Gangs and Cupcakes

Map by Danya Al-Saleh For a larger version of the map click here.

Map by Danya Al-Saleh For a larger version of the map click here.

En Español.

The weekend homicide near 17th and Mission streets and Wednesday’s lunchtime gunfight on 24th and Harrison offered Mission District residents a reminder that the hip neighborhood where they feast on everything from the latest doughnut recipe to cupcakes and artisan pork rinds is also a place where gang violence still exists, and where a 2007 gang injunction is still in place.

Officials hoped the violence would be kept in check, and community members planned to meet this afternoon at Everett Middle School to brainstorm about how to resolve the situation. But even among newcomers there is both an awareness of the violence and a sense that they are able to navigate it. “You want to be aware,” said Trans Van Santos, sitting at the counter at the St. Francis Fountain on 24th Street on Thursday morning. “But you don’t want to be scared.”

Some businesses, such as Bello Coffee and Tea at Harrison and 24th, where Wednesday’s shooting took place, have decided to have a staff meeting to discuss how to handle violent crime. In the last month, three assaults, three thefts and an armed robbery have all occurred within 500 feet of the business.

What if it spills over into the coffee house itself? What, for instance, is company policy if a wounded man crawls into Bello while being pursued by several men?

That’s exactly what happened two years ago to Salvador Vásquez. A wounded man, covered in blood, sought refuge in La Gallinita Market on the southeast corner of 24th Street, where Vásquez works. Vásquez locked the doors, called 911 and waited for the police to arrive as the man’s assailants tried to get through the locked door.

“Fortunately, it doesn’t happen often,” said Vásquez. “But I am used to it when it does.”

Abby, a barista at Bello Coffee and Tea, said that she had assumed the gunfire on Wednesday was construction. “I even saw a man falling to the ground and didn’t think it was a shooting.”

Andrew, who works at Humphry Slocombe, a popular ice cream store that often has lines outside on Harrison and 24th, said he heard the gunshots and later visited a friend who had a bullet hole in his window.

The cashier at Usultán, a Mexican restaurant across from Humphry Slocombe, said that when violence occurs, they “deal with it in one way or another.”

Which leaves the question: Is the occasional shoot-out bad for business? To the clientele of the St. Francis Fountain, four blocks east on 24th and a hangout for the young and hip: No.

“This is the best place in town for breakfast,” said Tex, a small man in denim work clothes drinking coffee Thursday morning at the counter.

He feels safe in the Mission as a whole, though he’s been warned to be careful to not seem especially gay anywhere around the intersection of 24th and Mission. “What I was told was, there are these gangs from El Salvador, and to be in the gang you have to kill a queer. I was a little disappointed. I just moved back here from New Zealand and I was like ‘Yay! I’m in SF! I can skip through the daisies again!’”

Still, he said, compared to Wellington, New Zealand, where he was once hospitalized after yelling “Hey, leave the lady alone!” to a group of men beating up a transgendered woman, the Mission is pretty great.

“I would not say that I think about it,” said Darrin, a burly, cheerful man sharing breakfast with a lady friend. He’s lived here for seven years, and in that time he’s come home from work to find a dead body lying on the sidewalk. “It was covered in a yellow sheet,” he said. “He was shot in broad daylight, walking down the street with his kid. People told me that he was one of the top guys in MS-13.”

He’s also returned to find the street in front of his apartment at 24th and Hampshire marked off with crime scene tape. “I told the police that I lived there, and they said ‘OK, you can come inside. But if you see blood or bullet casings, don’t step on it.’”

Does he feel safe? Mostly, yeah. “There are certain moments — coming home late at night. Walking home from BART. But the violence does seem for the most part like it’s targeted. I would not say that I think about it very often.”

Bay Area native Van Santos, who sat at the far end of the counter writing in his journal, a pair of heart-shaped sunglasses dangling off the neck of his T-shirt, advised, “Just keep your eyes open. You can’t be afraid, but you can’t be naive.”

His girlfriend was the victim of what he thinks was an attempted mugging recently around 23rd and York. “She’s just this skinny little white girl from Connecticut,” Van Santos said, dreamily. “But she’d just watched ‘Goodfellas.’ And so when this guy came up and grabbed her she already had her keys in her hand. She started gashing his face and screaming bloody murder.”

The assailant ran down the street with Van Santos’s girlfriend in hot pursuit. After a few blocks she realized that she wasn’t sure what she’d do if she caught him, and abandoned the chase.

