01 November 2006

If You Come To San Francisco...

The groovy little city of love is in a tiz over last night's Halloween shootings in the Castro. And, judging from these comments on the San Francisco Chronicle's website, it's also deep in denial. At least half of the respondents were banging on about the problem being "outsiders," "East Bay trash, "bridge and tunnel people" and the like. Their solution to the violence that has plagued the Castro's Halloween party for years was "ban people who aren't from San Francisco."

Because, of course, anyone dwelling within the 49 square miles enclosing God's crown of creation, that jewel-like city that is a model to the world of civility, sophistication, and racial and cultural harmony, is pretty much incapable of being mildly unpleasant, let alone robbing, assaulting, or randomly shooting down people in the streets. Ergo, all of last night's unpleasantness, of which there was plenty, had to have been the fault of loathsome out-of-towners.

I lived in or near the Castro for a few years during the 70s, but the last time I attended one of these Halloween shindigs was 1983, when a gang of about 50 teenagers came swarming through the crowd attacking and robbing people. They seemed to have come from the projects on Lower Haight Street, and that's definitely where they headed when they made their retreat. They were also, without exception, black, as were those being blamed for last night's fiasco. But this being San Francisco, you're not really supposed to point that out, hence the resorting to code words like "East Bay trash." Apparently the flustered Frisco-ites are under the misapprehension that there are no longer any black people in their city, that they have all moved to Richmond or Oakland. One suspects that some of those doing the loudest bleating have not left the Castro in the past decade and may be assuming that the entire city of San Francisco is, like their own neighborhood, composed of white, upper middle class gay men with large disposable incomes.

A few more astute observers pointed out - as, ahem, I've been doing for years - that last night's events were not an aberration, that San Francisco has been growing steadily more violent and unpleasant for a long time now. This quickly drew the following rebuttal:
Are you joking? This city is the safest big city in the country (possibly 2nd to NYC). Statistics are meaningless. 99% of the "shootings" you see reported are gangsters shooting each other. You have a next to zero chance of being a victim of crime in SF with two exceptions: 1) Bike and car theft, which is appallingly problematic and 2) During a bridge and tunnel event such as halloween in the Castro - mark my words - it is not SF residents who caused this problem.
Since, as this person assures us, "statistics are meaningless," I suppose we're left with no choice but to accept his assertion that San Francisco is "the safest big city in the country." Whether it's even fair to consider little Frisco, which is considerably smaller than San Jose, a "big city" is a question I'll leave open for now, but let's just, for the sake of argument, suppose statistics aren't "meaningless. In that case, according to last week's Morgan Quitno report, the safest "big city" in the country actually is San Jose. Frisco's not even in the running; in fact of all 371 cities measured, it comes in at a dismal #270, which puts it nearly twice as dangerous as New York, at #145.

San Franciscans can still console themselves with the notion that they're not as bad as Oakland (#364) or Richmond (#361), both of which are wallowing pretty near the bottom of the barrel in the murder-and-mayhem sweepstakes. Berkeley, sandwiched in between the crime capitals, comes in at #226, which might not look so bad until you consider that it's a podunk college town of barely 100,000, yet is saddled with a much higher crime rate than 8 million-strong New York City.

Bay Area liberals don't like to talk about this stuff, not only because it calls into serious question their caring, sharing social policies which over the past 40 years or so have produced a steadily declining quality of life and a huge rise in violent crime, but also because any honest discussion soon has to spill over into the explosive realm of racial politics. It's difficult to point it out without being branded as a bigot and reactionary, but the Bay Area's current crime problem - especially the soaring murder rate - is largely a black problem. But even that's not quite accurate; more precisely, it's a problem with young black men. Eliminate violent crimes committed by African-American men aged 15-35 (more or less), and the Bay Area's crime rate would more closely resemble South Dakota's.

I'm not that comfortable pointing this out myself, not because I'm afraid of being called a racist (it wouldn't be the first time), but because this past year or so I've found myself spending a good deal more of my time with black people, nearly all of whom have been wonderful, warm, funny and insightful companions. Most of them, of course, have not been part of the young male demographic responsible for so much violent crime, but they have in many cases been their parents or grandparents. And in my volunteer work last summer, I did come in contact with many ex-cons and street people who freely admitted to having committed murders, muggings and rapes when they were out on the streets.

Even this latter group, taken as individuals, could be great guys, often capable of inspiring me with the courage and tenacity they'd shown in surviving lives harsher than most of us can imagine. But this was in a hospital setting, where they were free - often for the first time in years - from drugs and booze. I'm not so sure I'd want to encounter some of them on the streets wired up on crack or crank again.

