S.F. Rethinking Halloween Bash After Shooting

Castro HalloweenSAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – It is practically an autumn ritual, here in California’s most festive city.
On Halloween night, hundreds of thousands of revelers descend on the Castro district, overwhelming the landmark gay neighborhood and wreaking havoc. The next morning, frustrated city officials try to figure out what went wrong and how to avoid problems in the future.
But on Wednesday, after nine people were shot and another suffered head wounds during the annual street party, Mayor Gavin Newsom declared on early-morning radio that “we’ve got a lot of work to do to look at this event anew.”
Two of the victims were admitted to area hospitals, while eight were treated and released, police said. Newsom said most of the gunshot wounds were to the hands, feet and knees of the victims, although two people had been grazed in the head.
Sgt. Neville Gittens, spokesman for the San Francisco Police Department, said the altercation began shortly after 10:30 p.m. when two groups of teenagers and young adults — about 30 people in all — faced off on Market Street and began staring each other down.
A member of one group hit a rival over the head with a bottle, Gittens said, then a member of the second group took out a handgun and started shooting. One person was detained and then released Tuesday night. There have been no arrests, and he said the shootings were not gang-related.
Newsom described the incident as a “verbal dispute” that escalated when some “younger folks threw a few things back and forth and then they pulled out their guns…. It was a small group of people that are not there for the right reasons who somehow sneaked some guns inside.”
The “right reasons” for being in the Castro district on Halloween have been called into question in recent years, after the 2002 celebration ended with four stabbings, 30 arrests and the revelation that a celebrant had brought a chain saw to the festivities.
Since then, security has been increasingly tightened. On Tuesday night, sheriff’s deputies staffed secure entrances and exits, outside alcohol was banned, police presence was increased 25%, stages for entertainment were cut from three to one, and an 11 p.m. curfew was enforced.
At a news conference the day before Halloween, Supervisor Bevan Dufty, who represents the Castro district, said 2006 would be a “transition” year for the street celebration. Revelers needed to be kept safe, he said, and then officials must rethink the holiday because of increasing “gang problems and gay bashing.”
Dufty, who is up for reelection, floated the idea in July of canceling Halloween in the Castro district because of safety concerns. After the shooting, city officials, including Newsom, said they were considering that option.
On Wednesday, Dufty’s opponent, attorney Alix Rosenthal, blasted Dufty on her campaign website, deriding current security measures as “poor planning, backroom decision-making and a poor use of police resources.” She also called for a public hearing.
Dufty did not return calls for comment.
Jennifer Petrucione, a spokeswoman for Newsom, acknowledged that “what was once very much a community event has changed. That needs to be considered when planning. But when you have a single bad actor in a crowd of over 200,000 people, something bad is bound to happen.”
from The Los Angeles Times

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