Van Santos has acquired a set of hard-earned trouble deflection skills that serve him well in the neighborhood. The tight pants and heart-shaped sunglasses insulate him from most disagreements, but if he’s ever called out for wearing the wrong color on the wrong street, his standard retort is to say, in Spanish, “Come on man, I play Carlos Santana in a tribute band.”

Filed under: Front Page, Trouble

35 Comments

  1. saltychump

    would be cool if there was a human readable version of that map somewhere.

    • Profile photo of Lydia Chávez Lydia Chávez Post author

      So sorry, you’re so right. We just got a pdf up. You can click on the link right below the photo. Best, Lydia

    • matt

      ha, only in SF would someone make a map where the north isn’t at the top. Or was the irony of showing the nortenos in the south and the surenos in the north too ironic. bleh

      • having north at the top of a map is a eurocentric construct. We’ve become used to it, but there’s nothing dictating it, and early ptolemaic maps were quite often laid out with Rome or Jerusalem at the top. Earth is an orb floating in empty space, which way “up” is depends entirely on which direction you’re approaching from. The cartographer likely put west at the top because it tells the story better that way.

        • Brillo

          Having north at the top is a social convention that aids in comprehension. Hooray for subverting the dominant paradigm; you guys are very educated, but telling cupcake-eaters to “reinterpret their surroundings” comes off as a bit smug, especially since the authors are likely more cupcake than gangster, themselves.

  2. AJ

    I think it’s interesting that this rather glib article is mostly filled with quotes from men (only one woman, and she gets one sentence) and people who make no reference to families. Talking to baristas and guys named Tex sitting at hipster joints give almost no perspective about the actual community response to the recent surge in violence. I belong to a couple of lists in the Mission, and from those and talking to my neighbors, most people DO NOT have a blase attitude about shootouts happening on their street. I was once young and single in San Francisco, and probably cultivated the same “I’m so urban” attitude, but there are actually many of us who don’t mind at all admitting that we’re terrified. Maybe your reporters need help finding actual residents with families who make up the bulk of the less conspicuous population here before doing a pulse-checking article like this. Most of the people I know are actively talking with the police, calling, organizing and trying to figure out how to be safe.

    • A.J.

      Good point. This was more of a quick article focusing on the businesses close to yesterday’s gunfire, but it’s important to remember that violence in the Mission is not evenly distributed – a whole host of factors play a huge role in whether a person is involved – either voluntarily or involuntarily – or just another passerby.

      It’s also good to remember that having children really changes the way that you relate to your community.

      Thank you very much for writing in with this.

  3. Bob

    Yes, this article definitely takes the hipster point of view of “those people” shooting each other– just keep the blood out of my latte.

    • AJ

      Nice, a more crisp way to say what I was trying to say.

    • that’s the impression i got from this article too. the privilege of relative safety someone is afforded by age/sex/skin when walking through this neighborhood shouldn’t divorce them from processing, interacting, and responding to what’s going on. too many violent acts are explained by dehumanizing victims and aggressors, making them the other, taking away their identities…

  4. Kevin

    Good story, thanks!

  5. pillon

    I’m not quite a Mission expert but it seems to me the upbeat flair of the article’s tone is justified and makes it interesting reading. I agree that the violence is almost all targeted and normal folks have little to worry about.

    • T.C.

      You need to spend more time reading the “trouble” section of this website then. Most crime victims are “normal folks”, men & women, that seem to be doing a fairly good job of minding their own business when they get, mugged, pepper sprayed, stabbed, shot at, kicked, robbed, punched etc.

      I wish Police had a better presence in the Mission, but…

      I’d be up for being part of a Neighborhood Watch Program.

    • AJ

      For those of you who think the violence is “targeted”, straight from the paper:

      Feb. 21: A group of suspects asks another group at 22nd and Mission streets what gang they claimed. After responding that they are not gang members, the victims are punched and stabbed.

      Feb. 27: A man who had just moved from San Leandro is sitting in a car at Alabama and Cesar Chavez streets when he is approached and asked what gang he claimed. The man, who is not a gang member, is shot in the neck.

      Of course, if by “normal folks” you mean white hipsters, then yes, they may have less to worry about.

  6. Ryoanji

    I enjoyed the map – thank you.

