Meeting Held on TL Violence
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Community members and friends of Anthony "Bubbles" Torres, the DJ, drag artist, and LGBT activist who was shot to death in the Tenderloin last month, joined District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim for a meeting Monday regarding the drug dealing and violence in the neighborhood.
Torres, 44, 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, located at 816 Larkin Street near O'Farrell Street, at 2:50 a.m. Saturday, September 9. Police have not announced any arrests.
According to several witnesses who spoke at Monday's meeting, an argument inside the theater spilled onto the street, where Torres was shot to death outside of RS94109, a cafe and vinyl record store across the street from the theater. Monday's meeting was held there.
"RS94109 has been here on Larkin since 2013," owner Sohrab Harooni told the crowd of around 100. "We see the same faces dealing drugs right across the street on a daily basis. We want to work with the police to help make our community a safer place and to get more needed services to people struggling with addiction."
Like many in attendance, Harooni feels that not enough is being done. "We don't see the response we hope for," he said.
Kim noted that New Century management was not invited to the meeting.
A person at New Century had no comment and hung up when reached Tuesday.
Many cited inaction on the part of the police as a major contributing factor to the ongoing issues of drugs and violence.
"Police in the Tenderloin have been apathetic at best," said Rik Leipold, a gay man. "I've been told by a cop on Larkin Street that he wouldn't respond if I called for help."
Police Commander Teresa Ewins, a lesbian who had formerly run the Tenderloin Station until her recent promotion, urged people to speak up about such officers.
"If anyone has a bum experience with SFPD they should file a complaint or request a supervisor," she said.
Michael Redmond, deputy chief of SFPD's Field Operation Bureau, said that there should be more meetings with the community amid calls for New Century Theater to be shut down.
Others said rumors were taking the place of information about Torres' death and the investigation.
"I'm a friend of Bubbles," said Cole, who did not give his last name. "There are a lot of rumors about the Century - consistent chaos, beatings. There are several witnesses to Bubbles' shooting."
Police said they are working the case.
"We are cognizant of witnesses," Redmond said. "Sometimes we talk to people later - it's a long, drawn out process to build a case against a business. We need your support."
Ewins said the department is working on having a more visible presence in the neighborhood.
"We have two beat cops and several plainclothes cops on Larkin Street from Market on up," she said. "We're trying to have more visibility. Because of cameras and lighting in the district we can solve a lot of cases."
Fredrick McAllister, who said that he's neither gay nor straight, lives at the Hartland Hotel that overlooks the New Century Theater. McAllister feels that more can be done.
"I was looking out the window," he said of the night Torres was killed. "Pow, pow, pow. Another body down. Business goes on as always, as does noise, yelling, and music at 3 a.m. It's nonstop," he said. "The police's hands are full. So when do we get some peace and quiet? That's what we pay rent for."
McAllister added that he worries for the safety of his friends.
Thomas Ostly, with the San Francisco District Attorney's office, suggested that more people needed to speak to his office regarding Torres' murder and other Tenderloin community issues. Ostly said that convictions can be difficult to obtain without witness testimony and evidence. He urged people to contact him directly regarding any of the issues under discussion at the meeting.
Redmond said that he understands that some people might be hesitant to speak up out of fear of reprisals.
"If you don't want to come to court you can write a letter we can show to the DA," he said.
Kim apologized to the crowd for not holding the meeting sooner.
"We need to have counseling here. Many in the community have PTSD," she said, referring to post-traumatic stress disorder.
Others at the meeting said more could be done.
"It's good that SFPD are working on the case," Tom Temprano, a gay man who sits on the City College of San Francisco board and is a bar owner in the Mission, told the Bay Area Reporter after the meeting. "But there's a real sense among the community that not enough is being done. Bubbles deserves justice and the Tenderloin deserves to know that the safety of their community matters."
Witnesses to Torres' killing are encouraged to call the SFPD Tip line: (415) 575-4444. To reach Tom Ostly in the DA's office, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or (415) 603-7645.