Peter Calloway is a Deputy Public Defender at the San Francisco Public Defender's Office and I just happened to run across an important thread he wrote on Friday about how the Republican Party and its media machine-- and then infiltrated mainstream media-- twist crime statists to demonize Democratic local government and poor people. I'm going to put his thread in a narrative form. He started by noting that "There’s a lot of talk right now about crime in San Francisco. Almost everything you’ll read in the mainstream press is wrong. I live in the Tenderloin and work in the courts every day. Here’s my take on what’s happening and why."
"Let’s start," he wrote, "with an example of the pervasive disinformation: In a recent piece on the Tenderloin-- where I’ve lived for 4 years, and the epicenter of the city’s homelessness and drug crises-- a Washington Post journalist, Scott Wilson, tells readers that crime in the Tenderloin is out of control." Wilson, an award-winning professional, boasts that he is considered by many of his readers a "copagandist," which he protests... but he certainly is biased in his writing towards a traditional establishment perspective.
Calloway shows how Wilson twisted the facts to drum up hysteria targeting poor people and their advocates, something The Post editors let slip right by. "Murder and rape," wrote Calloway, "are up double-digit percentages since last year! Well, he’s right about that. And it sounds scary. But what are the actual increases (number of incidents, not percentages)? Homicides increased from 10 to 11. Rapes increased from 22 to 28. What about crime in the city overall? If you read The Chronicle (with some exceptions), or the recall campaign literature, or national outlets advancing the conservative claim that San Franscico is a failed experiment in progressive policymaking, you probably think it’s out of control. First, a note on methodology: These statistics are generated from data provided by SFPD, so we’re playing on their field. And I’m using 2019 as a baseline. Why? Because in 2020, crime across the country reached historic lows. So while the city saw increases in crime (mostly marginal) in some of these categories from 2020-2020, that’s largely due to the fact that for most of 2020, everyone was spending most their time at home indoors."
Now, the numbers: Citywide, from 2019-21, homicides increased 36%. That sounds significant, but the actual number increase was 15. SF has one of the lowest homicide rates among major cities in the US. Include rural communities, and San Francisco’s not even in the conversation.
Over the same period, rape, robbery, and assault decreased by 47% (-191), 27% (-851), and 6% (-160). So, violent crime (which the SFPD categorizes as homicide, rape, robbery, and assault) decreased by 19% (-1187). Property crime over that period is down by 11% (-6083).
What about the Tenderloin? This is the neighborhood the board of supervisors recently voted to subject to the mayor’s emergency declaration, mobilizing more police to enforce anti-homeless laws and force unhoused people to disperse into other areas of the city.
(By the way, only 2 supervisors, @shamannwalton and @deanpreston, voted against this.)
In the Tenderloin, as citywide, crime is down overall: a decrease of 3% (-127). Violent crime decreased by 14% (-134), and property crime increased by .24% (+7).
Larceny (petty theft and grand theft)-- which was heavily relied upon by the board and the mayor to justify their draconian anti-poor policing strategies-- was down 6.84% (-173).
I have to admit, even I was shocked to see numbers quite like this. The constant noise from well-respected media outlets affects the way we all view these problems, in obvious and subtle ways.
It affects the way people feel about crime. And politicians love to say that even despite the numbers, the way people feel about crime matters.
I think that’s true. But rarely mentioned is that the way people feel about crime is a direct consequence of how media/politicians talk about it. And when they lie about the numbers, or ignore them, they manipulate people’s feelings toward anti-democratic and anti-poor political ends.
They are generating fear, creating a political environment ripe for a dramatic swing back to the tough-on-crime policies that have caused incalculable harm and suffering in poor and minority communities across the country for decades.
It’s hard to see this as anything but intentional. It doesn’t take much to scratch the surface on these intersecting subjects. When you do-- and if it’s your job to do so, I'd hope you could be bothered-- the reality, and the reason for this disinformation, emerge pretty clearly.
San Francisco's progressive DA, Chesa Boudin, is facing a recall funded by right-wing billionaires.
That includes-- in a very big way-- predatory hedge fund manager and Republican scumbag William Oberndorf, one of the figures who have led the fight to utterly ruin what was once the greatest city in America and make out a haven for rich people and their slaves.
They’re exploiting people’s perceptions of crime-- that it’s going up, that they’re in danger, and that Boudin is responsible-- in an effort to create a much more widely surveilled, unequal San Francisco.
In their vision for our city, wealthy conservatives and mostly white liberals don’t have to look at homeless people, and don’t have to grapple with the conditions these recall proponents help create that lead to homelessness, drug use, and the like.
What are those conditions? The literature is clear: Lack of access to affordable housing and good jobs, the absence of robust mental health care, wage theft (which dwarfs in dollar value all property crime across all categories), and other poverty-producing mechanisms.
Instead, they can gallivant about the city eating at Michelin-starred restaurants riding bikes through the park and talking about the next startup they’re funding, all without confronting the human costs of enforcing their extractive utopia.
This vision is only possible if supported by disinformation about what’s happening on our streets.
Why am I writing this? Because I’ve had many conversations about these issues with a number of strangers in recent months. The extent to which they have been misinformed is staggering.
When I tell them what the numbers actually reveal, when I explain that actually Boudin is prosecuting most categories of crime at a rate higher than his predecessor, they’re shocked. That’s entirely inconsistent with what they’ve been told.
But, now they know. And hopefully, they will be less likely to support, knowingly or not, this vision for our city that so many seem committed to, a vision that is deeply harmful to so many more.
Today I went to a small gathering in my neighborhood for City Councilman Kevin de Leon, the progressive candidate running for Los Angeles mayor. I didn't bring a tape recorder-- or even a pen-- but much of what he said is, more or less, on his campaign website. He said-- and wrote-- that "On any given night in Los Angeles, more than 41,000 people go to sleep without a place to call home. Single mothers and fathers, veterans and the working poor, those with medical needs and others who just need a second chance; their struggles are an indictment of our tattered social safety net and a bureaucracy that has paralyzed itself into inaction. For several years in my early twenties, I was homeless. I lived in my car, relied on the kindness of friends for a place to stay, and even spent two years sleeping on the floor of an office building where I worked."
Kevin rose from that state to become president pro tempore of the state Senate, where he pushed-- and hard-- for the interests of working families. He says that it was that experience that drives him "to act with urgency, where others have preferred to triangulate, study, and poll-test the best way out of our city’s homelessness crisis. That’s why I moved so quickly to create more homeless housing opportunities in the last year than anyone else in the City. All told, I have created over 1,600 units of emergency housing since being sworn into City Council-- and we’re not done yet. In fact, just 10 months into my term, the City Council unanimously adopted my “25×25” plan-- 25,000 units by the year 2025-- in order to help house those who are experiencing homelessness. Anyone can make big promises about solving homelessness, but the difference is: I’m already doing something about it."