Some 120 people settled into the grass at Garfield Square Park. They sat in front of a large blank screen taped to the back of the park clubhouse and waited.
They waited for the sun to go down, for the popcorn to arrive, for the projector to be ready. There was pizza while they waited. A dodgeball court was set up. But most of the kids—and the moms and dads and grandparents and aunt and uncles—who gathered for the Mission police station’s Friday Night Out on Friday evening were content to laugh and chat with their friends on the grass before the showing of the Disney movie Zootopia.
“They all just got a little excited,” said Captain Dan Perea. “We’re going to wait until the sun sets a little.”
The event, which was hosted by the Mission Station in conjunction with Mission Education Project, Inc., drew children and their families from around the Mission for a night of entertainment and an opportunity to get to know the police officers who work in their communities.
“Basically, we’re just building a relationship with the next generation of teenagers and adults,” said Officer Joe Emanuel, who is posted permanently at the park. He was taking a break from wrangling the projector and adjusting the sound system. “All these kids here, when they become teenagers, they’ll remember this, and they’ll remember the officers here,” he said.
Sofia Ortega’s five-year-old son Guillermo was proudly sporting a sheriff star-shaped “Junior SFPD Officer” sticker on his tee-shirt. Ortega said they visited Garfield park a lot, but this was the first police-hosted event she had heard of. Guillermo, who attends nearby Flynn elementary school, had brought a flyer home from school.
“We went to Flynn, we went to Bryant, to Cesar Chavez, Saint Philip’s, Saint Peter’s, Saint Anthony’s,” said Perea, naming the local schools. He was pleased with the turnout and with the relationship the force is building with youth in the community. When they passed out the flyers, he said, “We had kids going, ‘Oh hi Officer Joe, hi Captain Perea.’”
While the station has occasionally hosted events in the park, he hoped that community gatherings like Friday Night Out will become even common.
“I’d love to be able to have an organized thing to have the community come out here and meet the officers,” he said.
Rita Alviar, the executive director of the Mission Education Project Inc., agreed.
“This should be done once a month to give the families an outing,” she said. She was passing out flyers for next month’s “Pumpkin Patch” event in the park. She hadn’t decided yet what November’s event would be, but she imagined it would probably be Thanksgiving-themed.
Alviar has lived in the Mission for 50 years, and has watched Garfield Square’s transform from a crime-ridden park to the community-oriented place it is today.
“I always believe in using the community space, the park,” she said. “For so many years, we weren’t able to use it.”
That was not the case on Friday night. The park was full – not only from those waiting for Zootopia to air, but in front of the clubhouse, children scrambled on top of playground equipment, and on the artificial turf at the other end of the park, boys and girls in fluorescent jerseys lined up for soccer practice.
Gaby Diaz’s son was among them. After she dropped him off for practice, she said, she had seen the crowd outside the clubhouse and wandered over with her five-year-old daughter, Abby Tome. “It’s nice that they have this for them,” she said. “Keeps them busy.”
As the sun crept lower, the crowd and the police officers did keep busy. A dodgeball game finally broke out, with a pair of officers refereeing. Other officers arrived with hot popcorn, fresh from the Castro and Roxie theaters. Word got out slowly, with a line starting to form at the front door of the clubhouse.
“What’s everyone lining up for?” asked a girl in an oversized black sweatshirt. She ran up to check it out. “Mama!” she shouted back. “Popcorn!”
The line swelled into a crowd.
By 6:45 p.m., the park lights had clicked on. Officer Emanuel was making final adjustments to the speakers. “Five more minutes,” he called. “Almost there.”
Seven-year-old Angel Morono had seen Zootopia before and at first shrugged when asked how he felt about the night’s events. But after a little prodding from his grandfather, he grinned at his shoes. “Happy,” he admitted.
A few stragglers remained to pelt each other on the dodgeball court, but most made their way back to the makeshift movie theater, where the projector was fastened to a ladder with duct tape, and yellow “Police Line Do Not Cross” tape marked out a center aisle.
They settled into the crowd. People adjusted their blankets on the grass, zipped up their sweatshirts, munched their popcorn. The sun slipped lower, and the Disney music started.