    (Few things annoy me more than Yelp.com reviewers who complain that the Mission ‘smells like urine’ or is ‘gross’. I could assault those nitwits with banana cream pies and caramel sea salt doughnuts, I really could..)

    • randolph mortimer

      are you claiming the Mission _doesn’t_ smell like urine ?

      because it pretty much factually does at several locations.

  7. Jon Leppelman

    Seriously? I thought this was an Onion article the way it approaches a very serious community challenge focused on whether people feel safe having artisan doughnuts. Come on. How about some cultural competence? What a missed opportunity.

    • Profile photo of Lydia Chávez Lydia Chávez Post author

      Jon: Thank you for the comment. It’s good to know how these pieces are taken in. We were trying to do something with the juxtaposition of food and crime –to jog the way in which people think about community, geography and crime. We do reporting that looks at the social context of crime and we look at crimes in depth. See A Life and Death on Shotwell and Ministry offers Youth Family Space a Dash of God are two that come to mind. But could we do more? Always. Best, Lydia, editor

      • Jon Leppelman

        If you want to jog the way people talk about crime, talk to a broader variety of people. What about the families of people who get profiled? What about talking to gang members themselves? The infographic is insensitive. How does it add value to the story? How would you feel if you knew one of the victims of these crimes and saw this gourmet and food artisan take on violence?

        My criticism is not a call to do more. It’s to be better and do better by the story. Cute ain’t cutting it.

  8. Antone

    I enjoyed the article and I have lived in the Mission (24th and Alabama) for 7 years. I love it. Yes there is violence, but there is violence everywhere. Be smart, be aware of your surroundings and if you are a young lady never walk alone. This is common sense anywhere. PS… you got La Victoria and La Reyna mixed up on the Map…

  9. rebecca

    This article is so insensitive and outrageous.
    I’m a longtime Mission Local reader & fan. However, I’m incredibly disappointed to see this product coming out of a project of the prestigious UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Generously funded by the Ford Foundation, if I’m not mistaken. Is this really the kind of writing they had in mind?

    This article isn’t even reporting.

    Violence and gang injunctions are a serious issue. At best, this was a lost opportunity for an actual discussion of the varying viewpoints from Mission residents on the safety of their neighborhood.

    Can someone explain what cupcakes and bakeries have to do with it? Gang and cupcakes? Really?

    Regarding gang injunctions: We all deserve to live in safe communities. If the authors of this article had done some simple research, they would have found that long-time Mission residents spoke out against and organized against the gang injunctions in the neighborhood when they were first proposed several years ago. Gang injunctions are the wrong response to very real public safety concerns. And, to be honest, they can actually have a negative impact on the communities they’re intended to protect. Can anyone really tell me with a straight face that the police have a good, honest record in their dealings with communities of color? If the police know who the gang members are, arrest them.

    Is an unimpeded Secret Breakfast fix at Humphrey Slocombe really the biggest thing at stake here? How about an article about what it’s like to raise a family in the Mission district? Just last week I saw a young boy — probably 8 years old — sitting in a taqueira in 16th street around 5:30pm, alone at a window facing the street doing his homework. What’s his story? What’s his mom’s story? What does she want for the community in which she works and may be raising her son?

    The authors of this “article” didn’t really do their legwork or report any sort of actual story.

    In the comments, one of the authors, Heather contends that “having children really changes the way that you relate to your community.” Isn’t the job of a real reporter to do unbiased reporting? Perhaps she should have written a column about her parenting experiences instead. What about the parents who worry about their sons safety — not just from gang violence — but from police harassment because of what they look like. If the authors had really dug in to the community, they would have found plenty of mothers who know that gang injunctions are not the way to make the Mission safer.

    Also — can someone tell me again, what do cupcakes have to do with it?

    • Jon Leppelman

      Thank you! This summed up my household’s response incredibly well.

    • Rebecca,

      Thank you for writing such a well-thought out and intelligent response. Comments like the ones that we get on this article are what ultimately makes us a better paper.

      I would however, respectfully add that there are many Missions within the boundary of this neighborhood. The Mission that we are reporting on in this article – a thriving commercial district that only rarely intersects with the suffering and violence within its borders – does exist. We handled it in a way that you think is tacky, and it’s good to know that. But it does exist.

