I went to something real intense a couple weeks ago.

On Friday January 9th at around 10 PM, four young men were shot to death in a car on my block. It was a drive-by shooting with multiple weapons.

When the news emerged that the car the young men were in was stolen, all the comments on the blogs reveled in snark and glee. “They had it coming.” “Gentrification doesn’t look so bad now, does it?” All blunt-edged victim-blaming hot takes.

Community members of the Western Addition neighborhood announced a vigil for the victims at the African-American Art and Culture Complex. I decided to attend it to listen and understand what goes on in my neighborhood beyond the cafes and the Meetup groups.

I had never seen the San Francisco I saw at the vigil, but it was so real. Around 150 people attended, 80% of whom appeared to be Black. Board of Supervisors President London Breed spoke, as did Police Chief Greg Suhr, and a lot of pastors and community leaders. Most of them delivered a message like “We are a village, and they {the forces of gentrification} are crushing us, while we kill ourselves.” Supervisor Breed said she grew up in the housing in the area. She talked about how she used to hang out with folks, and they would party at Virgo’s in Hayes Valley. Everyone called out “yeah, we were there!” I, a Hayes Valley resident of 10 months, have no idea where or what Virgo’s was.

The pastors and old-timers who sat on the corner had some common themes too. “I’ve been a G too.” “I was in a set for 20 years.” “My brother died in 2002, and my cousin got shot in 09, just down the block.” “I was in jail for 40 years. Now I sit on the corner of Golden Gate and Fillmore 24/7, talking to these boys, trying to keep them out of the life. But I haven’t been able to stop crying for the last three days, because the last four boys I spoke to on Friday was those four boys.” And the most repeated harmonic: “It’s not snitching when someone shoots four people and you aren’t involved. So, come forward if you know who did this.”

During one speech, a mother wailed outside the room. Never in real life nor in the movies have I ever heard such a raw human cry. I pray I will not hear it again for a long time.

It seemed that most people there were at most two degrees removed from the victims or their families. There were a lot of tears and hugging, and chanting. The White people present, other than myself, were all hugging and comforting people. So, I think I was one of the few true loners at the vigil, with no personal connection to the victims other than proximity to the site of their murders.

A real anger simmered in the room over how responsible everyone in the community was. It is clear that there is a persistent problem with violence in the community, everyone is aware of it, and folks seem to know who is responsible for most of it.

The last speaker said, “We’re all about yelling after some cops when they shoot us, but when we shoot each other, we don’t do a damn thing.” Peals of cheers and whoops.

Then, we walked the seven blocks to the site of the murder. As we walked down Laguna past the bougie shops of Hayes Valley, over 100 Black folks marching in front of the all-glass bar fronts full of White people just staring, out the windows of the ghosts of Virgo’s past – I saw the neighborhood from a perspective I’ll never lose.

As folks gathered at the memorial on Page and Laguna, across from the Zen Center, one of the mothers of the slain spoke about her son. “Yalani Chinyamurindi, my son, was on his lunch break from his new job at Benihana,” she called out. “He was carrying his third paycheck, and wanted to surprise his mama with his first support of the rent.” When a SFPD sergeant called her two days later, he apologized for taking so long to notify her about her son’s death because he had no criminal record. He said the only way to officially identify Yalani was by checking the fingerprints he made when he got his official California state ID as he matriculated to high school.

By Preston

Agent of Change, Former of Entropy, Seeker of a Stateless World.

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