater is what is working. But, of course, people are out and about and being exposed and that's why we had a few breakthrough cases, because all of our cast and crew are vaccinated and they wear masks if they're not performing on stage.
LEMON: You know, we were here in New York and we got the double whammy, the NBA and the Broadway. We were, like, oh, my gosh. And then now we are hearing the shows are shutting down. Not all of them, right, but a couple of them. It felt like deja vu. Probably was closed for more than 18 months during this pandemic. We don't -- you know, we don't know how long these performances will ultimately be suspended now. How costly are these cancellations, Charlotte?
ST. MARTIN: They're very costly. We have the best theatrical employees in the world but they're the most expensive. So, it isn't healthy for the economics of the show.
ST. MARTIN: But Broadway is symbolic of New York and vice versa. So, we absolutely need to keep Broadway open as long as we can keep it open safely. I don't think a show can be closed for a month without changes but we're not having those kinds of discussions at this point.
LEMON: Charlotte St. Martin, thank you so much. I appreciate your time.
ST. MARTIN: Thank you.
LEMON: So, what can we do to protect ourselves and our loved ones as the Omicron variant spreads? CNN's chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is here to weigh in. Sanjay?
SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Don, I mean, I know people have heard this over and over again, but getting vaccinated and getting boosted is going to be one of the most important tools right now.
Let me just show you, Don. When we talk about hospitalizations overall with COVID patients, we know they're going up. But look at what was already happening even up until October with the difference between the unvaccinated and the vaccinated. It is very clear that if you look at COVID patients in the hospital, the vast majority of them are unvaccinated. So, that is going to make the biggest difference.
People who are vaccinated, they should feel much more comfortable, especially if they're boosted in terms of not getting sick. The problem is when hospitals start to become overwhelmed, even if you're not going to the hospital for COVID, if you're going in for a car accident or something like that, Don, it may be harder and harder to find beds and to get that kind of care. So, elective cases get cancelled, hospitals go on diversion.
That is why it is so important to bring the numbers down right now and vaccines are a big part of that. But also, other things as well. You know, testing, we still aren't doing nearly enough testing. The goal was at one point to be doing, you know, tens of millions of tests a month, and we're still not anywhere near that.
Masks, you know, if you're going into places where you are indoors and there is a lot of people around and you don't know their vaccination status especially, masks can be really effective.
I will say that, you know, there was not a lot of discussion as much about the types of masks earlier on. Don. These types of high filtration, N95 and KN95 masks, you can find now. They're actually not that uncomfortable to wear. And look, if you're going to wear a mask, wear a good mask. These are the highest filtration masks.
Here is something else, Don, that we do. This is a CO2 monitor, carbon dioxide monitor, sort of a poor man's assessment of ventilation. More people in a room breathing out carbon dioxide, you'll quickly get an assessment of how good the ventilation is. If it's not good, you may open doors. People out of a certain space to try to decrease the carbon dioxide decrease the likelihood you're breathing in someone else's air.
These are the basic things, Don. I mean, we've been talking about them for some time. The thing that we didn't have a year ago was the vaccines. So, hopefully, people take advantage of it.
Also, Don, if I can, I just wanted to spend a minute telling you about this documentary we got coming out Sunday night. It's all about the use of cannabis and treating children with severe autism.
I've been reporting on medical cannabis for 10 years now. Many researchers have been coming to me saying, here is what we're doing, here is the results, and such was the case with autism. Fourteen states now permit the use of cannabis to treat severe autism.
There is science that is emerging from places like Israel, New York, California. We met with some of these families. We saw what their lives were like. We talked to the researchers. Listen to what we found out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNKNOWN: We're seeing some pretty impressive changes.
GUPTA: When you say seeing some impressive changes, what do you mean?
UNKNOWN: Children whose aggressive behavior was daily and it has gone away. I mean, gone away.
UNKNOWN: A lot of the kids are more social.
GUPTA: So, who do we got?
UNKNOWN: A (INAUDIBLE).
GUPTA: Yeah. What's the purple one?
UNKNOWN: He's easier to redirect. I can work -- I can kind of like suggest, like, hey, can we do this or we do this? He will go okay or yes, ma'am or okie dokie.
GUPTA: Ezra (ph) is more patient, not hitting, not excitable.
UNKNOWN: We have to share, okay?
GUPTA: Able to attend school.
UNKNOWN: Ez, what are you making now?
UNKNOWN: Come here.
GUPTA: And at home, he's doing things Joanne (ph) never dreamed possible like cooking and singing.
GUPTA: So, what -- what is -- what is going through your mind at this point?
UNKNOWN: I'm getting my baby back. I'm getting my boy back.
We can set up the dinosaurs and --
GUPTA: But, you know, as we were talking, there were something still nagging at me.
