Ten days ago, Mayor London Breed addressed San Francisco’s crime problem. She said something few politicians do.
Crime will be reduced, according to Breed, “when we take the steps to be more aggressive with law enforcement … and less tolerant of all the bullshit [emphasis mine] that has destroyed our city.”
Crime may or may not be rising. Pick your statistics. But San Franciscans’ perception of crime is that of an ever increasing threat. Once again, a great outcry has been sounded against open drug sales and violence in the Tenderloin, also brazen retail-store robberies by organized mobs. This follows a wave of home break-ins with thieves busting garage doors to steal bicycles.
I concur with the mayor. Bullshit plays a significant role in San Francisco’s approach to crime. That said, the issues involving crime are complex and best not reduced to black-and-white thinking. Yet San Franciscans deserve a common-sense and evolving program to reject the “That’s just life in the big city” resignation professed by some in city government.
Many opponents of cracking down on open-air drug selling and other “non-violent” crimes tend to see the issue in terms of race. Keith Humphreys, Esther Ting Memorial Professor, Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, at Stanford, presented another view in last Sunday’s Chronicle. Regarding dismissing efforts to shut down the Tenderloin’s open-air drug market, Humphreys wrote, “This argument could only persuade someone who doesn’t live in the Tenderloin.” Tenderloin residents—many of them families and seniors—have been crying for help.
Complaints abound that police actions against dealers target BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) people. Humphreys counters that the Tenderloin is a low-income, minority-majority neighborhood. “Assigning value to the suffering of BIPOC families in the Tenderloin isn’t racist, ignoring it is.”
A backlash quickly arose against Breed’s intent to place more police on the streets. Opponents cite the futility of arresting drug users, who require treatment, not jail time. They’re right. Former first lady Nancy Reagan’s “Just say no,” doesn’t work for addicts. But getting dealers out of sight can have a positive effect even if drug sales aren’t diminished. According to Humphreys, shutting down open-air drug scenes decreases harm to non-users (like mothers with children have guns pointed at them). Drug use will always exist, but the city is required to “reduce the damage it does.”
San Francisco progressives weigh heavily on the side of lawbreakers, seeing them as victims of racism and poverty. There’s truth to this. But law-abiding residents of San Francisco would like to feel safe in their homes and on the streets. Who speaks for them?
Holding to a belief system that denies the importance of criminals accepting responsibility for their actions regardless of the consequences makes a nuanced approach to crime much more difficult. As George Packer writes in The Atlantic (January-February, 2022) regarding America’s fractured political scene, “The illiberalism of progressives—still no match for the antidemocratic right—consists of an ideology that tolerates little dissent.”
Crime in San Francisco won’t be eliminated overnight. And never totally. Moreover, anti-crime programs can’t be short-term public relations stunts. They require longevity and constant adjustment. Humphreys, Packer and Mayor Breed take a balanced view that gives victims and the general public at least as much consideration as perpetrators.
That’s not bullshit at all.
Merry Christmas to those celebrating this festive—and, yes, religious—holiday. May your stocking offer joy and renewal.
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