April 19, 2024

© MobileCoin

CashApp founder Bob Lee. Nima Momeni, the Emeryville resident arrested in connection with the Bob Lee killing, is a tech entrepreneur and owner of the San Francisco-based Expand IT, Inc., according to his LinkedIn profile.

The high-profile killing of tech executive Bob Lee last week sent San Francisco’s reputation spiraling down around the world. Big-name industry leaders, celebrities and conservative politicians took to the internet and the airwaves to decry a city beset by lawlessness and violence and progressive leaders who look the other way.

But there was largely deafening silence from those same individuals after an arrest in the case Thursday of tech entrepreneur Nima Momeni, who reportedly Lee knew.

Based on the arrest, police do not believe the attack was a random killing, as alleged by influential detractors who joined a chorus of critics who suggested Lee was killed by someone on the streets, someone who they said should have been locked up but was left to run amok in a city that coddles criminals.

Statistics, however, show the city’s homicide rate is among the lowest of major cities in the U.S. And yet a city poll released Thursday also showed residents feel more unsafe today than they have in two decades, feeling reflected in surveys that show people feel crime is getting worse not better.

The viral social media posts following the fatal stabbing described a city spiraling in unimpeded violence, a message that appeared to resonate with many given San Francisco’s high property crime rates, open air drug markets, homeless population and streets littered with glass from rental car break-ins, conditions that can make people feel like they could easily become victims of violence.

Elected leaders and progressive nonprofits “are setting loose on us a predatory criminal or psychotic element that jeopardizes our safety and makes these cities unlivable,” entrepreneur David Sacks said in a video posted on social media three days after the April 4 fatal stabbing.

“Violent crime in SF is horrific and even if attackers are caught, they are often released immediately,” Elon Musk tweeted after the attack. District Attorney Brooke Jenkins criticized Musk on Thursday for being “reckless and irresponsible” and said he spread “misinformation at a time when police are trying to solve a very difficult case.”

“Proof that crime is OUT OF CONTROL,” the British tabloid Daily Mail echoed after posting  security footage of Lee seeking help after being stabbed.

Mayor London Breed said she wanted to fight back, to challenge those depictions of her city, to take on Musk and conservative commentators in a public forum.

“I was ready to scream at the top of my lungs,” she told The Chronicle Thursday after the arrest. “But if I do, the families of victims suffer.”

How did she deal with her anger?

“It’s called prayer,” she said. “Please, Lord, help me refrain.”

Instead, she urged people to let the investigation play out, to wait for the facts.

“I want a responsible city leader, not someone who engages in fights with people who have no idea what San Francisco really is,” she said. “What is most important for any leader is to get to the truth.”

Kevin Benedicto, a San Francisco Police commissioner and attorney, said at a public hearing last week that it was “premature and distasteful to try to fit this horrifying act of violence into a preconceived narrative and use it to advance a political agenda.”

On Thursday, Benedicto felt vindicated.

“What I objected to last week was people trying to exploit and weaponize this to fit political goals or agendas that they already had when the investigation was so premature,” he told The Chronicle.

Police gave no evidence linking the attack to homelessness or street conditions, as alleged by some. Unhoused individuals are more likely to be victims than perpetrators of crimes, Benedicto noted.

“I think there is a gap between perception and reality. I do think people’s perception should be taken seriously,” he said.

The social media response from podcaster Jason Calacanis was swift in the wake of the murder.


Yet Calacanis remained steadfast in his attacks on the city on Thursday after the arrest.

“*everyone* has said we don’t know the details of any individual case, but at the same time anyone who walks a couple of blocks in San Francisco (outside of Pac Whites where things seem to be oddly safe) knows how dangerous the city is,” he posted on Twitter, referring to wealthy Pacific Heights.

City Supervisor Dean Preston was more vocal in his response to those who jumped to conclusions as they denigrated San Francisco. He took to social media to note that those who “tried to exploit this tragedy to stoke hatred of the poor should be ashamed,” adding “some public apologies are in order.” 

But there were few if any mea culpas Thursday morning.

“There’s a well-oiled machine that is ready to politicize and exploit any tragedy in San Francisco,” Preston told The Chronicle after the arrest. “It’s proof of an agenda that some folks already have. That’s what happened here.”

Some city critics doubled down despite the arrest, noting that the video showed no one stopped to help as Lee tried to flag down passing cars, which demonstrated, they said, that either people were too afraid or uncaring to assist a dying man.

Breed defended efforts to address the challenges the city does face, including open-air drug markets and homelessness, as well as crime. But she has also launched a marketing campaign to help beat back some of the negative press and try to attract visitors, businesses and workers to the city.

“This is a major city,” she said. “Major cities have challenges and we have a police department that does a great job investigating and making sure the facts are brought forward.”

While those who were the loudest critics of San Francisco in wake of Lee’s killing were largely silent, others took to social media to call for apologies.

“Tragic story but the record must be corrected,” said Kaivan Shroff, a political commentator and Democratic organizer. “All those tech bros tried to blame the murder of Cash App (founder) Bob Lee on progressivism in San Francisco (basically tried to imply a homeless person did it). Now we know police have arrested a tech exec in connection with the stabbing.”

Breed noted that overall crime is down in the city, and that the homicide clearance rate is 85% compared to 65% nationally.

While any crime is unacceptable and a single violent death is tragic, Breed said, she remembers a year from her childhood when the city posted 140 homicides, when she lost “so many friends in the neighborhood.”

San Francisco police have reported 13 homicides this year through April 9, compared to 13 at the same time last year. Since the pandemic began, homicides have ticked up in San Francisco and the rest of the Bay Area, mirroring a national trend. There were 56 homicides in San Francisco in both 2022 and 2021, 48 in 2020 and 41 in 2019.

The city’s annual number of homicides is still near record lows, and there were far more people killed in Oakland last year: 120.

San Francisco’s violent crime rate was 544 incidents per 100,000 residents in 2020, the latest figures analyzed and compared to other major cities and regions by the FBI. The agency concluded that San Francisco had the 14th-highest violent crime rate out of the 23 largest police districts and the sixth-lowest murder rate, at 5 per 100,000 residents in 2020.

On Thursday morning, Breed declined to comment on any specifics related to the Lee case. She noted that the identification of a suspect in Lee’s homicide is just the start of the judicial process and said she will continue to wait for it to play out.

She noted that the city’s police department and District Attorney’s Office are now working together after some previous acrimony.

It will take some effort to “beat back against the national press,” to make detractors “think twice about jumping to conclusions.”

“I just think we’re headed in the right direction,” she said. “We have a great city.”

Reach Jill Tucker: [email protected], Roland Li: [email protected]; Twitter: @jilltucker @rolandlisf