The more I deal with black people on an individual basis, the harder it is to think in terms of a "black problem," even if I'm just referring to a specific subset of young black males. But it would be naive in the extreme to pretend that such a thing doesn't exist, and even more naive to keep on acting as though current social policies weren't completely bankrupt. If it's awkward for me as white male to say such things, let's hear from a black female, also posting on the Chronicle blog:
As a Black woman, I am tired, discouraged and outraged at the behavior that accompanies the appearance of these shameful, disrespectful and DANGEROUS hoodlums. Alternate event, you betcha. Respect?? Why should I have even a modicum of respect for people who can't even respect themselves? Please. Stop it with the liberal bleeding heart PC, boo hoo hoo, poor poor black people. Can we at least be real here? You want so badly for everything to be equal and non-racist that you can't even see that your refusal to identify the problem perpetuates it. We all know what that headline said even when it didn't. And yeah, I am black and proud, but not of the baggy pants, cap wearing, gun toting silly dangerous fools. Them, you can keep them. Preferably in a cell with no chance for parole.
I don't have anything to add to that, so I think I'll shut up and leave it there.


roundtwentysix said...

Thanks. I read the whole thing.

Lefty said...

but you didn't touch on another element of our denial -- in my district (which includes the castro, noe valley, glen park)a burning man progressive is running against our incumbant, partially fueling her campaign on charges that he is part of a group "trying to eliminate the uniqueness of our city." included in his efforts, she says, is his role in limiting the scope of the castro party. because this is still the same safe, loveable and eccentric party that it was in 1978, right? and haight street is still full of groovy, harmless flower children. and gavin newsom is an evil republican. and chris daly is a man of the people. and the white liberal arts majors continue to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.

Larry Livermore said...

You must be referring to Alix Rosenthal, who's got to be neck-and-neck with John Kerry for this week's Political Foot In Mouth Award. Glib creature that she is, however, I expect her to do a considerably better job at spinning things her way than Mr. 57 Varieties has thus far managed.

Interesting, though, that Ms. Rosenthal has managed to become such an expert on how the Castro is "supposed" to be when she's only just arrived there. Well, relatively speaking; having arrived in the City in 1999, she seems to be the Frisco equivalent of the recent college graduates who've descended on Williamsburg during the past decade. The only difference is that Williamsburg has become a safer and more pleasant place, while the Castro seems to be headed in the opposite direction.

I also found it interesting that Rosenthal has been campaigning to keep the Castro "gay," a commitment she demonstrated by buying a house there with her (straight) partner (not that there's anything wrong with that!). Should we be prejudiced against her because she is naive enough to think hanging out with a bunch of hippie/yuppie burnouts at Burning Man is a qualification for public office? Perhaps, perhaps not. Personally, I'd be more concerned that she can't even get a job in the city she proposes to govern, having spent her last couple years working for that other beacon of Bay Area mismanagement, the City of Oakland.

Anonymous said...

Are you so sure that San Francisco's liberal ethos are the causes of the crime problem?

After all, Santa Monica is equally liberal and doesn't have the same grade of crime problem.

It's not like California's Penal Code is in any less enforced in San Francisco as it is in Santa Monica.

Or for a better example, how about Portland? These days I would say both Portland's government and population are as liberal as that of San Francisco.

I'm not taking a stand on this issue either way, just bringing up something to think about.

Larry Livermore said...

Santa Monica comes in at #171 on the Quitno "Most Dangerous List," which puts it somewhere in the mid-range among all American cities, but not all that far ahead of Berkeley (#226). But I'd readily acknowledge that Berkeley looks and feels more dangerous from my point of view. Portland comes in at #249, not that much better than San Francisco (#270). Again, I've always thought of Portland as safer, but at the same time I have gotten the feeling while visiting there that it was headed down a similar path as Frisco. That view may have been influenced by the fact that most people I knew there seemed to live in the ghetto, though.

But to more specifically address your question: no, I don't think San Francisco's fuzzy-wuzzy liberal politics is the sole, or even primary cause of soaring crime rates. Many cities around the country that couldn't be remotely described as liberal have similar crime problems.

But I do think that San Francisco's wacky compulsion to tolerate the intolerable, in the form of low-level disorder, antisocial behavior, open-air drug markets, etc., has rendered it incapable of dealing with rising crime rates and has sent out a message to potential troublemakers that because San Franciscans are such wusses, anything goes there.

How does this differ from other high-crime cities? Well, for one thing, most of them don't have the advantages Frisco does, a wealthy, highly educated population among them. Also, Frisco was once a much safer place, whereas many of the less liberal cities have always been crime magnets.