Do you ever think that your expectations are influencing how you think he's doing?
UNKNOWN: Yes and no. I don't know how he started changing. I don't know how he started communicating. I don't know how he started to be reasonable and how he stopped being aggressive.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GUPTA (on camera): Don, what I was really driving at there with her was this idea that, you know, you have to worry about suggestibility, you have to worry about families who -- you know, they want to believe this is going to work. And that's why these trials are conducted. Blinded, randomized trials to try and get some really good data. Reemphasize that many of these families did try other things, but then evolved into using cannabis. And no one is saying that this is a cure, not by any means. But the idea that life can be so challenging both for the child and for the family and this may potentially, potentially offer some relief is what this film, this documentary film is all about.
So, Don, I hope you get a chance to watch it. Everyone else, hope you get to watch as well.
LEMON (on camera): We'll definitely be watching. Thank you, Sanjay. I really appreciate that. Make sure you tune in Sunday at 8:00 p.m. for the new CNN Special Report, "Weed 6: Marijuana and Autism." It begins at 8:00.
Next, agenda totally stalled. Can Democrats come back from the holidays with momentum to get their priorities passed? I'm going to ask Congressman Ro Khanna -- there he is -- right after the break.
LEMON: There is no other way of putting it. There is growing frustration and disappointment among Democrats. Key parts of the president's agenda from "build back better" to voting rights stalled in the Senate. So, what can Democrats do to get their momentum back, right, to get their mojo back?
Joining me now, Congressman Ro Khanna, a member of the Progressive Caucus. Good evening, sir. Thanks for joining.
REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): Good evening, Don. Always good to be on.
LEMON: So, congressman, there is a lot of frustration in your party right now. You say that the House acted in good faith when passing the infrastructure bill because it was promised that the Senate would pass "build back better" in return. Do progressives feel like they've been had, they were hung out to dry?
KHANNA: Progressives feel that the Senate needs to live up to its commitment. I mean, the president (INAUDIBLE), and he said, I have the votes, I have the votes on the framework, and I presume that the senators gave him that commitment. So, it is time to vote and it's time for the president to say, I need you to live up to the commitment you made to me, to the American people and the Democratic Party.
LEMON: So, who do you blame? Are you blaming the president or you're blaming the Senate? Who are you blaming?
KHANNA: I'm not blaming anyone. I'm just saying, let' have the vote. I think I'm -- I think this going on and on and on is not helping anyone. I mean, the American people need help. We need to lower prescription drug prices, we need to lower child care, we need to lower the cost of elder care. That's all in the bill. We need climate provisions. Let's have a vote.
I don't think if you put it up, Don, for a vote, that a senator is actually going to go and vote against the president if this president says he had the commitment, this is what he wants, this is his framework.
LEMON: You don't think Senator Joe Manchin -- you don't think Joe Manchin and -- look, because you've been really patient with senators like Manchin. Mitch McConnell even saying that he's suggested for years that Manchin should switch party. I mean, has a time come for him to get out of the way and do what so many Democrats are pushing for?
KHANNA: No, I don't think he should be switching party. Look, Don, we passed $1.9 trillion of the American rescue plan this year. That was a big deal. We passed the child tax credit this year. That was a big deal. We passed the infrastructure deal. That was a big deal. Any of these achievements will be big things for the first term. And Senator Manchin was part of all of that.
I respect Senator Manchin's disagreements. I respect his advocacy. My sense was that the president had a compromise, progressives compromise. We were, as you know, at $3.5 trillion. We lost a lot of our priorities like free community college, dental, vision, hearing. We compromised. Senator Manchin compromised as well. That was the framework. Let's get that framework passed.
LEMON: So, you actually think that Senator Manchin would vote for it if they put a vote on the floor -- to the floor?
KHANNA: I think if the president addressed the American people or if he came on your show and he said, this is my bill, this was the compromise, I had the commitment from 50 senators when I went to the House and anyone who votes against this is voting against my agenda, voting against the commitments they made to me, I think there is a good chance.
Can I guarantee it? No. But I think the president needs to lead. He's been very, very patient. He's been very solicited of opinions, but he had a commitment and a deal, and it's time to have a vote.
LEMON: I hope he's listening or his representatives because we'd love to have him on the show to do just that.
LEMON (on camera): The invitation is always there. So, congressman, the president is speaking about the need to pass voting rights legislation. Here he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: We supported Democrats fighting for the voting rights bill since day one of our administration, making sure that we have a unanimous support among Democrats in the Senate, which we do. But each and every time it's brought up, that other team blocks the ability even to start to discuss it. That other team what used to be called the Republican Party.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON (on camera): So, he's obviously blaming Republicans there. He has a point. But the real obstacle here is the filibuster and Manchin and Sinema aren't budging. Do they realize what is at stake?
