Another Gangland Shootout in the Tenderloin: One Dead, One Wounded

Written by David Elliott Lewis. Posted in Crime, News

Tagged: , , , , ,

Published on July 22, 2013 with 14 Comments

A Latino man, aged 24, lies dead on the streets of San Francisco following a gangland-style shootout in the Tenderloin, 7/20/13.  Photo by David Elliot Lewis.

A Latino man, aged 24, lies dead on the streets of San Francisco following a gangland-style shootout in the Tenderloin, 7/20/13. Photo by David Elliot Lewis.

By David Elliot Lewis

July 21, 2013

Saturday, July 20th, 2013, 10:15pm, another death in the Tenderloin. I heard over a dozen shots between what sounded like two different caliber guns. Fear struck hard. It sounding like a gunfight. A real one. In the movies, it sounds different. Curious but frightened, I came downstairs to find a dead body on the sidewalk outside my apartment building – a young Latino man, lying face up. He had been shot in the head. This was upsetting and I wasn’t prepared for it.

I’ve learned more, since. I’ve discovered that this fatal shooting appears related to a dispute between drug crews working nearby on the corner of Larkin and O’Farrell streets. The police reported two groups firing at each other. One dead, the other wounded. As the wounded man tried to flee, he encountered and exchanged fire with a police officer but was captured without being struck by the officer’s return fire. Two guns were recovered at the scene.

For the half-dozen years I’ve lived here, this corner has been home to a thriving open air crack cocaine market run by Honduran gangs – staffed by quickly rotating and easily replaceable Spanish speaking immigrants. They appear treated as disposable by their employers.

This stretch of O’Farrell Street, between Larkin Street and Van Ness Avenue, exists in an uncertain border land between two very different worlds. Larkin Street is on the dividing line between two police precincts – the Tenderloin or “TL” precinct and the Northern precinct. Northern precinct patrol cars don’t drive down this block of O’Farrell because it quickly takes them outside of their precinct with return difficult due to all of the one way streets.

Some officers in the Tenderloin precinct driving down Larkin Street have told me they will not intercept the open air drug dealing on the South/West corner of Larkin and O’Farrell streets, home to J&E Liquors, because it is technically not in their precinct. Yes, that sounds absurd. The Northern precinct starts on the West side of Larkin Street even though this street can only be patrolled by Tenderloin precinct squad cars.

This section of O’Farrell street exists on the edge of the Tenderloin. Another block or so West begins the Cathedral Hill neighborhood, complete with its own Bentley car dealership on Van Ness and O’Farrell selling half million dollar luxury cars across the street from an Academy of Art classic car showroom.  The street drug dealing continues unabated and no precinct wants to take responsibility, each believing it is the other precinct’s problem.

Furthermore, police have frequently reported that even when they do make arrests, and they have made over 90 in the last year, their cases either get diverted to drug court where the perpetrators quickly end up back on the streets, or they are not prosecuted at all. Either way, the District Attorney’s Office seemingly places a low priority on these types of crimes and essentially functions as a revolving door.

Our city’s Sanctuary Ordinance contributes to the problem. Undocumented immigrants arrested for illegal narcotics sales are not handed over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). As non-citizens without documentation, they don’t qualify for aid or a number of assistance programs that could help them. They are literally and unfortunately dumped back out onto the street. Many end up back on the corners of the Tenderloin selling drugs.

In the six years I have lived on this block, the problems have grown progressively worse. They recently and dramatically escalated with the installation of a new roofed MUNI bus shelter. This structure, installed a few months ago, provides a safe cover to conduct illicit hand-to-hand transactions. Often when I walk by, I see cash openly exchanged for crack cocaine stored in the dealer’s mouths in tooth-sized cellophane wrapped “baggies.”

Unlike the old days when both parties in such an illicit deal would quickly pocket their winnings, glance nervously about and walk way, both now loiter. They calmly stand to examine their spoils. The dealer slowly counts, straightens and sorts his bills while the customer closely examines the purchased crack cocaine rocks. A few even unwrap the baggies to test, usually not more than a few feet further away. No attempt is made to hide anything. The brazenness is startling and unnerving.

Now that the lethal consequences of such activity has been forced upon me, made disturbingly manifest by the graphic display of a real life death, I don’t know if I can keep looking the other way and tolerating this.

Before they covered him, I stared. I could not look away. Now I cannot clear these terrifying images from my memory. I heard gun shots and then witnessed their blood stained consequences. These are very real, too real for me to handle right now nor even to decide what to do.

