Two incidents of violence involving Asian residents– one in January on the platform and one in March – have focused attention at Bayview’s T- Third Street stop between Oakdale and Palou Avenues.
Mission Loc@l went out Tuesday evening to spend some time near the platform between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. – the same time frame in which both attacks took place.
Before the sun sets there’s a regular flux of youngsters – boys mostly – crossing the street by clambering over the Muni platform, but no one seems to be pestering or harassing anyone that isn’t already a friend or acquaintance.
People of all races walk by to ride transit, and they don’t rush or look concerned for their safety, but they don’t necessarily stop and interact, either.
On the east side of the stop is a bizarre little plaza, devoid of plants but outfitted with a series of bolted iron seats facing the Muni stop, a perfect spot for watching the scene of waiting and arriving Muni riders.
What is most striking about the T-Third stop is that only African Americans seem to linger in the plaza and outside the liquor stores, enjoying the sunny weather, chatting and often hollering to friends across the street.
The block between Oakdale and Palou Avenues is populated by churchgoers and alcoholics, by teenagers and elderly.
It’s a popular gathering place as well as the gateway to the Bayview Opera House, on Third Street between Oakdale and Newcomb Avenues.
In the plaza, while the weather still holds, somewhere between 10 and 15 people of all ages gather in little groups. Others – adults and youngsters – swing by to chat briefly, walking, riding bikes or wheelchairs, an inordinate number of people here are equipped with canes. A toddler in an enormous puffy jacket waddles by, straying from the playground nearby.
The amount of litter out Tuesday isn’t particularly egregious, but a discarded medical device sits mysteriously on one of the benches.
The vast majority of the pedestrians on Third Street Tuesday are just passing through or leaving or waiting for transit, either the T-Third train, which stops at the platform, or the 24 and 54 buses at the curbside.
Residents have mixed feelings about how safe it is, but they also feel that San Franciscans from other parts of the city view Bayview as significantly more dangerous than it really is.
And many riders feel that the T-Third train itself is no more or less dangerous than any other Muni line. Statisitics from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency support this. (See the text box.)
On Tuesday evening, police cars cruise by roughly every 10 minutes, but no officers are walking the beat. Two in a squad car stop to talk with some passerby briefly, but no one is standing on the platform. When Bayview Police Captain Greg Suhr is asked later about foot patrols here, he says there should have been a police officer standing on the platform during this time and that he’d look into it.
As the sun goes down and a cold wind sets in, the population of socializers thins and shifts over to the liquor store side of the street. All of Third Street picks up a more desolate flavor.
Members of the Valley Christian Fellowship park in the plaza and go inside to evening services. The African American pastor, Eric Gillette, thinks that a lot of the trouble at the Palou stop is from kids who don’t even live in Bayview.
“Last week there was a fight, one was from Fillmore and the other from Sunnydale, and they met in Bayview,” Gillette says.
He blames the violence on a few bad kids, products of a breakdown in family structure that results in a fundamental lack of respect for anyone or anything. He doesn’t think solutions hinge on merely pumping in more money but “really reaching them mentally, they don’t have anything to look forward to.”
An Asian man waiting for Muni says the neighborhood is okay but that there should be more police and more arrests. A white, gay man – who’d been held up at gun point once nearby – says he doesn’t feel unsafe exactly, but he’s cautious, always looking out for possible danger.
The only anxious moment of the evening comes when two large, seemingly-intoxicated, young African American men suggest that this reporter put her camera away, that “this isn’t the neighborhood you think it is.” It’s fairly unclear whether this is friendly advice, intimidation, or an attempt at flirtation.
Regardless of the warning, photos are taken. Nothing happens. After dark, the plaza empties, even the pigeons disappear.
The pastor’s wife, Gwen Gillette, says she had no fear walking around Third Street or anywhere in Bayview. “I don’t feel unsafe,” she said, insisting that there’s a lot of mileage in being friendly to everyone. “Show them kindness, give them a smile.”