KHANNA: This has to be the top issue, Don. I don't understand how any person in the House or Senate, especially Democrats, can say we're okay with Black people not having the same right to vote. We're okay in 2021 with kicking people off the rolls. This is our moment, just like the civil rights movement had their moment. This is our moment.
KHANNA: And this president ought to say we are going to have a vote and let's see where people are. Are people really going to stand up for a filibuster and block voting rights? Let them not just get spokesperson and have press releases. Let them vote that way on the floor.
I think it's time to hold people accountable and let's start having votes on this. Let's have votes again and again and have people vote against empowering every American and stand in the way of equal rights. I just don't think when you have that vote, people are going to want it to be recorded that way for history.
LEMON (on camera): Listen, I've been saying for a long time since this whole idea with the new administration about bipartisanship, bipartisanship. You hear that so much. I have said that bipartisanship for the sake of bipartisanship only was empty.
Senator Warnock giving a very poignant reminder of the importance of voting rights this week. Listen to this message.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RAPHAEL WARNOCK (D-GA): Here is the thing we must remember. Slavery was bipartisan. Jim Crow segregation was bipartisan. When colleagues in this chamber talk to me about bipartisanship, which I believe in, I just have to ask, at whose expense?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON (on camera): So, he talked about a lot of issues there, even talked about LGBTQ rights, telling gay people that they didn't have the right to be married. That was bipartisan as well. There are many examples of that, including women's rights throughout history. Are some senators putting the idea of compromise over what is right?
KHANNA: That was an extremely eloquent statement by Senator Warnock, and I think what he's saying is there are some principles higher than bipartisanship, and that is justice. That's in the preamble of our Constitution. And I don't think that anyone ought to compromise or seek to reach across the aisle when it comes to those first principles. That's just wrong.
And that first principle, let's be very clear, that first principle is that every person in this country ought to have a right to vote, that you shouldn't have some communities, communities of color, be denied that right because you have lesser polling places or you're kicking people off the polls.
I mean, John Lewis, who I had the honor of serving for, was beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge to fight for that. We're not being asked to do what John Lewis did. We're not being asked to do what Whip Clyburn did and being in jail. All we have to do is vote.
LEMON: Congressman, I understand what you're saying. Listen, I understand that. But the real crux of that is, what is more important? Is it more important to stick to something that is not helping America? Is it more important for this whole idea, as I said, of just bipartisanship because it sounds good? Because it is somehow virtue signaling? Or is it more important that the sacred right to vote be granted to all Americans equally and equitably?
That is the crux of this question. That sounds oh, bipartisanship. What does that actually mean? Isn't it more important to say --
KHANNA: That's right, Don.
LEMON: -- people should have the right to vote in this country? It should be free, it should be fair, as many people as possible should have the right to vote, and should be as easy to vote as possible for every person who is eligible to vote.
KHANNA: Don, I agree completely, and I agree that that principle (INAUDIBLE) bipartisanship. We have to do that without a single Republican vote. Let's do that. That's principle of first justice and equality. And that is something we should do. And it's much more important than just say, let's have bipartisanship.
LEMON: Thank you, congressman. I appreciate it. Happy holidays to you. Be well. Thank you.
KHANNA: Happy holidays to you. Thanks for having me on.
LEMON: So, there is no longer a tolerant -- she is no longer, I should say, tolerant of the -- quote -- "B.S.," she says, is destroying San Francisco. And Mayor London Breed is launching an emergency intervention. I'm going to speak with the city's chief of police about the crime crackdown. That's next.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) LEMON: The mayor of San Francisco declaring a state of emergency today in one of the city's most crime-infested neighborhoods. It is an unusual move for such a liberal city, but London Breed has been making the case all week for cracking down on crime. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR LONDON BREED, SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA: It's time that the reign of criminals who are destroying our city, it is time for it to come to an end. And it comes to an end when we take the steps to be more aggressive with law enforcement, more aggressive with the changes in our policies, and less tolerant of all the bullshit that has destroyed our city.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON (on camera): So, joining me now, San Francisco Police Chief William Scott. Chief Scott, thank you so much. Appreciate you joining us.
WILLIAM "BILL" SCOTT, POLICE CHIEF, SAN FRANCISCO POLICE DEPARTMENT: Thank you for having me.
LEMON: The mayor is declaring a state of emergency in the tenderloin area of your city and saying that there will be less tolerance for what she calls the B.S. destroying your city. Is this the right move?
SCOTT: Yes, it is absolutely the right move. I mean, we have a lot of challenges in our city. It is a great city, but we do have challenges. For people officers and people in the profession of protecting and serving the public, you know, we want to be able to do our jobs, and not that we couldn't do it before, but you need support, you need funding, and you need an infrastructure to actually do the job the way the public here is demanding us to do it.
