Commentary: Julie Pitta

The Truth About Crime

By Julie Pitta

The shock waves were felt across the City: A tech executive was stabbed to death in the wee hours of a Tuesday morning. Even in the Richmond District, a quiet corner of town, residents were abuzz with the tragic news. An online news site, bankrolled by a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, asked a question on some minds: “Bob Lee Killing: A Tipping Point in a City Fed Up With Crime?”

In the hours and days after Bob Lee’s murder, those in the tech community, conservative political circles – or both – rushed to judgment. Lee’s death was inevitable, they said, in a City where crime was rampant under progressive leadership. No matter that a progressive has not held the City’s highest office since Art Agnos stepped down more than 30 years ago.

Some laid the blame for Lee’s murder on the unhoused, finding in the most vulnerable a convenient scapegoat. Again, the facts don’t fit the narrative: Homeless people are more often the victims rather than the perpetrators of crime.

Nine days later, a suspect, a 38-year-old Emeryville man, was arrested. Nima Momeni, like Lee, is a tech executive and the two, according to law enforcement officials, were well acquainted. Those who used Lee’s murder as evidence of San Francisco’s descent into chaos were suddenly quiet. The truth, it turned out, was far different than they would have you believe.

According to the San Francisco Police Department’s (SFPD) own statistics, city residents have rarely been safer. Violent crime, law enforcement’s standard measure for public safety, is at a historic low. Certainly, the City has experienced a spike in property crime, no surprise in a city that has one of the highest rates of wealth disparity in the country.

Regardless of the facts, San Franciscans feel unsafe. The blame rests with the very same people who peddled the story of a deranged homeless killer on the loose. They’ve been ably assisted by the local and national press, who’ve taken great relish in portraying San Francisco as a crime-ridden dystopia.

Their objective is political. Groups like GrowSF and TogetherSF Action, richly funded by tech venture capitalists, have used scare tactics to alter San Francisco’s political landscape. Their first target was progressive District Attorney Chesa Boudin. Boudin proposed a different route toward public safety, one that offered rehabilitation as an alternative to incarceration. San Franciscans will never know whether Boudin’s policies would have worked since he was removed more than two years after taking office in a recall campaign that was funded, in large part, by Republican billionaires.

Emboldened by Boudin’s recall, they targeted progressive office holders like Supervisor Gordon Mar in District 4, bankrolling his challenger Joel Engardio, a candidate who promised a swift return to “law-and-order.” Engardio was among the first to pounce on Lee’s murder, appearing on a tabloid TV program to stoke fears about public safety, a tasteless attempt to exploit a man’s death for political points.

Mayor London Breed, the primary beneficiary of these scare tactics, now wants them to stop. Crime fears will do little to return San Franciscans to a downtown that’s been hard hit by the pandemic. Breed, it must be noted, used fear to consolidate power. She declared a poorly executed state of emergency in the Tenderloin, installed a hardline prosecutor Brooke Jenkins as Boudin’s successor, and saw that allies like Engardio and former SFPD public relations chief Matt Dorsey were elected to the Board of Supervisors.

With fears about public safety soaring, Breed has pushed through more funding for police with little evidence that more money will make SFPD more effective. San Francisco has the highest number of officers per capita than any California city. Conversely, it has one of the lowest arrest rates in the country.

There are signs that San Franciscans have had enough. Police Commissioner Kevin Benedicto spoke for many when he said, “It’s premature and distasteful to try to fit this horrifying act of violence into a preconceived narrative and use it to advance a political agenda.”

The San Francisco Standard, bankrolled by billionaire venture capitalist Michael Moritz, may be correct in one sense: Bob Lee’s murder may indeed be a “tipping point.” It could be remembered as the moment when San Franciscans rejected a false – and damaging – narrative about the City they love.

Julie Pitta is a former staff writer for the Los Angeles Times and senior editor at Forbes Magazine. She is a neighborhood activist and an officer of the San Francisco Berniecrats. You may reach her at Follow her on Twitter @juliepitta.