Lastly, though I know I'm like a broken record on this subject, New York has gone from being one of the most dangerous to one of the safest cities in America in a matter of only 15 years, while San Francisco has been going in precisely the opposite direction. There has to be a lesson there. And it can't be solely about "liberalism," because New York is one of the most liberal places in the country. However, the New York version of liberalism, unlike Frisco's, doesn't champion the rights of a vicious minority to act as it pleases to the detriment of the vast majority of the city's population. In other words, it's a city that has regained its self-respect, something that has been dwindling away in Frisco ever since hippie days.

Anonymous said...

I would actually bet money that New York is in reality more dangerous than San Francisco, despite what the statistics appear to show.

For two reasons.

1. Economies of scale favor larger cities/entities when using per capita methodology.

The methodology that is being used to assess rates of crime here is a per capita methodology favors a relatively far flung and massive city like New York, and disfavors a small, but highly dense city like San Francisco.

New York has 8,000,000 people, which gives it a lot more people over which to divide the crime rate per capita.

China will always have less per capita crime than Mongolia.

2. Arbitrarily using city limit boundaries, as opposed to natural metropolitan area borders, as the studied area does not accurately reflect real life exposure to crime

New York's city limits include safer outer boroughs and some relatively suburban areas in Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island. San Francisco's statistics do not include any equivilent "outer borough" or adjacent suburban areas.

Imagine if San Francisco's tiny city limits, which includes only 800,000 people, included all of the penninsula down to Palo Alto, and all of Marin County.

In that case, the per capita crime rate of San Francisco would appear to be much less, even though nothing has actually changed except for the gerrymandering of arbitrary city limit lines.

Then San Francisco, with those borders, would be among the safest large cities in the United States.

Maybe these issues help explain why sometimes you feel safer in a certain city even though a cursory and uncritical examination of per capita crime statistics may indicate otherwise.

Larry Livermore said...

Actually, New York's most dangerous neighborhoods are largely in the outer boroughs, especially Brooklyn and the Bronx. Manhattan, far more densely populated than San Francisco, is almost ridiculously safe.

Statistics are available for metropolitan areas as well as those contained within city limits, and I believe you'll find that there, too, New York comes up a lot safer. Remember that if you want to include Palo Alto or other wealthy Peninsula communities, you also have to include Richmond, Berkeley and Oakland. There is also a separate statistic for the greater Oakland-Fremont metropolitan area. It's very bad.

Another problem with trying to measure crime rates outside of specific city boundaries is that it skews the significance of political policies pursued by different jurisdictions. For instance, there are cities in New Jersey - Newark for example - just across the river from New York, that have staggering crime rates. But they also have corrupt and incompetent governments, and haven't had the benefit of New York's policing strategies. How could it be fair to attribute their crime problem to New York, which has no power to influence or control it. Similarly, San Francico's own corrupt and incompetent government shouldn't be allowed to escape responsibility for their mismanagement of the city by saying, "Hey, but if you average our crime rate out with Daly City and Palo Alto, it's not that bad!"

Anonymous said...

Great post. I moved to San Francisco from Buffalo, New York four years ago, and what struck me immediately is how much better the city could be if only the laws were enforced. For instance, the city spent millions putting public toilets around the city and then decided, reasonably, to enforce laws against defecating in public. Homeless advocates protested until the police promised not to enforce the law. The taxpayers pay for the solution but still have to put up with the problem. Amazing.
This kind of thinking pervades every decision here and eventually thugs learn that shooting people at a festival is not a big deal. We need a Guiliani.
By the way, Alix Rosenthal handed me a campaign flyer in front of the Glen Park Bart this morning. If I had known it was her I would have asked her about the festival. She was always criticizing Bevan Dufty for trying to shut down the Halloween festival, now she jumped on his ineptitude at putting it on. Does she think we are that stupid that we don't remember?

Anonymous said...

''''''But I do think that San Francisco's wacky compulsion to tolerate the intolerable, in the form of low-level disorder, antisocial behavior, open-air drug markets, etc., has rendered it incapable of dealing with rising crime rates and has sent out a message to potential troublemakers that because San Franciscans are such wusses, anything goes there.'''''''

Maybe. But then why hasn't that happened in Amsterdam?

Amsterdam is an open, tolerate veritable paradise that I would nominate for greatest city on earth.

Larry Livermore said...

Move there, then. I think Amsterdam is a provincial little shithole. Remarkably similar to San Francisco, in fact.

I'll admit that I did have a different view of it when I was on drugs, but once I'd visited the place when I was neither high nor drunk, it looked rather squalid. And it does (or at least did) have a pretty serious crime problem in the town center.

Anonymous said...

But I don't speak any Dutch.

Larry Livermore said...

You don't need to. Dutch is a minority language in Amsterdam. The two principal languages are English and Hippie.

Fon said...
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