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Posted on www.ebar.com
By Seth Hemmelgarn

A recent string of incidents in San Francisco, including anti-gay hate crimes, may give the impression that such crimes are on the rise. Other incidents, including armed robberies, have also raised concerns.

But data from the San Francisco Police Department show LGBT-related hate crimes are actually down and levels of other incidents appear fairly stable.

Citywide, there were three anti-gay or lesbian hate crimes through March of this year, with no anti-transgender incidents reported. Through the same time last year, there were eight anti-LGBT hate crimes, police data show. There were 26 such incidents in 2010 altogether.

Even though anti-LGBT hate crime statistics aren't keeping pace with last year, such incidents and other crimes have gained attention. Residents, gay or otherwise, are urged to be careful when they're out in the city.

Police have reported that at 9 p.m. on August 6, near Market and Sanchez streets, three white male teens, ages 13 to 15, beat a 52-year-old Santa Barbara man with a baseball bat while yelling, "Fuck you, faggot."

The name of the man, who declined an interview request made through Park Police Station Captain Denis O'Leary, hasn't been released. Police haven't provided information on any arrests.

Another incident occurred about a week before.

At about 2 a.m., Sunday, July 31, outside Blue Restaurant, 2337 Market Street, a woman called one of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence "faggot" and shoved him.

At the request of the Sister, who police have said was in full nun drag during the incident, they have not released his name.

In addition to the hate crimes, there have also been several armed robberies around the Castro area in the past month.

At 3 a.m. on Monday, August 1, James Parr, 34, was walking up Noe Street near the 18th Street 7-Eleven when three men surrounded him. One told Parr, "Give me everything you got!" and showed him a semi-automatic handgun, according to the police report.

Parr complied, ultimately handing over his cell phone, credit cards, and other property. (Unlike many crime victims who appear in police reports, Parr had not been talking or texting on his phone while he was walking. It had been in his pocket, he said.)

The first suspect was described as 20 to 25, 5 feet 6 inches, 165 pounds, with black hair. Descriptions of the other two suspects included approximately the same weight and height, but their ages weren't listed. All three were described as Hispanic and were last seen wearing black hooded sweatshirts and pants, and dark shoes.

Police think the robbery may be connected to other recent cases, with suspects and a firearm matching the same description. There have been no arrests.

Parr, a gay Castro resident, said in an interview that the incident has "made me a little bit less comfortable to walk around the neighborhood, especially by myself, but otherwise, the real impact has just been having to replace everything."

Data from the Mission police station, which oversees the Castro and surrounding neighborhoods, show robberies are up slightly, rising 5 percent from 316 cases through mid-August 2010 to 331 during the same period this year.

Overall, however, violent crimes are down a bit, dropping 5 percent from 665 incidents in 2010 to 634 in 2011 through mid-August, according to the Mission police data.

Lieutenant Mark Cota, the officer in charge of the Mission Station investigative team, attributed the drop, in part, to a lack of personnel movement at Mission Station. Officers have been staying longer and becoming more familiar with their beats, he said.

Cota said he didn't have the sense that hate crimes are a growing problem in the area. He said "if there is a slight up-tick in hate crimes," he'd attribute it more to officers being more specific in their reporting and more knowledgeable of the areas they patrol than an actual rise in incidents.

Greg Carey, chair of Castro Community on Patrol, said the recent anti-LGBT incidents "seem to be out of the ordinary, and we want to continue to work with the public on how to protect themselves in situations like that." His tips include staying out of dark areas and carrying a whistle.

Carey said the armed robberies in the neighborhood "could be just the random nature of crime moving through the city."

'This is going to be how I die'

Some say crimes in the city are underreported.

Jason Villalobos, 32, was walking near Folsom and 17th streets at about 2:30 one morning in June, listening to music on his iPhone, which he was carrying in his hand. He heard someone say, "Give me your fucking phone," and saw a gun pressed to his chest.

"This is going to be how I die," he recalled thinking. As Villalobos looked around, "I realized I was in a perfect position to be robbed," he said. There were no streetlights, and no one else was approaching from either direction.

The man took Villalobos's phone and started to leave before pointing his gun at Villalobos again and finally running away.

Villalobos, who lives in the Castro and whose likeness appears on AIDS awareness posters around the city, didn't report the incident to police. "Unfortunately, I thought, 'What could the police do?'" since he had such limited information about the man, he said.

He said that for several reasons, he regrets not telling police. The information could have been dispersed to the community to warn others, and it could have been used to help police know where crimes are occurring. Since then, Villalobos said he has been talking to other people about what happened to him.

Lieutenant Teresa Gracie is head of the San Francisco Police Department's special investigations division, which includes the hate crimes unit. Gracie, an out lesbian, encourages people to report incidents. She said something that could be viewed as minor "could end up being a very large piece of a puzzle, and a person can be caught."

Also, knowing where crimes are occurring is important for police to know when determining where to put resources, she said.

"If people don't tell us, what are we going to do?" she said.