Just in time for spring, the SFPD wants you to know the party’s over.
My friend Mike owns an underground party venue, and last night the cops raided a no-alcohol event at his place with 20 officers. They told him that a new police task force is taking to the streets with military-style tactics to stop non-licensed parties. What Mike didn’t know is that, as the Chronicle reported today, this is part of a larger effort by the cops to reign in all party spaces – licensed or not.
SFPD says that a shooting last weekend at 3rd and Folsom prompted the creation of this new task force. And yet their own homicide investigators admitted that the shooting had nothing to do with a nightclub. It seems as though they are looking for any excuse to raid nightclubs and parties.
And ironically, the police are making the violence worse. An April 12 shooting in front of the club Whisper happened only after the police had cleared the club, leaving the crowd outside confused and itching for a fight. I’ve also heard of rowdy partygoers being beaten by police in front of these clubs, and then later charged with “resisting arrest” and “assaulting an officer” only for these charges to be later dropped.
The struggle of underground venues has been going on for a while. Another friend owns a space in SOMA that has been dogged for years by the authorities. His space holds several hundred people, but it’s not licensed because the configuration of the building prevents him from having enough fire escapes to accommodate the City’s strict fire code. Now that the City is cracking down, he has stopped holding all but the smallest of events.
Now I’m not going to defend unsafe spaces. If there were a fire in any venue, I’d want there to be adequate exits and fire sprinklers.
But what’s interesting to me is the timing of this crackdown. For years, the authorities have looked the other way since the underground clubs didn’t seem to cause any problems. But not any more. Suddenly, the War on Partying has gained momentum.
As my readers know, the organizers of Bay to Breakers are cracking down on partying, and we’re still not sure how the new rules are going to play out. The organizers of the How Weird Street Faire are struggling against the SFPD to keep that fun and funky festival alive. How Weird is being charged an unprecedented $10,000 for police protection, which is vastly more than what they’ve been charged before. And, I might add, How Weird has never had violence problems in its past.
The SFPD came close to shutting down the Bring Your Own Big Wheel event earlier this month, until the Mayor’s Office stepped in to cut a deal with the event organizers and the cops, keeping this Only In San Francisco event around to live another day. Even Deep Jawa‘s tame and silly-fun Flashdance parties are being cut short by the fuzz.
But wait! There’s more. As if they smelled blood in the water, the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control has jumped into the fight. According to the Chronicle, ABC is cracking down on all-ages music venues for minor violations, such as not serving enough food. What the?! Now that’s just gratuitous. When does it end?
Rumors abound as to why this is happening now. Is it something about the economy? Are the cops manufacturing a problem to help justify their already bloated overtime budget? Is the City trying to slit the throats of those who are competing with tax-paying clubs? Is Captain Tacchini of the Mission Station gunning to replace Heather Fong as Police Chief? Is Fong looking to cement her legacy in these last few months of her tenure? Are a few bad apples causing the cops to overreact, going on an anti-fun rampage?
I don’t know the answer, but this trend is really disturbing. Surely there’s a way to keep these businesses and events operating in a way that is safe and fun. Without the wide variety of nightlife options, the spontaneity of harmless parties like Flashdance, and the wackiness of events like Bring Your Own Big Wheel, San Francisco just won’t be the same.