Friday, September 12, 2008

Organized Crime: The Biggest & Best-Armed Gang in San Francisco.

The events described below are True and were witnessed by myself and at least a dozen other people...

I actually wrote a blog about these events immediately after they happened, but I hit the wrong combo of keys on the keyboard and the whole darn thing dis-a-freaken-peared... (Aargh!)
I felt emotionally drained and disheartened when it went 'Poof!' and I didn't have the energy to re-write it before now.

A short while back, I had the unpleasant experience of witnessing an physical assault on someone by some armed gang members.

I had just arrived home from taking Jessi the Dog to the Park for a romp. I was sitting on my front steps watching the parade (of locals and tourists) go by. Being Summer, there is a never ending supply of them - from across the country and the world. It was shortly before 8pm - with a surprising surplus of daylight left.

I had noticed five people hanging out across the street from me - three guys and two girls. They were probably in their early 20's. Homeless... Well, Living Outdoors. They were just hanging out, talking with each other. They weren't bothering anyone. They weren't even Spare Changing.

About five minutes after I sat down, two cars race up to the corner and jerk to a stop in front of the kids. Two men exit each car and head swiftly and directly towards the kids. The four men from the cars are gang members. They are dressed in the immediately identifiable 'colors' and clothing of a well-known San Francisco gang. (A number of the gang's members have a history of violence, but they never get arrested or go to prison.) All four of the gang members are carrying guns.

They immediately separate the three guys from the two girls and tell the guys to move on. The three young men pick up their backpacks and back away, but not wanting to abandon their friends, they don't go more than a few steps. One of the gang bangers - a tall slim guy, with blonde, slicked back hair - stands in front of the two girls and starts snarling inthe face of one of them. I couldn't make out anything that was being said, but his face-to-face stance and sharply contorted facial expressions said enough. The girl just stood there and only occasionally seemed to respond - or tried to anyway - calmly and quietly. She never raised her voice nor moved towards him. When the greasy blonde bully was done, the runt of the litter took his place.

The second gang member to get in the girl's face was the shortest of the four. He was stocky, with dark hair and a receding hairline. (When I saw him, I couldn't help but think that he must have joined the gang because of some ugly experiences he had in high school. He struck me as probably having been one of the kids who gets shoved into a locker in between classes or 'swirly'd' in the bathroom. Joining a gang and carrying a gun allowed him to achieve what was otherwise Impossible - it gave him the ability to bully and abuse others.) The 'runt' was face-to-face with the girl and snarling at her - like the blonde before him. I could nearly hear his voice - he was snarling at her loudly - but (thanks to auto and bus traffic) I still couldn't make out any words.

Suddenly, his arm flies forward and he shoves the girl's shoulder hard. The girl just stands there. (The other three are still standing in a half circle behind the two girls and the three young men behind them.) A few moments later, without provocation, he sharply thrusts both his arms forward and forcefully grabbed/shoved her chest. Caught off guard and off balance, the girl stumbles back and bumps against one of the gang members standing behind her. Other than the concerned protestations of the young men, not one passerby moves to intervene on the girls' behalf or question the bullies. (Not that I blame them - the men were armed.) I quickly pull a notebook and pen out of my backpack and wrote down the date, time and location. I wrote down a description of the cars and the physical descriptions of the four gang members. (I wish I had my camera with me.) Feeling that they'd gotten their hostile threats/message across to the girls, the four let them walk away... But, not before the 'runt' gave the girl one more forceful shove as she was turning to pick up her backpack.

The four thugs then walked to their cars and left.

What do I do?

What would You do?

- Approach and Ask what's going on?
Well, yeah.. In a Perfect World. But, I wasn't wearing my Kevlar that day and all 4 of them were all carrying guns.

- Call 911/the Police?
Good plan... except for one little problem.

I left out one important detail about these events - on purpose.

The Police were Already There.

The four armed men men who arrived wearing immediatley identifiable blue 'colors' and uniforms had pulled up in two dual-colored sedans - each marked SFPD.

All four are Police Officers.
Their behavior was a far cry from what is expected of those we trust with a badge and a gun.
The 'runt' officer in particular showed significant lack of professionalism and restraint. But, the other three officers just stood around the girls like a pack of coyotes and let him do it to her. They only moved to prevent the three young men from trying to intervene on her behalf.

