In a press conference today at 16th and Mission focused on improving safety at the BART plaza, 78-year-old Yolanda Melara described her mugging, which took place Friday, Feb. 10, as she walked the half-block from the BART station to her teaching job at an early childhood education program on Mission Street.
“I was walking this way, and noticed a young man behind me. I felt him grab my purse that I had strapped to me, and when he grabbed it, he pushed me,” the five-foot tall Melara told the crowd of some 80 coworkers, elders, neighbors, local organizers and small business owners that gathered at 16th and Mission streets.
The attacker knocked her to the ground, spraining both of wrists and severely injuring her right eye, a cut that required stitches. She did not give up her purse.
Despite the rush of passersby at 8 a.m., nobody stopped to intervene.
“None of them helped me,” she said. “I laid on the floor for a while before some coworkers saw me and came to my aid.”
Melara filed a police report, and her attacker is now purportedly in custody.
“The children notice everything. When I came to work that day, small children were telling me ‘I saw you with a lot of blood on your face.’ They shouldn’t have to see that.”
Melara commutes from her home in Concord and has come to the Mission for 31 years to support early education for under-resourced, mostly Latinx children and families at Head Start, a program of Mission Neighborhood Centers on Mission between 15th and 16th Streets, only a half-block from the station.
In a 10-minute statement, which was translated for many in the audience by Mission Neighborhood Centers CEO Richard Ybarra, Melara stressed the need for respect of elders, children and the Latinx population she works with, describing the “injustice” of the unsafe streets they walk every day.
“Every time there’s an event here, this place looks clean. It looks safe. But it’s not like that.”
“The children have to grow up seeing things every day,” like drug use, needles on the street and public urination. “If something isn’t good for their mental health, children should not have to see it.”
When asked if the Mission is “worse or better than before,” Melara responded, “It’s worse.”
Many local organizers highlighted the discrepancy in the city’s attentions. Why is Union Square clean and the Mission is not?
While some speakers urged the need for “enforcement” of laws and “unity with the FBI and police,” others questioned such alliances. Neighborhood residents uncomfortable with calls for increased police presence were more amenable to other forms of civilianized on-the-ground “security.”
When Roberto Hernandez, of the Latino Task Force, was asked about community members who didn’t want to engage with police or see homeless people ticketed with nowhere to go, his response focused on the need for resources.
“BART points the finger at the city, the city points the finger at BART; it’s insane. Every city department blames somebody else. But they don’t take responsibility.”
Sober for 27 years, Hernandez said “there has to be resources … When somebody says, ‘I need to detox, I am ready,’ and you can’t find a bed for them? In this city? That is criminal.
“It is criminal that [Melara] can’t walk down the street and feel safe.”
After the press conference, someone from the community whispered to Melara and pressed a dollar store whistle into her hand, so that in the event of a future emergency she can quickly alert others.
Ybarra told Mission Local, in a discussion following the conference, that Melara “always gets off at 16th, and never sees any police presence.”
He said that she was initially hesitant to go public and have a press conference. “But we need more protection for elders,” he said. “She wanted to stand up.”
“It’s important that people don’t have to go through this,” Melara said during the press conference.
Many Mission Neighborhood Centers workers have been targets of attacks in the Mission and other campuses, but, Ybarra said that “since her incident, more of them came to light.”
Ybarra said maybe the city doesn’t doesn’t have the money, “but they could have somebody there just during commuting hours at the BART stations. Because those are ground zero for a lot of activities.” Ybarra hopes this incident will spark a change in the city’s handling of the Mission.
Melara is still taking BART from Concord to 16th Street, but members of her Head Start team are now meeting her up at the station and escorting her to work. Mission Neighborhood Centers plans to pay for its own security guard at the door of the building.
After talking to Mission Local, Melara got up from her chair, ready to get back to her work for the community. “She’s tough, huh?” said Ybarra with a chuckle.