In 1984, Los Angeles was host to the Summer Olympics. Track and field events, as well as the opening and closing ceremonies, were held at the Los Angeles Coliseum, and the nearby campus of the University of Southern California served as one of the Olympic villages housing athletes. Then as now, the neighborhoods surrounding these venues were some of the most violent in the city. I was working as patrol officer in South Los Angeles at the time and, like my colleagues, I welcomed the respite Olympics duties offered from the gang shootings and other mayhem that routinely plagued the area.
Beginning about six weeks before the opening ceremonies, police resources were shifted to the area surrounding the Coliseum and the USC campus, and for the duration of the Olympics the crime that had been ubiquitous in the area all but disappeared. There were 757 homicides recorded in L.A. in 1984, after five straight years in which the yearly total was no less than 817. That reduction was largely due to the increased police presence not just near the Olympic venues but throughout the city, as LAPD officers were paid overtime to supplement ordinary staffing levels.
No sooner had the Olympic torch at the Coliseum torch been extinguished on August 12 that year did things begin to revert to form. “Shame on us,” a lieutenant and mentor said to me when it became apparent that the ground we had won from the street gangs in South L.A. was being ceded back to them. “They know how to make this area peaceful,” he said, “but they just don’t want to spend the money to do it.”
The way she was.
His words proved tragically prophetic. There was a modest crime increase in 1985, when the LAPD investigated 777 homicides, but the number rose steadily each year until 1992, when the figure reached 1,092, many of these occurring in the neighborhoods that had enjoyed a temporary calm during the Olympics.
San Franciscans have just learned a similar lesson. In advance of last week’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, large sections of downtown San Francisco were cleaned up, with their homeless drug addicts driven elsewhere and the outward signs of their presence steam-cleaned and pressure-washed away. Gone were the tent-dwelling urchins, gone were the drug dealers who profit from their vices, gone were the bodily excretions they deposit with such casual alacrity whenever and wherever nature’s call comes over them. For the duration of the APEC summit, the uninformed guest might have found San Francisco a pleasant place to visit.
How tantalizing was the illusion. But, as was easily predicted, the city’s status quo was restored with a vengeance. “Reality is setting in,” reports the local NBC affiliate “for San Francisco residents who’d hoped the clean and safe streets they enjoyed during the APEC summit last week would still be there now that the high-profile gathering is over.”
As was the case in Los Angeles during the ’84 Olympics, the cleanup in San Francisco was achieved through an infusion of cash to fund police overtime, and despite having seen the results, there is insufficient political will in the city to fund a long-term commitment to solving its drug-addiction and homelessness problems.
“Unless you’re going to pay unlimited overtime all the time for everyone,” said Tom Wolf, a recovery advocate who himself was once homeless and addicted, “or hire 700 more police officers, we aren't going to be able to achieve the type of scene we got to witness last week because of APEC.”
And there you have it. It’s not that the city’s troubles are intractable, it’s just that the solutions come at a price people are unwilling to pay, except on a temporary basis to create a Potemkin village for the occasional high-profile gathering of world leaders. Yes, we can clean things up for a few days so as to impress Xi Jinping, but that’s the limit of our commitment. You taxpayers who live here and suffer with crime and disorder, you’re the marks, so just pay your taxes and shut up about it. As the Wall Street Journal’s James Freeman put it in a headline any writer would envy, “San Francisco Cleans Up for Xi. Why Not for Thee?”
But it’s more than a question of money. San Francisco might be regarded as the capital city of the American left, a place were progressive policies have been implemented and allowed to remain in place long after their deleterious effects became obvious to all but those willfully blind to them. It is the city that elected Chesa Boudin, perhaps the most radical of the George Soros-funded prosecutors, as its district attorney, finding his pedigree as the son of convicted murderers not a bug but a feature. Alas for Boudin, even the most idealistic leftists have their limits; he was turned out of office when voters recalled him in July 2022.
The measure to remove Boudin passed by a mere ten percentage points, this despite the case for sacking him being unassailable. More than 100,000 voters preferred to retain him, perhaps offering some perspective on how Nancy Pelosi has managed to cling to her position longer than most popes.
When the message is transmitted that the customary rules of ordered society do not apply to the homeless, as has been the case in San Francisco for years, anarchy and decline inevitably follow. The removal of Boudin and the APEC cleanup, however brief, offer hope that San Francisco, once the jewel of the West Coast, might one day be saved from the effects of its leftist fantasies.