Sunday in San Francisco

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Yesterday afternoon, 4PM on a grey Sunday, there was a shooting across the street from our apartment. (News coverage here.) Not “in our neighborhood” or “around the corner” but directly across the street from our living room. Yeah, in Potrero Hill, one of the sunnier, yuppier neighborhoods in the city. It’s not the Marina or Pacific Heights, where the real money lives, but nor is it the Mission or the Tenderloin, where the crack dealers roam free.

I’ve seen enough Law & Order to know that the sound of gunfire isn’t as explosive or dramatic as most people think it will be, so when a rapid succession of flat bangs burst out close by, my aural scan came up with “gunshots.” If I weren’t pregnant, I’d have been out the door to confirm and help, but R went instead (with admonitions from me to check for shooters before stepping outside – I don’t watch CSI for nothing) and yelled up to call 911. Disturbingly, I was on hold for at least two minutes with emergency response – what if there had been an intruder in our apartment? – but, on the other side of it, police, fire and ambulance were screeching up as the girl answered my call. “Are you a witness?” was the extent of our conversation, so they get points for efficiency.

R said the victim was just a kid, put him at about fifteen, and all but unconscious. Gang violence, the news said, which was my first guess too. My thoughts, in succession?

  1. “Thank God this country doesn’t materially restrict the sale of firearms or shooting down 15-year-olds in the street wouldn’t be possible.”
  2. “What is wrong with this city that this happens?” Sure, there’s violence in all cities, it’s a fact of urban life, but I’ve never felt so uniformly unsafe anywhere else. Low level criminality, vagrancy, lack of law enforcement and filth is everywhere in this city, even in the most exclusive neighborhoods. (My car was stolen from one of those ‘hoods and broken into in another.) No place is safe in San Francisco.

    This town’s pervasive permissiveness in allowing crackheads to stagger around the theater district, homeless people to sleep in any doorway they choose and cars to be routinely stolen and vandalized, telegraphs to citizens and criminals alike that no one’s watching the store. If there’s no action on the small stuff, the stuff that happens every day, the stuff that depresses quality of life and demoralizes expectations, there’s definitely no deterrent for a group of guys who want to shoot someone in broad daylight.*

    Turns out my Spidey sense that San Francisco is way worse than New York isn’t just anecdotal: despite having less than one eighth the population of New York City, the FBI reports that San Francisco has twice the rate of violent crime and murder (per 100,000 residents) and is charged with underreporting those numbers. Even if you were to take those numbers with a grain of salt, they’re shocking.

    It’s nice that San Francisco had gay marriage first (albeit briefly), banned plastic grocery bags, and the vegetables here are organic and fresh, but what the hell difference does that make if I can’t run across the street to pick up my fresh, organic vegetables in a paper bag from a married gay grocer without getting shot while doing it?

  3. “Where the hell am I going to find a bulletproof stroller?”

We definitely have to move. Maybe someplace safer, like Newark.

*The “small crimes lead to large crimes” theory is called the “fixing broken windows” principle. Implementation of small crimes tracking and deterrence in New York started with transit cop Jack Maple and his fascinating CompStat system, more widely adopted under then-Police Chief William Bratton. Interesting read, picked up by Gladwell in The Tipping Point.

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