Joining many of San Francisco’s other large-scale public events, Pink Saturday has, for the first time in its history, gone dry. This year, the annual party will be cracking down hard on drunken revelers. In addition, police presence at the event will be much increased to prevent a repeat of last year’s tragic shooting that took the life of one spectator and injured two others.
In 2010, a still unidentified gunman fired into a crowd at Market and Castro, reportedly targeting and killing 19-year old Stephen Powell and injuring two others.
Pink Saturday, an unofficial street party held in and around The Castro on the Saturday before the Gay Pride Parade, is a San Francisco tradition dating back over 40 years. Since 1997, the party has been organized by The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.
While liquor was never actually sold at the event, attendees were able to bring in their own alcohol from the outside or purchase it from nearby bars and walk around freely. At this year’s party, a cadre of police officers will be on hand making sure that doesn’t happen.
Eureka Valley/Castro Neighborhood Association President Alan Beach-Nelson complained that, in recent years, the event, “[has] become less gay and more looky-loos.” He noted that, “it’s [the] looky-loos [who are] looking for trouble.”
Organizers are hoping that by clamping down on booze and reining in the wilder aspects of the event’s party atmosphere, they can discourage some of the tourist crowd and, as Beach-Nelson puts it, “transform Pink Saturday back into a party for and by the LGBT community.”
In the wake of last year’s fatal shooting, organizers are concerned that, if something goes wrong again, the city may very well shut down the event entirely–much like what happened after nine people were shot at Castro’s annual Halloween celebration in 2007. Even though city officials, such as then-Gavin-Newsom-spokesman Tony Winnicker, who attested immediately following the shooting that Pink Saturday “has a strong record of safety,” it was clear to the organizers it was time to make a change.
New SPFD chief Greg Suhr, who previously ran the Mission District Station overseeing the Castro neighborhood, urged Pink Saturday attendees to notify police officers if they see anything out of the ordinary.
“It’s all about making sure it’s as safe an event as it’s ever been,” he said in an interview earlier this month. He noted that the party is by and large a “pure event” without a lot of “bridge and tunnel folks,” so outsiders tend to stick out.
The reason for this attempt at insularity is, much like the infamous Halloween shooting, both the victims and their attackers at the Pink Saturday shooting came from outside of Castro community; naturally, there’s a feeling among some residents that they need to circle the wagons if they want to preserve some of their most cherished institutions.
Pink Saturday is just the latest in a number of San Francisco events to clamp down on unruly behavior by drying out. The Union Street Fair eliminated its beer gardens this year and attempted to re-brand itself as a primarily arts and crafts event; the Haight Street Fair has been working tirelessly for the past few years to tame its patrons’ partying ways; Bay to Breakers, the grandaddy of all San Francisco’s public bacchanalia, talked a big game about a heavy police presence and “sobriety tents,” however the 2011 race was only slightly less tipsy than the previous one.