David Elliott Lewis

David was originally trained as an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. Working as a consultant to large organizations, he created and fielded software to assist in executive performance assessment. He also taught Masters level courses in the Human Resources and Organizational Development program at the University of San Francisco. From 1984 to 2000, he founded and ran the database software development, publishing and consulting company Strategic Edge. More recently he has been engaging in political writing, photography, activism and volunteering to improve his community. He currently serves as the secretary of the city's Mental Health Board.

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  • D. Ansted, SF

    Ed Lee should be fired for allowing his Police Department to ignore such outrageous activity just blocks from City Hall. The Sanctuary Ordinance is a danger to this City and Country. Wake Up!

    CC: Rose Pak; maybe you can do something.

  • Melanie

    I lived at 815 O’Farrell, right on the southwest corner of Larkin where he was shot, from 2005 – 2009. During that time I would wake up at night to the sound of fights, screaming crackheads, and gunshots. One random night i woke up to gunshots at 2 am followed by honking and screaming– there had been a murder chillingly identical to this one, and I still have nightmares about it to this day. When I was walking home from work one day around 5 pm, I was almost home when three men jumped out of a car moving up Larkin and pointed guns at my head. There were two young Latino men behind me who immediately knew what was going on and ran in the other direction, and then took cover inside the entrance of the new century while I ran into oncoming traffic and ducked under a car in a panic. I thought I was about to be killed. That’s when I finally had enough and moved. I live in East Oakland now and it feels a million times safer. I still work and go out in the city but i won’t even stop by my old apartment anymore. That corner is haunted.

    • http://about.me/ideaman David Elliott Lewis, Ph.D.

      Dear Melanie, I’m sorry that this incident happened to you. Having guns pointed at you with lethal intent must have been truly terrifying. I can only imagine. It sounds like the intended victims were the Latino men standing behind you. It was either an act of luck, grace or divine intervention that you escaped unharmed – but I’m glad you did.

      Rather than having residents flee our neighborhood, however, I hope that they will stay and fight this. I hope they will say loudly that enough is enough and start putting pressure on our District Attorney’s office to prosecute these cases rather than just continue with their catch and release policy.

      I interviewed an SFPD officer the night of the shooting who said that of the 90 people arrested at that corner over the last year, almost all were released without prosecution. That has to stop.

  • Marilyn Jane Isabell

    YOU HAVE A CAMERA!!! USE IT!!! Document everything you see and put on the internet, send copies to the D A’s Officer, the SF Police Commission, the Us Attorney General, and the White House!!! That’s what YOU DO!!!

    • http://about.me/ideaman David Elliott Lewis, Ph.D.

      Thank you Marilyn, Maybe I can enlist you and your camera to come down to my corner and help out with some additional photography? I have really appreciated your photo documentation of Tenderloin street drug dealing. It has been very encouraging to me.

  • Ed

    LEGALIZE IT!!!!!

    • http://about.me/ideaman David Elliott Lewis, Ph.D.

      Dear Ed, I couldn’t agree more. Until that happens, however, I will not accept this daily traffic in crack cocaine with all of its associated violence, directly across the street from a city playground and right by my home.

  • hondurian504

    RIP TO THE YOUNG 24 YEAR OLD guy that was killed my condolences go to he’s family and friends is sad to see that people got to use a damn gun to solve problems the damn police got to do more for this city their full of bs

  • TinyTim

    This is terrorism. And we should be devoting our resources to domestic terrorism, not overseas in places that US combatants could not even point out on a map prior to their deployment.

  • Clarence Weatherwax

    It will be the law abiding, clean, propper and just residents that will leas the change this neighborhood really needs. I love the diversity the “tenderloin” has to offer. But I hate the drugs, crime and filth. We need to band together and say “enough”.

    • http://about.me/ideaman David Elliott Lewis, Ph.D.

      Yes I agree. Clarence. Thank you for your comments.

      • Terry Patterson

        David is an ever-watchful, intrepid advocate for civic responsibility. As Co-chair of the SF Mental Health Board, he is relentless in speaking out in favor of the powerless. This violence should not happen to anyone in America’s favorite City, let alone such a community leader.

  • brookse32

    I’m guessing extensive foot patrols on that block would be a lot more effective than repeated fruitless arrests for dealing.

    • Justizin

      Foot patrols in the TL? That sounds like work.