The letter below was printed in the Bay Area Reporter on October 5, 2017.
As a resident of the Mission Dolores district and a proud member of our neighborhood association board, I’ve been gratified to see our community come together over the past months to take a firm stand against violence in Dolores Park, which we all agree is unacceptable.
I do worry, though, that the response to the August incident [in which three people were injured in a shooting] is too singularly focused on increased police presence. While the police must be a part of the solution, too much presence will have negative side effects. I implore my neighbors to remember that the park does not exist solely for those who can afford to live nearby; as a public space, it is for everyone. We must therefore consider how any response affects all its users.
The data show us that people of color, especially those in the LGBTQ community, are disproportionately impacted by police presence, even in San Francisco. Given the park’s critical position on the outskirts of the Castro, it serves as a safe haven for these vulnerable groups, and it would be a shame to damage that through well-intentioned efforts to end violence.
There are alternatives. In the long-term, we should invest further in programs like the city’s Street Violence Intervention Program, whose on-the-ground workers deescalate potential altercations around the city every day without the direct involvement of law enforcement. They need considerably more staff to advance their mission. Proposed environmental changes, like a redesign of the park’s footbridge, are also encouraging.
And in the short-term, the police will play a role. I hope that we can see beyond this period to a brighter future that is more consciously inclusive of all those who call Dolores Park a second home.