July 6, 2021 - 11:09am

Last month, video footage of a shoplifting incident in San Francisco made headlines around the world. 

That’s not because there was anything special about the crime, but because it was typical of a city in which retail offences have become routine. San Francisco’s approach to petty theft is now so lax that criminals make no attempt to conceal what they’re up to. 

Of course, when video footage of a crime goes viral it becomes embarrassing not to arrest the perpetrator and, in this case, that’s what happened. However, the great majority of shoplifting cases in San Francisco don’t end in arrest — thus encouraging the city’s petty criminals to help themselves. 

It’s not just small corner stores reeling under the impact — multinationals are adapting to the lawless climate, too. The latest to suffer is Target, a major US retailer. It has been forced to limit trading hours in all six of its San Francisco stores. Shutting up shop at 6pm, instead of the normal 10pm, avoids the popular evening shift for shoplifters. 

The mayor of San Francisco, London Breed, says that restricting hours of business is not the answer, but what else does she expect retailers to do? Also, how does she explain the fact that Target hasn’t felt the need to do the same anywhere else in America? The city’s extraordinary experiment with liberalising the law on drug offences and petty theft has produced some nightmarish results.

Meanwhile, the District Attorney, Chesa Boudin, has just announced a “bold new policy directive”: all the staff in his office will now be mandated to ask and use the preferred pronouns of everyone in the criminal justice system.  At a press conference, Boudin said that “here in San Francisco…we are leaders in modeling respect and modeling dignity and compassion, in all aspects of our society, including in our legal system.”

However respect, dignity and compassion also requires that law abiding citizens be able to go about their daily business in peace and safety — and on that front San Francisco is anything but a leader. While those at the top of the socio-economic ladder can afford to play pretend with boutique, ‘woke’ concerns, it is the ordinary citizens of the city who must bare the brunt of these foolish policies.

How long can this go on for? Indefinitely, is the probable answer — so long as the tech giants of Silicon Valley don’t quit en masse for Texas. And, of course, the same industry has a variety of solutions for people who can’t get to the shops because the shutters are down. There is no better harbinger for increasing atomisation, and the reliance on new ‘gig economy’ services that serve it, than social disintegration. 

Thus San Francisco’s weird dystopia is thus likely to continue: progressive politics presiding over extreme inequality; and hi-tech modernity alongside abject squalor.