Crime in San Francisco on the eve of the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit rose on Sunday and Monday with several high profile robberies taking place across the city, dampening the mood of the city and Summit organizers and calling into question the cities readiness to host such an event.
Despite efforts to get the city ready in time, criminals were not deterred, as multiple robberies against APEC guests have been reported. Most notably, a Czech film crew filming outside the famed City Lights bookstore was robbed at gunpoint by three masked men. They proceeded to steal $18,000 worth of equipment before speeding away in a car, with police showing up late minutes later.
The 2023 APEC Summit has been touted as the most prestigious event to have been hosted by the city since the 1984 Democratic National Convention, and the most prestigious international event since the 1945 United Nations Conference. Preparations have gone on for over a year and the Summit is expected to have major international implications. The much publicized and rare face-to-face meeting between President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping is widely seen as the main highlight of the Summit, with other official meetings between world leaders of Pacific rim nations expected to take place.
However, the decision to have San Francisco host the event has brought increased criticism. The high number of homeless people, as well as their forced removal in the past few weeks to areas not seen by APEC guests, have made headlines. Drug problems still permeate the city as well, with not even cleanup efforts erasing all traces of it. City streets and sidewalks, largely neglected for the past several years as budget issues disrupted services, came back in force in the past few weeks to make everything look clean.
As noted by the Globe, these changes are only temporary, and within a few weeks the problems will resurface once again. Press coverage focusing on the cleanup efforts rather than the event or city itself has also annoyed city officials, as the BBC, CNN, and other major networks have remarked on the major contrast.
But nothing has shaken the city more during this time as crime. A rise in shoplifting, as well as the city not prosecuting most crimes, have led to a retail exodus from San Francisco in recent years, with the few new stores being built in the city having extensive security features being put into place to deter robberies. Stores that stay continue to be robbed. Leaders such as Mayor London Breed have been scrambling to relieve the problem and have stated that it isn’t as bad as the media portrays it. However, these announcements are quickly nullified by speeches days later where they admit that San Francisco has a massive police shortage.
Robbery overshadows APEC opening
“They were heading at my camera man, aiming a gun at his stomach, and one at my head,” said journalist Bohumil Vostal. “I was getting a shot of City Lights Bookstore when three masked assailants approached with guns pointed. “I’m one of those many people who used to read Jack Kerouac’s ‘On the Road,’ and I was so much looking forward to visit your city.”
Vostal then added that he was hoping to paint San Francisco in a popular light and away from the crime-ridden, open drug-dealing portrayal that the city usually has in the media. While the SFPD robbery unit is currently on the case, the Czech robbery, as well as other incidents with people in town for APEC, have made their way to international headlines. Much goodwill has subsequently been erased by the incident, with city officials now having to tackle questions from journalists that they weren’t expecting to have because of the increased clean up effort.
“We don’t want anyone in our city to be a victim of any crime, whether they are a visitor or a resident,” said Mayoral spokesman Jeff Cretan. “The city is working to support the camera crew and help with equipment. Our police department is actively investigating this case, and we know that when an arrest is made, our district attorney has taken a strong position of aggressively prosecuting crimes like these.”
For many, the reassurances by the city have not landed, and as APEC begins, many have begun to doubt whether the Summit will do anything to help rehabilitate San Francisco’s image.
“Usually big events can be a boon,” political event organizer Jaya Shah told the Globe on Tuesday. “They show off the city or country and make people want to go there. Having major crimes in the city occur before any dignitary steps foot there is a blemish. In the long run, no one is going to remember a few robberies from this. But if these keep happening, and some criminal robs the wrong dignitary, San Francisco’s reputation as being unsafe will be more secured. It’s at, what, half the country seeing it at unsafe? This will be worse.”
“Eyes are on Biden, but if more of these crimes occur, even more cameras and journalists are going to report on that, and that is not something organizers or the city want. Right now, we need to see how it goes.”
APEC is expected to continue on until November 17th.
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