View San Francisco Homicides 2011 in a larger map
Two recent deaths in San Francisco’s Lower Haight neighborhood was enough to incite area Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi to push for more foot patrols in the area. However, due to the circumstances in both cases, neither will be classified as “homicides” by the SFPD. Does the official designation matter — that is, does it change how residents and officials view issues facing the area?
Last Friday, 53-year-old Anthony Jones, of San Francisco, was fatally stabbed during a fight in the 500 block of Page Street, according to police. However the man who stabbed him won’t face criminal charges because the stabbing was determined to have been in self-defense, SFPD spokesperson Lt. Troy Dangerfield told the Appeal. And because the stabbing was in self defense, explained Dangerfield, it won’t be counted as one of San Francisco’s homicides.
“If you got run down by a car” Dangerfield said to me “it would be an unnatural death, but would it be homicide? No.” (SFPD spokesperson Officer Albie Esparza admits that this directly contradicts what he told me yesterday, clarifying that when we spoke, he wasn’t aware that the DA’s office was going to make the determination they did.)
In another case, Vanessa Herrera, 23, of Sacramento was found dead in a burning car near Page and Buchanan on Monday. Police subsequently arrested Almon Johnson, 29, for the homicide, which they say was actually committed in Sacramento, with the DA’s office saying that Johnson strangled Herrera before driving her body to SF before setting fire to the car she was resting in.
Both the homicide and arrest will be “credited to” the Sacramento area, Dangerfield said, which means that technically, despite having two recent dead bodies turn up in the area, the Lower Haight of 2011 is ostensibly homicide free in the records of the SFPD.
“It can be confusing” Dangerfield admitted to us as he patiently explained that the standards for how a homicide is counted was established by the FBI, “the numbers can change, and people are asking us ‘why’.”
But what’s in a number, and does a death being dropped from the official homicide list mean anything to people who aren’t in law enforcement?
Andrew Dudley, founder of Lower Haight specific site Haighteration and a resident of the area for the last three years, tells me via IM that “I would only care if the label of ‘homicide’ somehow affects what resources are allocated to our neighborhood.”
Did he feel ‘better,’ I asked, when he heard that one crime was self defense, and tin the other case, the victim didn’t die locally?
“Regarding the car incident,” Dudley said, “I did feel ‘better’ in the sense that I am glad that neither of the people involved was a resident of the neighborhood. Beyond that, though, it’s very disturbing that he chose to drive her to this area and set the car on fire where he did.”
According to the Chron, the suspect “once lived in a Waller Street apartment in San Francisco’s Upper Haight neighborhood” and “has family in the area.” SFPD’s Lt. Lea Militello speculated “Maybe he was familiar with the area. That may be one reason he came to San Francisco. But we really don’t know.”
In the other case, Dudley says “I’m not surprised that they’ve determined it to be self defense. It doesn’t necessarily make me feel better though. If he hadn’t had a knife on him, he may very well have been killed, and then we’d be talking about a homicide. I think the overall incident, what caused it, and how situations like this can be prevented, are more important than whether this specific case is labeled a ‘homicide’ or not.”
“If there is a climate in which violence can occur here, whether that violence specifically involves homicides or not, things need to change. I hope the SFPD and city officials feel that way too.”
But do city officials feel that way? Your guess is as good as mine — after repeated calls and emails over two days to the office of area Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who went on a bit of a foot-patrol pimping mini media blitz earlier this week, we’ve heard not a word. Update 6:27 PM: The Supervisor has responded by phone tonight. Many of his assertions, I believe, require me to have another conversation with SFPD, to provide a balanced story. I left their media relations department a message, and will publish a follow-up I’ll link to from here.