SCOTT: I think this is a huge step toward making things a little bit easier for officers to get out and do the enforcement that they've been asked to do and not so much have to worry about the social side, the social work side of this because we are really enhancing that part of it, so our officers have options to get people help.
And those people that just are insisting on using drugs in the street and some of the things that we see in the city, those folks, they will be arrested. They will be cited. They will be arrested and we'll give people options. But we have to be consistent of upholding the law, and that's really difficult to do when you're asked to do too many things and a lot of those things really district from our core function.
LEMON: Okay. I just want to key in something that you said. You said we have to be consistent. I want to know what that means. You said we're trying to do too many things. First, what do you mean you have to be more consistent with what?
SCOTT: Well, we have to be more consistent with people understanding that we will not tolerate people using openly drugs on the street. You know, we have drug dealers that have either lived here or come here and there is so much of a demand for it. We have to crack down on it all. We've arrested almost 500 drug dealers just in that area this year.
So, it is not that arrests aren't being made on that side, but we've been more tolerant than we need to be on the other side. People who are using drugs on our streets, you know, the laws changed a few years back here in California, but we have to uphold the law and use every tool at our disposal and be consistent.
When people are using drugs in our streets and come here to buy drugs, we need to deal with them as well from a criminal justice perspective when all other social services fail. And we're going to give them the opportunity to have the social services. But we're going to be more consistent on making those arrests and not allowing people to use drugs on our streets because that's driving a lot of what we are seeing, the behavior, the overdoses, the deaths. We have to stop that.
LEMON: You're talking about beyond marijuana. Are you including marijuana in it?
SCOTT: No, I'm talking about beyond marijuana. We have --
SCOTT: -- a fentanyl crisis in this city beyond belief.
LEMON: What do you mean you're trying to do too many things?
SCOTT: Well, over the years, I believe law enforcement and police officers have been asked, particularly major cities, this is the second major city I've worked for, we've been asked to do many things that go beyond really the core functions.
And look, we have to get people to a better place. People call 911 or 311 and we have to respond and help them. But we also have to bring the social services in so the officers aren't doing that side of the equation as much as we've been asked to do.
And, you know, this city has a lot of services, and I think we are committed to doing a better job to bringing all of this together. So, our officers can do really our core function and that's stopping crime, stopping violent crime, stopping open air drug use and sales. We've been pushed beyond that. We've been asked to address the unhoused crisis in our city in a way that goes beyond what we're trained to do and what we should be doing.
So, I think this is music to my ears and many of our officers, most of our officers. This is welcome thing.
LEMON: And probably many residents as well. I'm enjoying this conversation and your candor. I want to keep you for another segment. Will you hang with us through the break, chief?
SCOTT: Absolutely. Thank you.
LEMON: We'll be right back.
LEMON: So, back with me now, San Francisco Police Chief William Scott. So chief, I've got to ask you this. So, Mayor Breed pushed for cuts to police budgets after George Floyd. You have a progressive prosecutor who ran on promises to not prosecute prostitution, drug use and dealing. Aren't those the things that are keeping you from -- as a mayor saying cutting out the B.S. that's destroying your city?
SCOTT: Well, those things definitely don't make things easier. But as far as cutting our budget, our budget -- I've been -- this is going into my sixth year here as a police chief. And every year, we're fighting for budgets. It's not one thing as the other. So, that's nothing new.
The mayor declaring that the cuts this year will go to aid the African American community was just the focus of what was needed at that time. We have the same discussion every year, just a different issue. So, as far as prosecution and all that, the thing from the police department, our officers and our department, we need to be consistent in terms of what we do.
And what I try to do, Don, as the chef of police here, is keep us focused on what we need to do. People are asking for help. They don't want to see this behavior in their neighborhood. We should do our job the best we can, give the prosecutors the best cases that we can give them and do that consistently.
We really can't worry about the things outside of our control and we can't make excuses. We just have to do our jobs the best we can and stay focused on that. I think what I've seen from the public here, when we do that, we're okay with people.
The rest of the stuff, you know, that needs to be addressed with the people that are in charge for those issues. But for us, we want to make sure we do our jobs and we have to do that consistently. You know, we've had challenges and we have to step up some of our game, if you will, and we need to be consistent in doing that.
LEMON: I know our officers will do it. They've asked for the infrastructure that the mayor will make happen in this declaration, and that is going to help us, that is going to enhance our ability to really get to the other part of this, the criminal part of this, because we'll have now a place to get people help.
LEMON: Chief, I appreciate it. And I won't be here next week, so I won't see you. So, merry Christmas. Happy holidays to you.
SCOTT: Thank you. You as well, Don. You and your family, merry Christmas. Happy holidays. And thank you for having me.
LEMON: Absolutely. We'll be right back.
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