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Police, Politicians Address Castro Violence

by David-Elijah Nahmod

Bay Area Reporter

Saturday August 10, 2013

Castro area residents concerned about violent crime in the neighborhood packed a recent community meeting where they heard from the police chief and district attorney.

While the Castro has an active neighborhood watch program called Castro Community on Patrol, a number of attendees at the July 31 meeting at the Eureka Valley Recreation Center said that they did not know about established safety zones, which is part of a program started years ago by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence that CCOP has helped resurrect.

Sister Pat N Leather, a member of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, held up one of the familiar window placards, in which the words "Stop the Violence: Stop Hate" frame a prominent pink triangle.

"If you see this sign in the window of a home or business, you can approach that location and ask for help," said Leather. She also urged residents to wear a whistle.

"A whistle can save your life," she added.

Some people at the meeting had thought that the signs were meant to raise community awareness and make a general statement. Throughout the two-hour meeting, the importance of knowledge, awareness, and working together was emphasized.

Mark Mosher, who lives on Collingwood Street, suggested that cameras on the street could identify the perpetrators.

"You could pay for it with the proceeds you'd raise from the reality series you could produce from the footage," he said, as the crowd laughed. "They're doing crystal meth in full view of the school."

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, San Francisco Police Department Captain Robert Moser of Mission Station, and gay Supervisor Scott Wiener addressed concerns and spoke about what was being done to bring things under control.

"We're putting plainclothes officers by the park," said Moser, who told people they could email him directly to address specific concerns at [email protected].

"You can cc me on the email, and I'll call Bob and ask if he got it," said Police Chief Greg Suhr ([email protected]).

Many people called for better lighting on neighborhood streets. "We've gotten funding for streetlamps," said Wiener. "Then others go to war against them because they think it's too much lighting."

Wiener also addressed several incidents of violence during recent Pink Saturday celebrations, praising the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence for all their hard work in organizing Pink Saturday, as well as for their anti-violence work.

"Less than 10 percent of Pink Saturday attendees donate to the event," Wiener noted. Another speaker suggested that a mandatory donation might help in keeping troublemakers away.

Wiener also talked about the controversial decision to remove the benches from Harvey Milk Plaza at Castro and Market streets.

"It was getting out of hand," he said, referring to incidents of hard drug use, threats of violence amid aggressive panhandling, urinating and defecating, and even incidents of anti-gay hate speech that were coming from those who were congregating in the plaza.

However, residents were upset about the overall incidents of violence in the area.

"I know of six people in the past five weeks who were attacked," said James Littau. "The numbers being reported are very low based on what's been going on, and there's no police presence in the neighborhood."

Others noted that calls to the police non-emergency line were ignored, or that they had to endure long waits when they called 911.

"I live at Sanchez and 20th," said a man named Steve. "I could be stabbed to death in front of my house, and the non-emergency line does nothing."

Leather, of the Sisters, urged residents to get involved with CCOP. The neighborhood watch organization was founded in 2006 in response to several well-publicized assaults around the Castro. Working in conjunction with local law enforcement, CCOP trains volunteers to keep an eye on the neighborhood and to report crime. It receives a small annual grant from the city and is fiscally managed by Safety Awareness for Everyone.

SAFE representative Trey Sanders noted that there was a great deal of unreported crime and urged people to contact the Victim's Services department of the DA's office. Sanders said that SAFE could be contacted by calling (415) 553-1966.

Gascón informed the crowd that that his office had indeed prosecuted many cases, citing a number of recent arrests.

"My office is fully committed to going after the people who are victimizing this community," he said. "Arrests in the Mission are up 50 percent, but we all have to work together."

He said electronic devices such as cellphones and tablets are often the incentive in property crimes.

"Be aware of your surroundings when you use these devices," Gascón said.

Gascón spoke briefly of new technologies being developed by Apple that would make it easier to track stolen devices, or shut them down when they're stolen.

"We have to remove the incentive to take them," he said.

Wiener said that many of the crimes were quite brazen, and occurred during both daytime and nighttime hours. Many of the incidents involved guns.

"We have 300 less police officers on the force," he said. "The policy-makers at City Hall didn't fund police academy classes."

Wiener noted in a recent opinion piece in the Bay Area Reporter that police academy classes are now being funded.

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