Recently my Latvian cousin visited San Francisco with his family. They were planning on celebrating his wife’s birthday, but the gift she received from this once charming city was unexpected. After parking their car in Japantown, they returned a few minutes late to find their window smashed and all of their belongings taken. They were not alone. The entire street, it seemed, was a pavilion of broken glass.
Police dispatch hung up multiple times. While he waited, my cousin tracked their electronic devices as they were distributed in tent cities and fencing houses. Within hours my cousin’s laptop was in a suburban neighborhood in Stockton.
The police said they were powerless to do anything. He could file a report, but no action would be taken. When my cousin picked up his new rental car he was told that his was the fifth car returned that day with a smashed window. That night, dispirited, he drove through the zombie-pocalypse that the city center has become.
The epidemic of smash and grabs plaguing the Bay Area may be driven by a finite number of actors. And the root causes are varied and complex. But is this who we’ve become? Is it really sufficient to say, “nothing can be done about it?”
San Francisco is the third wealthiest city on the planet. And the Bay Area as a whole prides itself on its culture of innovation. We are home to companies that have developed sophisticated data collection tools and to the highest-ranking health care delivery organization. We are the birthplace of the human potential movement and innovations in community policing. Really? There’s nothing we can do about it?
As San Francisco’s native son Inspector Harry Callahan once said, “A man has to know his limitations.” But there’s a corollary to Dirty Harry’s words. A person, or a city, has to know it’s potential. For San Francisco not to, is unacceptable.
With a Perspective, this is Andrew Lewis.
Andrew Lewis lives in Sebastopol.