High on a hill, San Francisco calls to progressives — and criminals

Greg Nash

If you want to know what the United States would look like if progressives were in charge, just take a look at what San Francisco has become.    

San Francisco, of course, isn’t the only city in America with homeless people living, urinating and defecating on the streets. But in San Francisco homelessness is endemic; it’s all over the place, as Michael Gibson has chronicled with depressing detail in National Review.

“Up and down the city’s disorienting hills, you notice homeless men and women — junkies, winos, the dispossessed — passed out in the vestibules of empty storefronts on otherwise busy streets. Encampments of tents sprout in every shadowy corner: under highway overpasses, down alleys. Streets are peppered with used syringes. Strolling the sidewalks, you smell the faint malodorous traces of human excrement and soiled clothing. Crowded thoroughfares such as Market Street, even in the light of midday, stage a carnival of indecipherable outbursts and drug-induced thrashings about which the police seem to do nothing.”

Wait, it gets worse. San Francisco, arguably, now may lay claim to the title, “Looting capital of America.” And looters who usually hit easy targets such as neighborhood drug stores — and get away with stealing whatever they want — recently figured, “Why not try something more glamorous — and more profitable?” So they broke into glitzy stores in San Francisco’s swanky shopping district, including a Louis Vuitton establishment, and ransacked the place. According to the Los Angeles Times, “The shoplifting caravan cut a swath through San Francisco’s high-end boutiques, creating a scene of chaos while stealing more than $1 million in merchandise.”

Criminals are immoral but not stupid. They know that San Francisco’s progressive District Attorney Chesa Boudin, like progressive Democratic DAs across America, doesn’t especially like prosecuting crime, which he has blamed on poverty, wealth inequality and inadequate government spending on social programs — everything but criminals themselves.

Boudin has said that prostitution and open drug use are “victimless crimes.” He said he wouldn’t prosecute so-called “quality of life crimes.” The result: Even many of San Francisco’s supposedly open-minded progressive residents have taken matters into their own hands by hiring private security guards. 

But now, in the wake of well-publicized looting videos, Boudin suddenly started sounding like a prosecutor and not a left-wing social worker, telling a local TV reporter that the recent wave of lootings is “absolutely unacceptable” and that he is preparing tough charges against those arrested. 

Forgive me if I’m not buying his conversion. Everyone looks out for No. 1 to some extent, but politicians are in a class by themselves. And guess what: Voters have grown so sick and tired of his soft-on-crime policies that Boudin now faces a recall election set for next June. You think that might have something to do with his newfound desire to prosecute looters? I do. 

Once you could walk all over the city, enjoy the sites and its bohemian spirit, and not fear for your safety. But according to midyear statistics, gun violence is up in San Francisco — the number of shootings, fatal and non-fatal, is more than double the number in 2019 and 2020.

In 2014, voters in California passed a proposition that classified possession of hard drugs for personal use and theft of up to $950 as misdemeanor offenses. Progressives pushed the proposition, and when it passed criminals took notice. 

Progressives like to think they’re enlightened and that their woke ideas are making life better for the people they were elected to serve. But their supposed enlightenment has only encouraged dysfunction. It’s true not only in San Francisco but in almost every major American city that is run by progressive Democrats. Bret Stephens, in his New York Times column, asks a good question: “Can anyone seriously say that Chicago, Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, Philadelphia or New York has been improved in recent years under progressive leadership?” 

You can reasonably ask the same question about San Francisco, which is the subject of a new book with a catchy title by Michael Shellenberger — “San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities.”

San Francisco is a city that has survived earthquakes and fires — but the jury is out on whether it can survive progressive politics. It’s a city that looks magnificent from a distance, as a local venture capitalist put it, but now shockingly ugly up close.   

Bernard Goldberg is an Emmy and an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University award-winning writer and journalist. He was a correspondent with HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” for 22 years and previously worked as a reporter for CBS News and as an analyst for Fox News. He is the author of five books and publishes exclusive weekly columns, audio commentaries and Q&As on his Patreon page. Follow him on Twitter @BernardGoldberg.

Tags California Chesa Boudin gun violence looting San Francisco shoplifting

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