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Violence mars annual San Francisco street party

Thu., Nov. 2, 2006

SAN FRANCISCO – It is practically an autumn ritual in California’s most festive city.

On Halloween night, hundreds of thousands of revelers descend on the Castro District, overwhelming the landmark gay neighborhood, littering the streets and making trouble.

But Wednesday, frustrated city officials were trying to figure out what went wrong and how to avoid future problems after nine people were shot and another suffered head wounds during the annual street party.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do to look at this event anew,” Mayor Gavin Newsom said during a radio interview.

Three shooting victims remained in stable condition Wednesday at San Francisco General Hospital, said spokesman Anson Moon; five others had been treated and released the night before.

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 total – 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, he said, and 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 working chain saw.

Since then, security has been tightened. On Tuesday night, sheriff’s deputies staffed secure entrances and exits, outside alcohol was banned, police presence was increased 25 percent, stages for entertainment were cut from three to one and an 11 p.m. curfew was enforced.

At a news conference Monday, 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 re-election, floated the idea in July of canceling Halloween in the Castro because of safety concerns.

Jennifer Petrucione, a spokeswoman for Newsom, defended the city’s efforts to keep problems at a minimum during the Halloween festivities.

“We had over 1,000 city personnel on the streets,” she said. “We had planned for every contingency. But when you have a single bad actor in a crowd of over 200,000 people, something bad is bound to happen.”


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