Community members voiced a variety of concerns about long-term safety in the Mission District at a public meeting Monday night, four days after a shooting by a police officer catalyzed a string of violent protests in the neighborhood.
About 100 community members gathered at the Good Samaritan Family Resource Center and cited a host of grievances regarding police response to the weekend violence, ranging from insufficient police patrols in public spaces to a lack of youth outreach and support.
Violence erupted over the weekend after an unidentified officer shot 22-year Norteño gang member Oscar Barceñas, who police say brandished a semiautomatic handgun. At a town hall meeting earlier on Monday, San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr said that Barceñas may have been planning to retaliate for a fatal shooting on Sept. 16 near Garfield Square. Barceñas’ injuries were not life-threatening.
Mission Station Capt. Robert Moser said Monday evening that increased police presence — in the form of foot patrols, gang enforcement officers and plainclothes officers — is helping to mitigate violence in the area. Suhr added that the recent spurt of violence was gang-specific, not random, and that the Mission is a safe, vibrant place.
But some Mission residents said that the police department and City Hall can do more, and pushed to permanently increase patrols in public spaces like parks, where unsavory characters often linger.
“At Rolph Park, I have found needles,” said Mission resident and mother Ceci Gutierrez. “People are so drunk, they are urinating, and the kids are seeing that.”
One audience member — to the dismay of a majority of the crowd — claimed that the community is unsafe due to “lazy,” violence-prone street youth, who, he believes, should be denied housing rights in the district.
“Why can’t the rules be followed? Let’s get these people out,” he said. “Let’s kick them and their families out and put people who really need that housing.”
Ricardo Garcia-Acosta of Northwest Community Response Network asked the audience to consider the plight of kids who live in rough conditions before painting them as “monsters, villains or criminals.”
“We’re not talking about how kids are being disconnected from the school system and how third, fourth and fifth-graders are already identifying more with the streets than they identify with their classroom or teachers,” Garcia-Acosta said.
“It’s hard to have self-respect when you grow up in a broken home and you have limited resources in the community that’s rapidly changing. And all you have to grow up to is Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj as your heroes. It’s really sad.”
Community activist Susana Rojas echoed the sentiment, and added that residents should volunteer with community organizations that seek to engage youth productively.
“Please remember that our kids are suffering from PTSD because there’s a lot of violence,” Rojas said. “So don’t vilify them … some of them are making those choices, but not all of them.”
Mission resident Roberto Hernandez said he has attended 50 meetings about community deaths, and that the meetings often promote short-term solutions to long-term problems.
“It’s a vicious cycle,” he said. “We go into crisis mode, we get more cops, it goes away and business is back as usual. This community has struggled to make changes, but it hasn’t been enough … I’ve buried too many kids in this barrio … I’m hurt.”
The most tense moment occurred when an audience member claimed that the officer involved in Thursday’s shooting should be held accountable for “shooting our kids down,” and loudly exited the room.