Prop. A reality check

Pub date July 11, 2006
WriterG.W. Schulz

The greatest irony of Proposition A’s failure last month seemed to be what took place just a few short weeks after the June 6 election.
Prop. A would have budgeted $30 million over the next three years to fund violence prevention services for at-risk populations, such as anxious teens looking for a break from order during the warm summer months. It was a clear response to the city’s headline-grabbing homicide rate, which has continued its stubborn ascent this year, making life politically difficult for Mayor Gavin Newsom, District Attorney Kamala Harris, and the Police Department.
But with the mayor and the cops in opposition, the measure lost by less than a single percentage point. And just two weeks later, 22-year-old Andrew Ele — known among his friends as DJ Domino — was shot and killed at a bus stop near 24th Street and Folsom. Ele was a regular teen-outreach volunteer at Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth, a San Francisco nonprofit that helped run the Prop. A campaign with Sup. Chris Daly.
On June 20, as Ele waited for a bus with his brother André, a gunman walked to the middle of 24th Street and fired several shots at each of them before escaping in a waiting white Mazda MPV, the Police Department told the Guardian. André survived with non-life-threatening injuries, but Andrew was pronounced dead at the hospital.
The police still don’t know who killed Andrew, but as we’ve reported previously, the department hasn’t had the best luck with recent homicide investigations. As of January 2006 police had made arrests in fewer than 20 percent of the homicide cases that were opened the previous year, and the district attorney’s office has managed to file charges in only a fraction of those cases.
The day after the election, the San Francisco Chronicle framed Prop. A’s failure as a big political win for Newsom rather than what it really was: an enormous letdown for groups such as Coleman Advocates that are offering something other than increased law enforcement. The $30 million may not have immediately improved DJ Domino’s chances of remaining alive, but neither did $18 million the city paid police overtime last year prevent a Mission bus stop from being filled with bullet holes.
The issue of violence prevention is still alive, though, and it surfaced again during the recent budget negotiations.
The press release accompanying the mayor’s late-May budget proposal for the next fiscal year boasts that Newsom set aside $2.7 million for violence prevention and intervention, which he combines with $7 million the board supplemented for the current fiscal year. Featured more prominently in the press release is his bid for 250 new cops — and yet more money to pay them overtime.
However, the board’s budget committee, chaired by Daly, found $4 million more for violence prevention, including $1 million to save the Trauma Recovery Center, which assists victims of violent crime and was close to shutting down in November for lack of funds. Not to be outdone, the mayor unveiled “SF Safe Summer 2006” last week, just as the Guardian was putting together this story, which includes an expansion of the Community Response Network, a Police Department program.
The budgetary give-and-take reflects the city’s growing frustration over a homicide rate that has at times resulted in tense Police Commission meetings. Last month a meeting at the Ella Hill Hutch Community Center — held the day after Prop. A failed — was commandeered by Western Addition and Bayview–Hunters Point residents angry over a perceived failure by the city to respond to chronic gang and street violence. (Police Chief Heather Fong and Sup. Sophie Maxwell were literally shouted down at the meeting.)
The campaign for Prop. A forced the city to address its ongoing philosophical divide on how to face off against violence. More cops or more outreach? More patrols or more job training? More overtime or more murals?
“Their approach is suppression,” Coleman Advocates youth coordinator José Luis said of law enforcement. “They get rats; they send in informants. They don’t want to use prevention.”
Luis knew Ele for eight years and said the latter used to help provide security at drug- and alcohol-free hip-hop shows that cops in the Mission eventually stopped.
“[Ele] on countless occasions jumped into a brawl and stuck his neck out to stop it,” Luis said of the events.
Ele, who often performed at clubs in the city with the DJ troupe Urban Royalties, had big plans for his life. He was going to record an album at CELLspace in the Mission once construction of a recording studio was completed there. Then he’d planned to teach young people how to spin and record hip-hop themselves.
CELLspace is a 10,000 square foot warehouse on Bryant Street that has for the last several years served mostly as an outpost for industrial artists. Locals know it best for the acrylic bombs that cover its exterior honoring fallen graf heads and Mexican revolutionaries. The building hosted dance parties for teens in the ’90s, but they were eventually shut down by the city.
By 2003, however, CELLspace had recharged its outreach efforts, slowly building an administrative staff, acquiring grant money, and implementing new after-school programs. Staffers are working with ex–gang members and specifically targeting recent Latino immigrants, who are often recruited by gangs.
“Those of us who sort of grew up in street culture, we have more experience with what could work now,” said CELLspace’s 25-year-old executive director, Zoe Garvin, who was born and raised in the Mission.
The place is brimming with ideas. There’s talk of outfitting a low-rider car with a biofuel engine and solar-powered hydraulic suspension. Staffers are building low-rider bikes and collaborating with other Mission-based groups to teach kids screen printing and break dancing. They even have a class for skaters, but the ramps that quietly appeared a couple of months ago at the Mission Flea Market, across Florida Street on the west side of the warehouse, will soon have to make way for a moderate-income housing complex, Garvin said.
CELLspace, she said, would have applied for Prop. A funding, but is looking elsewhere now. The Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice in early July passed over their $600,000 grant application, which would have funded a street outreach and case management program for 18- to 24-year-olds.
“I think we’ve done a really good job creating a sanctuary in here,” she said. “You have to be careful how you do it. You can’t just hire anyone.”
While the city eventually found money for community-based organizations through the budget process, it’s doubtful the debate over how to take on street violence issues will cease.
“Something like Prop. A,” Luis of Coleman Advocates says, “was long overdue.” SFBG