12 replies »

  1. I would like to hope Julie is correct. San Francisco has come to its senses and had enough of this law and order nonsense talk. I doubt it. The damage is already severe. An honest ethical Progressive DA Chesa Boudin has been hounded from office. In his place is a complete photo op political creature. Brooke Jenkins. I am not optimistic. The 9MM MAGA Recall money complete with fabrication and distortion has inoculated once open minded and tolerant San Francisco


  2. While the particular tragedy looks like a case involving a person who the victim, not a random act by a homeless person, that does NOT mean that random acts of violence are NOT committed by mentality ill homeless people, as was the case of the ex-Fire Commissioner who was attacked by a homeless person with a pipe, and many other cases I’ve read about.


  3. Okay Noonan.
    Capitalize the word not if you must, BUT Random acts of violence by crazy people occur in every city all over the world. That reality however does not point to a stochastic process but a cherry picked data point. Anecdotal evidence can always be used to support your predilections.

    Indeed, putting mentally ill violent people into a facility is a good idea, and has been pushed by governor Newsom. You might perhaps recall that it was Governor Reagan back in the day who got government of our “backs” by dismantling mental institutions, thereby passing the costs of crazy people onto the public at large while pretending to be a steward of the people.

    And your point is?

    Thank you Pita for putting this into perspective. The tech billionaires and plutocrats have to scare the people with drama in order to get them to vote against their best interests. That’s why they use dishonest and misleading ads. That’s why they push mediocre and corrupt people into positions of power. That’s why they promote politicians who jump at the chance to conjoin this horrific event into a larger political purpose while dispensing platitudes — because their purpose is about power, not actually real public policy.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I encourage everyone to watch the interview referenced and misrepresented in this article. The interview is a measured discussion about crime in San Francisco where I note murder is rare and that we shouldn’t conflate Bob Lee’s murder with other concerns. I mention which crimes are rising and how those crimes make residents feel unsafe.
    While murder is low, we have to stay focused on all the other crime that is happening: open air drug dealing, property crime, catalytic converter thefts, and assaults on elders and youth. This is why residents feel unsafe.
    We must also continue to remember: Despite our problems, we are not a dystopian city. We must celebrate the joy in our city and encourage more as we work to create our best San Francisco.
    Watch the video here:


    • The piece by Julie Pitta is straightforward and accurate in its assessment of the issue infecting the body politic and responses by San Francisco officialdom. This once tolerant Town has become so obsessed with law and order that anyone who questions the prevailing orthodoxy becomes a target of ridicule and derision.


      • Honestly, I think Joel was fair in his interview on the TMZ interview. He brings up the “people don’t feel safe” quite often, which is probably true. I myself get a little nervous when I walk to my car in the early AM hours, because I have read about people driving around and harassing people at gunpoint in my neighborhood. That being said, the chance that it occurs is still very small. Living in San Francisco is not West Oakland or South Chicago or even Fresno, where such incidents have a slightly larger frequency per capita. It’s mostly people outside of San Francisco doing the crime, as against those other places.

        In the interview, Joel’s take on homelessness as a “housing issue” is the correct factual take and he did a fair job explaining the reality of the homeless problem.

        I’m willing to give Joel the benefit of the doubt here. What he does for the next 2 years will be a better indication of his politics than the above interview. He can be independent like Tom Ammiano, or play for team corruption and get that sweet sweet mega-donor money like our current mayor.

        I also have to say that as much as I like and appreciate Julie Pitta, I don’t think it’s fair to say that Joel stoked fears in this interview.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Huh? You are an anarchist. Who made you the arbiter of who is balanced. Your opinions are just that,… your opinions. And not very informed or balanced at that.


    • Thank you Joel. Once again, you come through with intelligence and reason. We need more common sense moderates like yourself at the helm to lead SF out of this mess the progressives have ushered in.


  5. Your opinions put those whom you claim you wish to protect in direct tragic peril and danger.

    You continue to ignore the fact that hundreds of violent crimes go unreported on a daily basis… You completely forget about junkie on junkie crime that is happening in the masses of tents that are sitting on our sidewalks in SF, if you actually took the time to humanize these people and talk to them you will see that their world is not all sunshine and roses there is horrific things happening, fights, sexual assaults on a daily basis.

    For some reason you also ignore the fact that every other crime has skyrocketed since before the pandemic, Even when SF try to decriminalize crime by allowing people to steal up to $950 worth of merchandise for example the statistics still showed an insurmountable increase.

    Just as permissive parenting does not work neither does permissive governing.

    Your opinions pose a clear and present danger to our community and society at large. This woke mind virus that has infected your particular groupthink has real, severe and dire consequences for all of us.

    Please stop.


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