It’s a damn shame that Paneez Kosarian, a young SoMa condo-dweller, was last week accosted and physically attacked by an apparently homeless man outside her residence, an altercation caught on video and spread far and wide.
It’s also a damn shame that both prior and subsequent legal consequences for her alleged attacker, Austin James Vincent, have been so clumsily handled. He was, initially, released into San Francisco’s Pretrial Diversion program rather than incarcerated. Public outcry led Judge Christine Van Aken to subsequently order Vincent be outfitted with a tracking ankle bracelet, and bemoan she was not shown the disturbing video during the initial hearing.
That outcry also led San Francisco politicians, many of whom had just gone to the mat to protect SF Pretrial from being eliminated by the state, to question the efficacy of the 43-year-old program in this high-profile case — when studies have shown 96 percent of accused criminals under its care in “Assertive Case Management” do not re-offend.
And, to top things off, Vincent’s googly-eyed booking photo was noted by a woman who alleges he in February threatened her with a knife; he may be re-booked by police as soon as today.
So, clearly, there are many legitimate questions to ask about this man Vincent, and how this city has dealt with him in the past, present — and future.
And Kosarian has done that. But she’s done more. Over the weekend, in a press conference arranged by PR maven and “Master of Disaster” Sam Singer, and hosted by Embarcadero for All — the neighborhood group opposing city plans to construct a large homeless Navigation Center on the waterfront — Kosarian was the star attraction.
“Please take action,” she said, fighting back sobs. “Don’t build this here.”
Again, it’s a damn shame that Kosarian was attacked and feared for her life. The terror of physically engaging with an aggressive and deranged person who may be capable of anything is horrifying. I know this personally.
But it’s also a damn shame that Kosarian has parlayed her victimhood in this way, and is grafting together the wholly unrelated subjects of Austin James Vincent — and this city’s questionable handling of him — and the ongoing plans to provide shelter and treatment to homeless individuals in SoMa.
Kosarian is, rather unsubtly, casting every homeless person in San Francisco as a drug-addicted, mentally ill, would-be assailant. And of course that’s wrong, both logically and morally.
Once you move past the inalienable power of a photogenic female victim of an aberrant physical crime — on video — the logic crumbles with alarming speed.
Austin James Vincent is not a Black Friday shopper; he is not camping out in SoMa awaiting the opening of a Navigation Center. He’s already here, with his problems. So are others.
In San Francisco, there are many homeless people, many drug-addicted people, and many mentally ill people. These are three often overlapping constituencies, but they are not one and the same. So, whatever the reason Vincent allegedly attacked Kosarian, he didn’t do it because he was merely homeless. Cracking down on homeless people as a result would appear to be an exceptionally crude and ill-applied step.
Rather, if the concern is that there are homeless, drug-addicted, and mentally ill people in the neighborhood — and there are, demonstrably — one solution would be to provide them with a place to sleep and/or access services.
But that doesn’t seem to be the M.O. for Embarcadero for All — a coterie of largely high-end condo dwellers who made international news by starting a GoFundMe to hire a lawyer to fight the city’s Navigation Center plans and have now brought in Sam Singer to feed the media beast.
Rather, they seem to find it inconvenient that there are homeless people in their vicinity and they want them to go away. The end.
The group’s president, Wallace Lee, has tweeted that it’s irresponsible to put homeless services in dense, crowded neighborhoods.
All of this assumes, however, that this is a good-faith argument being made on a logical and factual basis. None of that appears to be the case.
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Lee’s claim that crime is up in the area, in fact, belies the actual crime statistics. And law-and-order-driven approaches to homelessness are, in both a dollars- and outcomes-driven analysis, not beneficial. The Budget and Legislative Analyst in 2016 found that the nearly $21 million spent enforcing “quality-of-life” crimes regarding homeless people was essentially squandered, with no improvements to show for it. In the same year, the Budget Analyst also found that it was, by a huge margin, far more cost-beneficial to minister to homeless people who were housed or sheltered than to treat them, haphazardly, on the streets.
And, while neighbors have inveighed against Navigation Centers in myriad San Francisco neighborhoods, an analysis by UC Berkeley public policy graduate student Miki Bairstow found that “regardless of the site, there is no change in crime trends following Navigation Center open dates.”
She additionally found that Navigation Centers did not depress real-estate values — as anyone perusing rental or sales prices in the Mission would know.
The video of the horrific attack on Kosarian, her subsequent tearful speech, and the all-but-certain looping of both of the above in a FOX News spectacular on the results of runaway liberalism in municipal government are powerful motivating forces.
All of this is being sucked down in the media, incidentally, like pineapple punch. Sam Singer knows his business. Scientific studies, meanwhile, note that one in 20 violent incidents in the United States is committed by a mentally ill person; a small percentage of mentally ill people are violent. And yet four in 10 news stories about mental illness connect it with violence.
Viral videos are not the ideal basis upon which to form policies. Charting public furor based on social media observations is not the best manner of determining what would benefit the denizens of SoMa, both housed and unhoused. Evidence-based studies like those cited above are.
San Francisco politicians have set themselves up by overpromising Navigation Centers for years. The city has unsubtly repurposed the mission of the centers, but not the catchy name; not all that many people are “navigating” anywhere outside of a bus ride, because there’s scant housing to navigate to.
But Navigation Centers are, still, a chance for beleaguered people to get inside. To be connected with treatment and services. And, separate and apart from people’s lives and well-being, it’s bottom-line cheaper to deal with folks when they’re sheltered than unsheltered.
So, again, it’s a shame that Paneez Kosarian had to undergo what she underwent. The city owes her, and every victim of a violent crime, its utmost effort at justice and prevention.
We should feel compassion for her. But our compassion can only go so far when she attempts to leverage it toward undoing compassion for others, and advancing provably false and/or unproven, reactionary claims.
It remains to be seen what fate awaits Austin James Vincent. But we should all take pains to ensure he doesn’t become this city’s homeless Willie Horton.