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September 9, 2008


Killing streets


A headline in today’s San Francisco Chronicle reads

Shooting victim dies — another Mission fatality

That makes seven in the past three weeks.

Did you cringe when SFPD chief Heather Fong laid out the position of the police, and presumably of the City, at a press conference on September 5?

The violence in the Mission is unacceptable. People involved in gang and drug activity have no regard for the community.

Chronicle editorial writer Caille Millner did:

Right now, the ever-escalating chain of homicides that this city has suffered over the last several years proves that they simply don’t, and won’t — until it affects their own neighborhoods. Until then, they’ll be content to pawn the violence off on “gangs.” Until then, they’ll be content to believe that the neighborhoods where violence is happening is just what happens there — because people of color live there, because lower-income people live there, because because because.

Never mind that this part of the Mission has everything that generally helps to deter crime — tight-knit residents, supportive family units, locally owned businesses with a strong stake in the community.

Millner, a Mission resident, is angry. And despairing:

So the alternative is for San Franciscans to start living the way that many people in Oakland already do — with bars on the doors and a gun in the bedside table.

The center of the announced war zone is 24th Street between Mission and the freeway, where several of therecent shootings occurred. Until a few weeks ago, the street provided a lively, friendly focus for the entire neighborhood. It’s lined with small markets and shops that spill out onto the sidewalk. Inexpensive Latin American restaurants offer a haven to residents who live in crowded apartments nearby. There are a few nods to the area’s recent moves toward gentrification — several cafes have moved in, as well as a fitness center — but they maintain a quiet profile. On a sunny day, it’s a pleasure to walk there.

The street used to bustle in the evening as well, when daytime visitors were joined by a young, slightly trendier population.

Used to.

I came out of the 24th & Mission BART station last night and found that I’d entered a ghost town. As I walked along 24th to Bryant, I joined maybe 20 other pedestrians. Five were Asian women, most likely heading toward Mission from work at a late-closing nail salon. At least another five were plain-clothes cops. You can do the math. I had about a dozen blocks to walk, and it was very very lonely.

It felt like a scene from a science fiction film. The corridor was well lit, and the murals on walls and storefront shutters added accents of rich color to the night. A few cars drove by. One vibrated noisily, its bass amp turned way up. I saw one SFPD black & white. And a couple of lean lanky skateboarders, enjoying the traffic-free street. But in general, the street was silent. Inhospitable. Unfriendly. Barren.

Like a city depopulated by a neutron bomb.

Caille Millner may be right. But the disturbing question is, who drove the people from the street?

But that’s just one woman’s opinion. Thanks for reading.

        — Copyright Betsey Culp 2008