On Monday night, a crowd of approximately 100 Castro residents, merchants and community leaders gathered at the Eureka Valley Rec Center to discuss safety, security, fears over hate crime incidents, and other concerns.
The SFPD Chief's LGBT Forum Town Hall Meeting served as a follow-up to a community safety meeting held back in November, which addressed awareness while in public spaces, basic self-defense, and mental health.
Monday's event was organized by the SFPD Chief's LGBT Community Advisory Forum, in collaboration with the Castro Community on Patrol (CCOP), Community Patrol Service USA, Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Leathermen's Discussion Group, and other community groups.
Panelists included long-time community advocate Sister Roma, LGBT Forum's Race Bannon, CCOP's Greg Carey, Sarah Burton from S.F. SAFE, SFPD Captain Teresa Ewins, Inspector Lenny Broberg, Acting SFPD Chief Toney Chaplin, and Marissa Rodrigues from the SF District Attorney's Office. Other community leaders in attendance were Park Station Captain Sanford, Donna Sachet, Castro Merchants President Daniel Bergerac, and City College Board Member Rafael Mandelman.
Absent from the meeting were recently appointed District 8 Supervisor Jeff Sheehy and SFPD Mission Station Captain Daniel Perea.
A key highlight of the night was the insistence by all panelists that people remain aware of their surroundings and not hesitate to report any concerns to police.
Sister Roma held up a "Stop the Violence" sign and reminded attendees that if they see one of these in a business' window, that business has identified itself as a safe place to go if people feel unsafe or under attack.
The panelists also addressed the crowd's concerns over a reported increase in hate crimes, both locally and nationally. Understanding just what constitutes a hate crime is the first step toward assessing a situation and responding accordingly. As Captain Ewins explained, "Just because someone calls you a name, it is not a hate crime ... They must pick you out and go out of their way to approach you," she said.
Simply yelling a derogatory slur does not constitute a hate crime, for instance. Ewins emphasized that a hate crime must be directed specifically against a person "based on a person's actual or perceived race, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, disability, or gender." It must also include "an act that results in injury, a verbal threat of violence that apparently can be carried out, or an act that results in property damage."
Lenny Broberg insisted that we "not feed into the hysteria," referring to the alleged gay-bashing incident that happened in Oakland. Filing a police report and putting an incident on record are important, according to Broberg. "Don't hesitate to call 9-11," said Broberg.
Race Bannon encouraged attendees to become better witnesses to violent crimes by "rehearsing being a witness," "pre-programming emergency numbers in your phone," and "being able to use your camera phone without notice."
Acting Police Chief Toney Chaplin reiterated that point, saying "a lot of arrests have been made because of camera footage." This tool is key in helping the police department investigate crimes and identify suspects.
Donna Sachet spoke up to insist that we not live in fear by "going back into the closet." While maintaining awareness, Sachet wants everyone to be able to "live comfortably in our community."
Sister Roma reminded the crowd to "always avoid situations where you're isolated and to stay with friends." If you're ever in an unsafe situation and spot a Sister, reach out to them for help. "That's what we're here for," said Sister Roma.
"We're all in this together," Race Bannon reminded the crowd. "I encourage you to attend community meetings and self defense seminars." Most importantly, says Bannon, "get involved."
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