Shooting stuns Castro
by Matt Baume
Bevan Dufty was standing near the main stage at Pink Saturday when he saw the crowd suddenly turn and run. He instantly recognized what had just happened.
"San Francisco has a homicide problem," the openly gay District 8 supervisor told the Bay Area Reporter. "The city has worked mightily to address it, and homicide has reduced significantly last year. But it hasn't gone away. And that problem came to the Castro."
Pink Saturday, held June 26 the night before the Pride Parade, had otherwise gone relatively smoothly this year, with fewer medical emergencies, a single fight that was quickly contained, and public urination curtailed by rapid-response security teams. But at 11:30 p.m., shots were fired near the Chevron at Castro and Market, killing 19-year-old Stephen Powell and injuring two bystanders.
Sergeant Troy Dangerfield with the San Francisco Police Department confirmed that Ed Perkins, 20, of San Francisco, was apprehended minutes after the shooting. Initially, Perkins was charged with murder; but those charges were changed to weapons possession this week when it was discovered that none of the shots fired matched the concealed and loaded .357 caliber revolver that the district attorney's office says Perkins brought to Pink Saturday.
The exact relationship between Powell and Perkins is still unclear, but media reports indicate that the two men had ties to rival Bayview gangs.
A vigil was held Monday night for Powell at 3rd and Quesada, just a few blocks from an area covered by a city attorney's office injunction against a gang that operates around a Bayview housing development. The vigil was interrupted by a drive-by shooting that injured two mourners. The SFPD's gang task force is investigating.
Powell is remembered fondly by friends who established a memorial page on Facebook. "Steve was the most warm hearted friends that I had the pleasure of knowing," wrote one friend.
Ellie Miller, an intern in Dufty's office, attended Stuart Hall High School with Powell prior to his expulsion in 2007. "He was a good kid," she recalled. "He was sweet and funny. Very much loved."
As the police investigation continues, community leaders are left to reflect on the street party.
In 2006, gunfire at Halloween in the Castro resulted in subsequent cancellation of the event. When asked if Pink Saturday might face a similar fate, Dufty was firm: "No. We're not going to cancel Pink Saturday. ... It's clear to me that what took place was two individuals who could have done this in any neighborhood in San Francisco. And it just happened to be there that night."
Sister Viva L'Amour des Hommes and Sister Risque oversaw this year's Pink Saturday, which has historically been organized by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. L'Amour declined to speculate about future events.
"Our focus is still on this year's celebration, and we haven't begun to discuss our plans for next year," she said. "We still need to have a dialogue internally. ... We'll be meeting very soon to discuss how things happened, what went well, what went wrong, and provide a report back."
Greg Carey, chair of the volunteer Castro Community on Patrol, took a similar position.
"We'll have discussions within our organization about how things went well, or not well," he said. CCOP coordinated with the Sisters, dispatching teams throughout the event to monitor and report on attendees' behavior.
Dufty, who is running for mayor next year, expects that a community forum will eventually be held to discuss Pink Saturday, but urged patience.
"My desire is to wait for two or three weeks," he said. "I would like to have the investigations completed and the data available."
The pre-Pride party has undergone significant changes in recent years. In 2009, a private security firm was hired to perform pat-downs and bag-checks at the gates. That was in response to demands for heightened security from the SFPD, which was concerned about the Sisters' plan to expand the size of the party and to add beer booths in the streets.
According to Dufty, one of the Sisters' reasons for expanding the event in 2009 was to increase donations at the gate.
"Up until last year ... it was not widely known outside of the LGBT community," he said. "But it was highly advertised. There were radio ads, banners, street advertisements. Starting last year, we started to see a higher percentage of non-LGBT participants. ... There were a lot of local non-queer folks who were there this year. ... What we've seen this past two years is the local rowdy crowd mixing in with the LGBT crowd."
The heightened security was also a source of concern. "[The Sisters received] community feedback last year that security was too heavy, and there were concerns about the cultural competency of security," said Sister L'Amour.
For this year's party, the Sisters decided to eliminate beer booths, and with them, the SFPD's requirement for pat-downs.
"We wanted to reduce the impact of paid security," she said. "We went with the same firm that did Love Parade, and they did a fantastic job. All the feedback we've had is that they had a good experience with security."
Castro bars benefited greatly from the elimination of beer booths.
"A lot of the bars had had a slower year," said Dufty, "so [the Sisters] wanted to let the bars do as well as they could."
"We really want to take it back to the local bartenders," Sister Sharin' Dipity Reveal told Castro merchants at a meeting in April. "It will be nowhere near the size it was last year."
In e-mails obtained by the B.A.R. through a public records request, the co-chair of 2009's Pink Saturday expressed concerns in January about the event's security costs. "Sgt Limbert informed me that SFPD will charge us 10-B [overtime] for officers," wrote Sister Barbi Mitzvah in an e-mail to Dufty's office. "We were told we were grandfathered in and now it appears the city is going to renege on that conversation and agreement."
Two weeks later, Mitzvah sent another e-mail, this time announcing that she would not be returning to organize the event in 2010. "The group voted last night to continue with Pink Saturday, but to the former blueprint of 2008. I know after 2008 the city mandated us with private security which is why we expanded the blueprint and took on sponsorships to pay for it. In this new (old) model it is not clear if they will serve alcohol or not, as it appears it will not happen mostly due to space requirements. However the new team will figure that out."
That was a change from June 2009, when Mitzvah told the B.A.R. , "If everything goes smoothly, we plan to continue producing this." She did not respond to requests for an interview by press time.
Although the booths were eliminated, the area of the street closure was reduced, and the event was unadvertised, this year's crowd was enormous. Official counts are still unavailable, but Dufty estimated, based on conversations with community members, that 200,000 people attended.
Like many, Dufty observed an unfamiliar demographic in the crowd. "It seemed very young," he said, but added, "it still seemed gay to me. It didn't seem menacing the way that Halloween could feel."
Although security at the gate maintained a lower profile this year, the Sisters made several improvements to security within the event itself.
"We've been working very closely with the SFPD leading up to the event," said L'Amour. "We've been talking with the police at least weekly."
The Sisters hired a dedicated 911 dispatcher from the Department of Emergency Services, streamlined communication, and established a first aid station. In addition, CCOP maintained a high level of visibility, working alongside the Sisters' hired dispatcher.
Dufty confirmed that public safety was at the forefront of much of the planning. Just as in previous years, he or someone from his office attended every planning meeting held at Mission Station.
The timing of Saturday's shooting coincided with the official end of the party. Fifteen minutes before shots were fired, the gates were removed and collection stopped, according to the terms of the Sisters' permit. "At 11:15, the event starts to hand back over to the city," explained Sister L'Amour.
And that was the setting for Powell's murder: A large crowd, attracted to the party from outside the Castro and having faced minimal security checks, was transitioning from the Sisters' control to the city's when shots rang out.
"I don't believe the Castro is dangerous," said CCOP's Carey. "But I do believe that people can do a better job of taking care of themselves and their friends."
CCOP is currently seeking volunteers to patrol the neighborhood, assisting individuals and deterring violence. CCOP's next training session is July 9 at 7 p.m.; interested parties are asked to RSVP to mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.
"As a community," Carey said, "we take care of each other."