  10. Local

    Gotta love how the police choose to handle these situations…….. as you can see, this “gang injunction” is solely directed at the Northern Raza, not the southerners which are composed of out of towners and drop outs who are a walking, breathing “….. to those who take pride in the bay area culture. there’s a reason every other gang in san francisco (of every race) hates sureños, they’re ignorant racists who are trying to represent a cause that has no place up north. you don’t see norteño gangs setting up down in LA, with good …… but hey, thanks to the police, being proud of your culture and city is now a crime, punished by police corruption and imprisonment for no good reason. southerners are the ones who attack innocent people on purpose, throw bottles at random cars, and are a disgrace to this city…. being raised up myself here, i know for a fact that in the northern institution its a rule that you must look out after your own community, you see an old lady with her groceries, help her carry them, but hey now days people are so judgemental of youth that since my pants are baggy or im wearing red, that im “going to rob this old lady”…… expecting the lowest of us becomes a self fulfilling prophecy when you give us no choice, when you wont hire us at your businesses, when we have mouthes to feed at home, but because we look a certain way you wont give us the time of day unless we’re selling you your dope or some other …… you force us into.

    • TRU MISION REZ

      BLOOD, ENE’s ARE RACIST 2, VERY RACIST AGAINST THEIR OWN RACE, CALLING NON ENGLISH SPEAKERS WETBACKS AN ETC., IF YOU’RE GOING TO SPEAK, BE EQUAL, I DONT KNOW YOU AGE OR ETHNICITY, BUT ITS FUNNY HOW BACK WHEN NORTE STARTED, A MAJORITY WERE IMMIGRANTS OR SONS OF IMMIGRANTS AND SURENOS WERE THE OPPOSITE, BOTH SIDE ARE RACIST, TOWARDS THEIR OWN RACE AND OTHER RACES.

  11. ls

    Pretty much, yes this is a stupid article. This is a neighborhood where people raise their families and for the most part live decent lives. It’s the fucked up mentality of the gangbangers that makes it suck for everyone. I wonder what the hell they think – they must have friends and families. Do they ever stop to consider what they are doing to their own neighborhoods? Why don’t those questions get asked instead of what some hipster kid brunching at the rather questionably edible St. Francis thinks.

  12. One minor quibble — Hoff Street is only one block long; the street labeled “Hoff” on this map is actually Wiese Street (little more than a back alley, really).

  13. TRU MISION REZ

    WHAT HAPPENED TO MY OLD NEIGHBORHOOD OF 24TH STREET?, 1ST MR. DENNIS HERRERA PUTS AN INDICTMENT/RESTRAINING ORDER ON ALL NORTENO GANGS, BUT LEFT ALL SURENO GANGS ALONE, MY AREA, REGARDLESS OF YUPPIE GENTRIFICATION HAS ALWAYS LOOKED AND SMELLED BETTER THAN THE SURENO SIDE OF THE MISION, IF MR. HERRERA WOULD DO THE SAME, THEN THOSE AREAS WOULDNT LOOK LIKE THE DUMPS THEY ARE, KIDS DO NEED POSITIVE OUTLETS, BUT POPULARITY CONTESTS KICK IN AND REALITY IS FORGOTTEN.

  14. sfmissionman

    Norteños and sureños are not the sharks and the jets. They are international crime syndicates which exploit Latino communities in the Mission District and anywhere else Latinos reside. They are largely run from prisons. They have alliances with the cartels which are destroying Mexico. Young men and women affiliated with these organizations, whether low ranking soldiers, recruits, or would be recruits, are not drawn in by boredom, a lack of alternatives, or a lack of opportunity. They are drawn in by money, sex, drugs, and a lifestyle which seems glamorous by the standards of their degenerating culture. If “mission hipsters,” an offensive euphemism for white people, wish to save young Latinos from gang violence, they will support the destruction of the larger criminal organizations, and not be fooled into thinking that the problem is local, or involves only youth. And they need to know that their “help,” however desperately needed, may not be warmly received if it is perceived as a critique of Latino culture, which is likely.

  15. boo

    This map is ridiculous. It just proves that there are gangs and those gangs reside in a city. You could make the same map with restaurants, bars, schools, parks – but it would be with less cute icons and draw a less striking comparison. Cupcakes! Army font!

    Mission residents *do not* ignore the violence because they can’t. They can’t ignore the sirens coming down from the police cars on 17th street. If this map was made by someone who actually LIVED in the mission, it would be quite different. Danya Al-Saleh should stick to the ivory tower in Berkeley and make a map of that.

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