Unfortunately, as I understand it, there is no Office of Internal Affairs at the SFPD.
We do have an Office of Citizen's Complaint - where San Franciscans can go to file a complaint against the Police. The OCC has trained investigators on staff who will hold interviews, take statements, request SFPD documents and work to verify information and get to the Truth.
But, the biggest and best-armed gang in San Francisco doesn't like to be investigated for wrongdoing, brutality or unjustified shootings.
(or questioned about its unsolved murder rate.)

A few years ago, I spent a couple of hours in a room with two investigators and a tape recorder at their office making a detailed statement. I had witnessed a certain legendary (not for good reasons) police officer (Officer Gabreal Galliere - or some such) who - after placing a young, intoxicated, homeless man in handcuffs (behind his back) - proceeded to beat the young man... first with closed fist punches to his face and then by beating a corner garbage can with the kid's face. He was in handcuffs the entire time and didn't/couldn't resist or defend himself. The blonde female officer who was also present did nothing to intervene or stop the attack. (I kid you not.) The young man was unrecognizeable in the photos that were later taken of him.

The case dragged on for a while. The young victim was homeless and not easy to contact/locate. And the SFPD have highly-skilled and smarmy snakes... I mean lawyers on their side. Result: Statute of Limitations wins... San Francisco loses.

Officer Gabreal and officers like him not only blacken and bruise the faces and bodies of their victims... They damage the public's image, opinion and Trust of the Police Department. Officer Gabreal has expended sweat and blood (not his) and deserves his own Personal Hell... hopefully spent whilst handcuffed and helpless and facing someone much bigger and badder than himself.

But I digress.

Anyway, I did go to the OCC to report the unjustified and excessive physical violence done to the girl. I filed a written complaint and provided a recorded description/statement about the events that I observed. Later, I went back to do a photo line-up. I do not know whether or not the girl who was assaulted is going to file a complaint. I wouldn't blame her either way. I found her a week or so after the attack and introduced myself. I told her that I saw the entire event and that I would stand up in court for her. She thanked me. She was still a little shaken up over it. Whether or not it ever ends up in court, at least the complaint will be noted in the involved officers' permanent file.

Oh, the OCC investigator I met with did check into the reports filed by the police officers who were there - based upon the time, location, officer descriptions and vehicle ID numbers I wrote down.

Apparently, in their reports, the officers claimed that they went to the scene in response to someone reporting a fight.

I was there at least five minutes before the Police arrived and there was no fight going on anywhere around us.

Go figure.

My own personal observations indicate that the City's Homeless are frequently the preferred targets for harassment and/or physical abuse by certain power-tripping police officers. Probably for a few reasons...
- In a court of Law, whose testimony do you think will carry more weight: a homeless person or a veteran Police Officer?
- Being Homeless means Increased Vulnerablility.
Without four walls, a roof and a door with a deadbolt lock, you are vulnerable not only to severe weather/extreme temperatures, but also to being a victim of physical violence - whether it be from another homeless person, a housed person or a Police Officer.
If a homeless person files a complaint against a particular officer, that officer and/or his/her associates can make that person's life a living Hell. This is not conjecture on my part. I've talked to numerous homeless people - some of whom described being beaten by Police Officers and then warned not to report it... "Or Else."

So, my question is this:

Who do you call for Help when someone is being assaulted... by a Police Officer?
(especially if there are three other officers present who are just standing around watching?)

"These people are supposed to make you safe, but they end up being the people you are afraid of."
- Linda Vaccarezza after an ordeal during which her arm was broken by Officer Anthony Nelson. Police department files on 6'2" 225 lb. Officer Nelson indicated that he had used force 27 times in his 33 months on the job - often citing fear for his safety as the reason - before the 2003 war protest where he struck court reporter Vacarezza. Fortunately for Vaccarezza, the whole event was recorded on video. She was awarded $835,000 in a settlement.

As for Officer Nelson... Initially, the (corrupt and/or incompetent) SF Police Commission ruled that Nelson hadn't used unnecessary force, in spite of video proving otherwise, and recommended a 30-day suspension. Only after the SF Chronicle reported on Nelson's long record of violence did they vote 5-2 to terminate him. It was the first termination of a SF police officer in five years. (Ugh!)

It would've been much more cost-effective for San Francisco and the Police Commission to have fired Nelson for using unjustified excessive force early on and then hire someone who isn't a brutal thug to replace him. Perhaps San Francisco needs to start terminating Police Commissioners who refuse to fire police officers who consistently present a penchant for violence?

In the meantime, I will be carrying my camera (with videotaping capability) with me Everywhere.

Smile, Officer Gabreal... I'm looking for You.

Peacefully Protecting and Serving You.

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