Thursday 13 April 2023

Disarming Narratives

A quick story about a knife-wielding tech bro that is top-of-mind for me at the minute thanks to today's arrest: 

Several years ago, James and I were partying with some friends at a fancy underground venue that regularly hosted events that were lots of fun and legally dodgy. Shhh!! Come and go quietly, don't be an asshole, etc. 

Except, of course, assholes can show up to any party. And, on this particular night, a guy was acting like a creep and making a lot of women uncomfortable. 

So, James and a friend of ours bounced the guy, who was very wasted. Once they got him outside, this trashed idiot tried to pull a knife on our heroes, and James quickly disarmed him before sending him around in circles so he couldn't find his way back inside. 

Imagine James's surprise when LinkedIn suggested the next week that the knife-wielding perp was someone he might know, and might want to have in his professional network. The guy was a web developer for one of the other major tech companies in town, and also the kind of asshole who brings a butterfly knife to a party and raises red flags for all of the women there. 

Firstly, thank goodness James and our friend listened to women and got this guy out of the scene before he hurt anyone. Listen to women, and take action!! 

Secondly, this scene was exactly the kind of place where a whole mix of people would mingle, including rich tech execs who like an underground party. 

I didn't know Bob Lee, but there is for sure overlap in our circles, and a lot of that overlap lands squarely in the realm of hard-partying rich tech and tech-adjacent folks who end up at hidden soirees of questionable legality with DIY security. 

I'm a little amazed at how quick so many figures of that description have been to mobilize a narrative of San Francisco as violently dangerous, without any knowledge of the details of this murder. But, based on my previous experience, I am not all that surprised to learn that the picture emerging is more likely that two guys in tech who were driving around together earlier got into a fight in the middle of the night that escalated badly.  

San Francisco has its problems, for sure, but it is broadly on the safer side of crime statistics for a city of its size or larger. There's a lot of visible homelessness and suffering, and a lot of our most visible homelessness also entails mental health problems and substance abuse. Trying to navigate this misery is dehumanizing for everyone in the city, as those in the most danger are treated as pariahs and the more privileged de-tune their empathy in an effort to manage daily life. 

However, narratives that imply that violent crime is out of control and escalating, regardless of data, are generally used as a cudgel to mobilize votes based on fear and policies that put pressure on the poor and marginalized. Those fears offer cover for "tough on crime" approaches that result in quick action against people sleeping rough, who frequently have their medications, legal documents, and most precious remaining possessions thrown away when rich residents complain about their presence. 

A whole bunch of super rich, very entitled people were extremely quick to spread a similar story here with zero regard for facts after Lee's death. A lot of the disdain generated falls heavy on the shoulders of vulnerable, suffering people who have never been helped one bit by the tech elite, a group that despises them and has taken out full-page ads decrying the impact of tents on their property prices before they scarpered off to countless other cities that felt like their next easiest buck. 

Let me be clear: Homelessness is not a crime. Rich people do drugs, too. (Though I have read nothing about Lee's case so far that indicates that was a factor in events leading up to his death.) Mental illness makes self-harm much more likely than murder. San Francisco is a relatively safe city, as American cities go, and unfortunately American cities generally are more violent than those in many other parts of the world. 

And anyone could be the victim of violent crime, whether rich or poor, urban or rural--though you're a lot more likely to experience violence if you are poor, female, trans, black or brown, and your murder is a lot more likely to be made into a nationwide, classist "law and order" argument if you are rich, white and male. 


For a good read on today's arrest, check this out:

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