Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The year they canceled Halloween

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - City officials want the hundreds of thousands of people who usually flock to an annual Halloween street party here to stay home or go elsewhere after several episodes of violence in recent years.

Officials have advised would-be revelers through fliers, public service announcements and juvenile probation officers that they won't find many treats in the Castro District, home in past years to the largest Halloween happening in the San Francisco Bay area.

What they will find are hundreds of extra police officers, shuttered restaurants, stepped up sobriety checks and no bus or train service after 8:30 p.m.

"This is really a public safety decision," said Supervisor Bevan Dufty, who represents the Castro and spent the better part of a year trying to arrange an alternative city-sanctioned gathering. "I'm disappointed my message is one of, 'Please don't come.'"

The festivities started decades ago as a homegrown celebration for San Francisco's gay and lesbian community, but has drawn a scarier element in recent years. In 2002, five people were stabbed. Three years ago, someone wandered the crowds wielding a chain saw.

Last year, nine revelers were shot when a confrontation between two groups of young people erupted into gunfire, despite ramped-up security. No one has been arrested in the shooting.

Those darn "young people", always causing trouble!

"It's absolutely eerie when you are looking around seeing people, most of them not in costume, looking each other in the eye with suspicion," said Castro resident Betty Sullivan, who narrowly missed getting caught in last year's gunfire.

Sullivan said she is anxious enough about what will transpire this year that she doesn't even plan to watch from her front stoop. On Tuesday, she could hear loudspeakers and sirens, part of the city's emergency notification system, being tested from her home.

I thought the gays, lesbians and aging hippies were creating a left-wing paradise of peace, love and universal brotherhood in the City by the Bay.

What went wrong?