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Artist's Killing Sparks Concerns in TL

by Seth Hemmelgarn

A man signs a petition asking city officials to take action in the case of Anthony "Bubbles" Torres, who was fatally shot in the Tenderloin September 9
A man signs a petition asking city officials to take action in the case of Anthony "Bubbles" Torres, who was fatally shot in the Tenderloin September 9  (Source:Jane Philomen Cleland)

The recent shooting death of San Francisco artist Anthony "Bubbles" Torres has drawn renewed attention to the frequent violence in the Tenderloin neighborhood where Torres died, and many in the LGBT community that the 44-year-old belonged to are calling on police to fix the problems.

While a Bay Area Reporter analysis of police data shows crime has dropped in most major categories in the neighborhood, many in the Tenderloin, which is home to a large share of San Francisco's poorest residents, say they don't feel safe.

Torres, who was well known for his love of dancing and handing out snow cones, as well as for his big blond wigs, skimpy clothing, and boisterous nature, reportedly got into an altercation with someone from the New Century Theater strip club near Larkin and O'Farrell streets at 2:50 a.m. Saturday, September 9 and was shot several times. Police haven't announced any arrests.

During a march Friday, September 22 calling for Torres' killer to be found, one person asked, "What the hell is San Francisco doing about the drug dealers and violence in our streeta?"

According to data from incident reports generated in the Tenderloin police district for the first eight months of 2016 and 2017, assaults dropped from 847 to 726 (-14 percent); drug/narcotic offenses decreased from 689 to 515 (-25 percent); larceny/thefts went from 1,218 to 1,078 (-11 percent); and robberies dropped from 238 to 179 (-25 percent). Homicide figures for the district weren't available.

But told of the crime level declines, Bob Ames, a bartender at the gay Gangway bar, which is just a couple doors down from where Torres was shot, said "I'm still seeing too much, whether it's down or up."

Drug dealers are his main concern, and he said they regularly congregate outside the Motel 6 across the street.

"You can just see them doing deals there all day in the broad daylight," said Ames, who said that he "sometimes" sees police officers on bicycles coming down the street, but he'd like to see more foot patrols.

One thing that has gotten officers' attention is the bar's video surveillance system.

"Police come in all the time because we have 16 cameras," said Ames, who added that police reviewed footage from the morning Torres was shot, but he didn't know what the video showed.

Friday march
Anthony "Bubbles" Torres was killed earlier this month. Photo: Courtesy ABC7

Last Friday, scores of people walked from the site where Torres died to the Tenderloin police station, at Eddy and Turk streets.

There, the marchers, who were accompanied on their route by several police cars and motorcycles, stood in the street for several minutes chanting things like "Murder is a hate crime," a reference to police saying they haven't found evidence of a hate crime in Torres' death.

At least one person blew bubbles into the air, and many held signs with statements ranging from "Transparency now" to "Shut up and dance!" the latter a saying that Torres was well known for.

It's typical for police to be tight-lipped about homicide investigations, but many at the rally expressed their frustration about the lack of information police have released about the case.

Steve Amuso, who knew Torres, said, "They haven't found [the suspect] yet. We need some answers from SFPD now."

Friday's march concluded on the steps of City Hall, where Tuan Anh Nguyen, a friend of Torres' who organized the event, said, "Bubbles got murdered ... and we won't stand for it." Nguyen circulated a petition calling on Mayor Ed Lee and the San Francisco Police Department to take action. He later indicated that more than 180 people from the rally signed the petition.

Matt Haney, a Tenderloin resident who heard the gunshots that killed Torres, said, "We have not gotten answers. We have not gotten justice. ... Bubbles was what San Francisco was about, and we want answers."

Haney, a member of the city's Board of Education, is running to succeed Supervisor Jane Kim, who represents the Tenderloin and other District 6 neighborhoods on the Board of Supervisors, when Kim's termed out in 2018.

Asked after the rally what he would do to increase safety in the Tenderloin, Haney said, "Everyone in our community should feel safe and protected. We need the police to do their job. They have a responsibility ... . We need to be treated as partners and receive information and communication."

Asked again what he would specifically do to make the neighborhood safer, Haney said, "We need more police walking the beat," improved lighting, and "a full, community-led effort and focus on safe streets," among other things.

He said that he'd met with Tenderloin police Captain Teresa Ewins and talked to her about Torres' murder and Larkin Street, the street where Torres was killed.

"I told her we need to make sure people in our neighborhood feel safe, and many of them don't right now," said Haney. Ewins, a lesbian whose promotion to commander was announced this week, told him that "she would do what she can to help," he said.

Police spokespeople weren't able to arrange an interview with Ewins, who didn't respond directly to an email from the B.A.R.

Crime reports from police regularly show that there is plenty for people in the Tenderloin to be concerned about.

At about 4 p.m. Saturday, a man approached two people near 8th and Market streets, threatened them with a knife, and demanded their money, which they threw at him. (A bystander tackled the suspect, who was arrested, police said.)

Then, at approximately 4 p.m. Sunday, three men knocked another man off his bike in the 100 block of Turk Street and assaulted him. One of the men stabbed the victim before all three suspects fled the scene with the bike.

Just over two hours later, two people robbed a man as he entered his home in the 300 block of Ellis Street, police said.

Most of the people that the B.A.R. approached in the neighborhood declined to be interviewed, but Porfinio Ortiz, who works at Los Colores Taqueria on O'Farrell Street, about a block from where Torres was killed, said Friday that his concern is "there are so many homeless around here." One day, two people who appeared to be homeless tried to rob the restaurant.

Ortiz said he's been seeing police "more often," either walking by or riding bicycles, "but they need to stay for a little bit longer on the block or on the corner" and "keep an eye" on things.

Later Friday, as the marchers made their way down Turk Street, several bystanders remarked on the signs and chants that invoked Torres' name.

One woman told a friend, "I want to know who Bubbles is and what happened to Bubbles."

But it was clear that many in the neighborhood knew Torres.

A woman who apparently was just learning of Torres' death, said, "Oh no, I loved Bubbles. ... She was beauuuutiful."

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