Relax and enjoy. Live and let live. These are the guidelines of what’s known as “everybody’s favorite city.” But of late this unctuous label for San Francisco has taken on somewhat sinister connotations. Listen, for instance, to Charles Simon, whose antique business has suffered sorely from the degeneration in the raunchy Tenderloin area. “It’s the mugger’s favorite city, that’s for sure. It’s the favorite city of drunks, gays, druggies, porn peddlers.” He waves an indignant arm: “See those black hookers? Well, they’re drag queens, guys, and that’s their corner. You’d better not mess with them ’cause any one could knock you through a plateglass window with one swing of her bag.”
Simon is by no means alone in his anger at the decay in the quality of life in Baghdad-by-the-Bay. Most people here are beginning to trace the rising crime-graph, the tumbledown neighborhoods and the flight of the middle class to one polluted source: the traditional freedom of pornography and prostitution. This lucrative trade has long flourished in tourist haunts like the neon-gaudy North Beach, with its encounter studios, massage parlors and live-on-stage sex shows. But lately it has been spreading and striking roots in formerly “respectable” areas. So a move began to confine the activity into an area of shuttered shops and empty lots south of the city’s main stem, Market Street. It’s a solution that’s been tried in several places, but does it work?
Evidence was sought by a group of would-be reformers in Boston’s noted red light “Combat Zone.” They found the zone had earned its name by muggings
and armed robberies galore. Porn-related crime ran wild. Tourists were terrorized. Profits were gulped down by organized crime, both national and international. But even if the Boston system could work in San Francisco, they decided, the will to apply it is surely lacking. The city fathers are famous for broad-mindedness. Mayor George Moscone and his police chief, Charles Gain, are hear-no-evil, see-noevil types. County Sheriff Richard Hongisto is so dedicated to homosexual rights that he flew to Miami recently to help gays in their battle with Anita Bryant. When a new district attorney, John Freitas, took over several months ago, he announced that he wouldn’t interfere with “ladies of the night” since they were engaged in a “nonviolent, non-coercive” traffic.
Alas, Utopia was not built in a night. Hookers from all across the States and Canada flocked to San Francisco, peddling their persons outside the best hotels, parting conventioneers from their wives in the street, laughing in the face of the helpless police. Their swarms of followers brought crime in many new forms to the city’s most swagger areas. Irate citizens forced the authorities to act. Hundreds more police went on the beat, many in plain clothes, to pounce on unsuspecting crooks. A squad of 60 officers disguised as elderly women or wino derelicts lured muggers to their fate. This decoy unit has chalked up 700 felony arrests since its formation six months ago.
What’s the moral? Each city in every age must find its own level of tolerance. As to whether flagrant porn provokes sex crimes or acts as a safety valve, one San Francisco psychiatrist notes: “A permissive society may give us a Marquis de Sade. The Victorian Age produced Jack the Ripper. You pay your taxes and you take your choice.” CHARLES FOLEY
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