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Police Line-up

Fear and Trembling
— Frisco Style

The Truth about Crime in San Francisco

Julia Pitta
Julie Pitta

•••••••••• May 12, 2023 ••••••••••

The shock waves were felt across the City: A tech executive was stabbed to death in the wee hours of a Tuesday morning. Even in the Richmond District, a quiet corner of town, residents were abuzz with the tragic news. An online news site, bankrolled by a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, asked a question on some minds: “Bob Lee Killing: A Tipping Point in a City Fed Up With Crime?”

In the hours and days after Bob Lee’s murder, those in the tech community, conservative political circles — or both — rushed to judgment. Lee’s death was inevitable, they said, in a City where crime was rampant under progressive leadership. No matter that a progressive, has not held the City’s highest office since Art Agnos stepped down more than 30 years ago.

Some laid the blame for Lee’s murder on the unhoused, finding in the most vulnerable a convenient scapegoat. Again, the facts don’t fit the narrative: Homeless people are more often the victims rather than the perpetrators of crime.

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Certainly, San Francisco has experienced a spike in property crime, no surprise in a city that has one of the highest rates of wealth disparity in the country.”

Nine days later, a suspect, a 38-year-old Emeryville man, was arrested. Nima Momeni, like Lee, is a tech executive and the two, according to law enforcement officials, were well-acquainted. Those who used Lee’s murder as evidence of San Francisco’s descent into chaos were suddenly quiet. The truth, it turned out, was far different than they would have you believe.

According to the San Francisco Police Department’s own statistics, City residents have rarely been safer. Violent crime, law enforcement’s standard measure for public safety, is at an historic low. Certainly, San Francisco has experienced a spike in property crime, no surprise in a city that has one of the highest rates of wealth disparity in the country.

Regardless of the facts, San Franciscans feel unsafe. The blame rests with the very same people who peddled the story of a deranged homeless killer on the loose. They’ve been ably assisted by the local and national press, who’ve taken great relish in portraying San Francisco as a crime-ridden dystopia.

Their objective is political. Groups like GrowSF and TogetherSF Action, richly funded by tech venture capitalists, have used scare tactics to alter San Francisco’s political landscape. Their first target was progressive District Attorney Chesa Boudin. Boudin proposed a different route to public safety, one that offered rehabilitation as an alternative to incarceration. San Franciscans will never know whether the former DA’s policies would have worked since he was removed a little more than two years after taking office in a recall campaign funded, in large part, by Republican billionaires.

Emboldened by Boudin’s recall, they then targeted progressive office holders like Supervisor Gordon Mar in District 4, bankrolling his challenger Joel Engardio, a candidate who promised a swift return to “law-and-order.” Engardio was among the first to pounce on Lee’s murder, appearing on a tabloid TV program to stoke fears about public safety, a tasteless attempt to exploit a man’s death for political points.

Mayor London Breed, the primary beneficiary of these scare tactics, now wants them to stop. Crime fears will do little to return San Franciscans to a downtown hard hit by the pandemic. Breed, it must be noted, used fear to consolidate power. She declared a poorly executed state-of-emergency in the Tenderloin, installed a hardline prosecutor Brooke Jenkins as Boudin’s successor, and saw that allies like Engardio and former SFPD public relations chief Matt Dorsey were elected to the Board of Supervisors.

With fears about public safety soaring, Breed’s pushed through more funding for police with little evidence that more money will make for a more effective SFPD. San Francisco has the highest number of officers per capita of any California city. It has one of the lowest arrest rates in the country.

There are signs that San Franciscans have had enough. Police Commissioner Kevin Benedicto spoke for many when he said, “It’s premature and distasteful to try to fit this horrifying act of violence into a preconceived narrative and use it to advance a political agenda.”

The San Francisco Standard, bankrolled by billionaire venture capitalist Michael Moritz, is correct in one sense: Bob Lee’s murder is a “tipping point.” It will be remembered as the moment when smart San Franciscans rejected a false — and damaging — narrative about the City they love.

Julie Pitta is a former staff writer for the Los Angeles Times and senior editor at Forbes Magazine. She is a neighborhood activist and an officer of the San Francisco Berniecrats. You may reach her at julie.pitta@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @juliepitta

May 12, 2023

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