SF leaders have run-ins with youth near Market Street

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Thursday February 23, 2023
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BART board President Janice Li, left, and health advocate Gary McCoy recounted recent incidents in which young people harassed them. Photos: Li, Courtesy Voter's Edge; McCoy, Sari Staver
BART board President Janice Li, left, and health advocate Gary McCoy recounted recent incidents in which young people harassed them. Photos: Li, Courtesy Voter's Edge; McCoy, Sari Staver

Two LGBTQ San Francisco leaders have recently experienced separate run-ins with groups of youth near Market Street - with one incident resulting in injuries.

Gary McCoy - a longtime gay activist who has served as an aide to then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) - was attacked near San Francisco City Hall on Tuesday by what he described as "a group of kids."

The incident comes just about a week after queer BART board President Janice Li told her own story about "three kids" who were harassing people at a nearby bus stop.

McCoy, a gay man who is vice president of policy and public affairs at HealthRIGHT 360 and who formerly work for then-supervisors London Breed, Scott Wiener and Julie Christensen, said he was walking to his car parked at the underground garage at McAllister and Larkin streets around 4:15 p.m. February 21 when the attack happened.

"I had a series of meetings at City Hall so I parked underneath, at the plaza garage across the street," he told the Bay Area Reporter.

McCoy said he was on a phone call on his personal phone with several people, including gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, but McCoy was on silent mode and was unable to get it unmuted during the attack, though he tried.

"It's horrible," Mandelman said. "It's really terrible. I feel bad for him and it's a scary situation. I got a text message from him after he left the call to let us know he'd been jumped. It's alarming, it was in broad daylight with people around."

When it dawned on McCoy he was about to be mugged, he decided to "run toward City Hall" so he could be in the sight of more people, as well as sheriff's deputies and other security who are usually there.

"I'm fortunately very aware of my surroundings when out and about," McCoy said. "They all surrounded me and I realized right away what was happening."

He added, "I was able to get away and run," that is, until he tripped.

"I think they only landed a couple punches," McCoy said, adding that his work phone and AirPods flew out of his pockets and are presumed stolen.

The group, which McCoy described as comprising "three, possibly five people" then fled.

"A couple folks around called 911," McCoy said. "The EMT [emergency medical technician] showed up first and offered to take me to the hospital. ... It took the cops at least 10 minutes later to show up."

McCoy was concerned the police took so long, considering the location, but said the officers who did arrive were considerate toward him.

McCoy had X-rays taken at the hospital the following day. He told the B.A.R. that the X-rays "came back OK, bruised ribs and bruised tibia. Otherwise, scans good - spine and neck, and head good."

As for finding the phone, AirPods or perpetrators - "I think it's a lost cause," he said.

McCoy said he was disconcerted at the age of the alleged attackers, since there are many programs for youth in the city.

"As a person with lived experience and as a person who believes in treating substance use disorder and people experiencing homelessness as a public health crisis, I still stand with that," said McCoy, who has been public about his past addiction and recovery. "I wasn't jumped by people experiencing homelessness or who have substance use disorder. It was clearly not the first time they've done this."

The San Francisco Police Department did not respond to a request for comment for this report as of press time.

'Cut it out'

Li took to Twitter February 15 to tell a story of "three kids" harassing people both while waiting for, and on, the 5-Fulton Muni bus just blocks away.

Li said they were throwing gummy worms at people.

"After a beautiful press conference at Powell BART, I went up to Market Street to take the 5-Fulton home," Li stated via Twitter "As I was waiting, I felt a gummy worm get thrown at me. I see three kids with an older woman sitting at the bus stop eating gummy worms. I say hey, please cut it out."

The kids subsequently accused Li of harassment and threw a half-eaten gummy worm at her.

"I get their attention for a moment but they continue to call me offensive, racist names and throw more," Li stated. "The adult with them does nothing."

When she boarded the bus, they followed.

"It's just frustrating that these are the norms of simply existing sometimes and that this incident is similar to the endless stories I hear & see from Stop AAPI Hate," Li continued. "They got off the bus. I think they didn't have the patience to ride all the way out west but I had already begun envisioning my back-up plans (stopping at a cafe, getting off a stop early) if they got off at the stop I did. This is the reality of being a young woman in public."

Li is director of the Coalition for Community Safety and Justice. She leads the coalition's programs and AAPI community-based safety initiatives. As the B.A.R has reported, anti-Asian and Pacific Islander violence has spiked in recent years. Hate crimes against Asians "increased dramatically" from 89 in 2020 to 247 in 2021, an increase of 177.5%, according to California Attorney General Rob Bonta's annual hate crimes report last year.

Li stated to the B.A.R. that in her view the situation didn't need a police response, but rather "everyone to step up and acknowledge this everyday harassment is unacceptable." She also talked with the San Francisco Standard about the incident.

"We need our public spaces to be safe places for people to exist, whether that's on a bus, a train, on the street, in a park, or beyond. I shared my experiences on Twitter to highlight the everyday sort of harassment that so many of us face, especially for women, for queer folks, and as we know now, for Asian Americans.

"The people who are responding to my experience by saying that this was 'nothing' and 'more serious crimes exist' - which of course I'm aware of - are missing the point," Li stated. "This everyday harassment is too common and we have to stop trivializing it. It affects the choices we make and incites fear in so many people to the point that people don't want to be in public spaces or take public transit."

Li stated that "ambassadors, attendants, crisis intervention specialists, and other civilian safety staff" can make people feel safer. BART has an ambassador program.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency responded to Li via Twitter.

The State of California offers help for victims or witnesses to a hate crime or hate incident. This resource is supported in whole or in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

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