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Democrats tried their best to present foreign dignitaries and reporters from afar with an idealized vision of San Francisco this week. Officials attempted to clear drug addicts, garbage, excrement, and the city's nearly 8,000 homeless from the area around the conference center housing the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, effectively creating a California-style Potemkin village — complete with an avenue crowded by communist flags.
The illusion could not be sustained for long.
Czech reporter Bohumil Vostal dared to venture outside the APEC safe zone and into the broader city Sunday, reporting on San Francisco's alleged best features — largely tourist attractions like the Golden Gate Bridge and Chinatown.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that to conclude his efforts to paint the crime-ridden city in a positive light, Vostal, a correspondent for ČT24, went to the famed City Lights bookstore for a "majestic shot." His hopes of helping to rehabilitate San Francisco's reputation may have been dashed there and then, as three masked men swarmed the foreign reporter with guns drawn.
"They were heading at my camera man, aiming a gun at his stomach, and one at my head," said Vostal.
The San Francisco Police Department indicated that it is investigating the armed robbery of the production team at 4:56 p.m. in the area of Broadway and Columbus Avenue, reported KTVU-TV.
The thugs, who fled the scene in a car, reportedly stole over $18,000 worth of equipment along with the Czech correspondent's footage of an idealized San Francisco fit for European audiences, which included shots of the Painted Ladies in Alamo Square and transvestites in the so-called Transgender District near the Tenderloin.
"I'm one of those many people who used to read Jack Kerouac's 'On the Road,' and I was so much looking forward to visit your city," said Vostal.
The Czech correspondent indicated police had been helpful and that "all the people of San Francisco are almost blaming themselves, like they are so sorry for something they didn't do."
Despite the all-too-common setback, Vostal indicated on X, "We'll keep shooting. We are here for the US President's summit with the Chinese leader. And we'll be there (as always) for CT."
Thieves in San Francisco have robbed multiple news crews in recent years. CNN senior national correspondent Kyung Lah got cleaned out by thugs in March. A KPIX-TV reporter covering crime in San Francisco's Twin Peaks neighborhood was robbed the previous spring. Thieves have also reportedly taken to targeting engagement photo shoots in the city.
According to the SFPD, there have been 2,103 robberies and 5,223 burglaries since Jan. 1, 2023. The city has also seen 31,251 reports of larceny theft so far in 2023 — an increase of over 4,000 incidents when compared to the same time last year. San Francisco has also been home to 48 reported murders, 228 rapes, 5,477 motor vehicle thefts, and 2,306 assaults.
Neighborhood Scout puts the odds of falling victim to a property crime and to a violent crime at 1 in 20 and 1 in 186, respectively.
While foreign nationals like Vostal may have been greeted in recent days by selectively cleaned streets lined by Chinese communist flags, residents may be accustomed to a wholly different experience.
Travelers in the increasingly derelict downtown were previously likely to encounter one or more of the 7,754 homeless individuals San Francisco officials tallied last year. Numerous homeless encampments surrounded the area where the APEC conference was held up until the city recently cleared them out.
Gov. Gavin Newsom said of the homeless clearances earlier this month: "I know folks say, 'Oh, they're just cleaning up this place because all these fancy leaders are coming into town.' That's true because it's true," reported SFGate.
There's a lot to clean up.
A report released earlier this year by the city's Controller's Office indicated that excrement was observed on approximately 50% of street segments in key commercial areas and 30% of areas in the citywide survey. Broken glass was found on 50% of the streets and sidewalks surveyed. Syringes, dead animals, and condoms were also observed, predominantly in the Mission, Tenderloin, and south of Market areas.
The New York Times reported that some foreign correspondents came to San Francisco expecting the kind of experience Vostal will leave with.
Yuk Ishii with Fuji Television Network in Japan told the Times she had heard a great deal about the city and presumed the worst.
"We were thinking there might be zombies," said Ishii. "So far, so good."
Ilmari Reunamaki, a reporter from Finland, said, "We heard there are usually five times as many tents, and now there are five times as many cops."
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Joseph MacKinnon is a staff writer for Blaze News.