LastNight: Halloween in Singapore: All Quiet on the Castro Front

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A Castro reveler learns the hard way not to jaywalk in front of 600 cops. All photos | Joe Eskenazi

Ratio of police to revelers resembles that of Montessori schoolteachers to students in spiritless Halloween nonbash

By Joe Eskenazi

Might as well admit it. I was wrong.

I thought the city’s frantic cries of “Don’t come to the Castro” would have a Br’er Rabbit effect and draw throngs of people. Didn’t happen. I thought malevolent drunks might square off with overly aggressive cops. Didn’t happen. And I thought I’d be out on assignment until 4 a.m. Not only did that not happen, the water trucks began hosing down the pristine, untrod Castro streets at 10:30 p.m. “Revelers” could still make it home for Matlock, theoretically.

T.S. Eliot be damned, Castro Halloween died with a bang and a whimper –- or, more accurately, nine bangs (the unfortunate folks shot last year) and one whimper (this year’s sorry excuse for a party).

While many worried this year’s nonevent would devolve into a chaotic “Halloween in Fallujah,” instead we got “Halloween in Singapore,” with those who did deign to show up on a damp, chilly night afraid to step off the curb lest they be bawled out by a traffic cop.

I had my doubts that the hundreds of thousands of revelers the city anticipated would put in any face time when, at 8 p.m., I noticed 25 or 30 police officers...

on the corner of Market and 15th streets in two neat, single-file lines. And the neatness wasn’t a coincidence.

“Stay in formation,” barked the police commander. “I don’t want to see anybody lagging out to the side. Look military. Make the impression.”

And make the impression they did. With no crowds to disappear into (as last year’s shooter did) and hordes of cops saturating the Castro, what proper villain would think to show up with the preconceived notion of making trouble? It’d be like attempting to rob a police station. If 10 percent of a normal Castro Halloween crowd were present, I’d be surprised.

"Eighty-four, 85 homicides this year, mostly in Bayview-Hunters Point and the Castro is a police state," groused one former city employee. "What's wrong with San Francisco? This makes me angry."

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District 8 Supervisor Bevan Dufty skulked dejectedly along Market Street not far from the battalions of cops. He appeared to be in a funereal mood and, fittingly enough, he stood beneath the awning of Sullivan's Funeral Home.

“I am more than willing to take the heat for putting a stop to Halloween this year,” he said -- and that’s a good thing, because, moments earlier, a pair of costumed partygoers had walked by and shouted, “There’s Bevan Dufty, the man who killed Halloween.”

“This is not something I’m happy to be doing tonight,” Dufty continued in a glum monotone. “I don’t feel I’ll be a winner no matter what happens. At best I’ll be relieved if no one gets hurt tonight.”

Well, it appears Dufty can breathe a sigh of relief. For whatever one’s criticism of how we got to this point, the Castro nonevent went swimmingly from a law-enforcement point of view. Police reported several arrests for drunkenness in public and a few alleged robberies, and a couple of sloppy drunks required ambulance rides.

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Destro says: "There is no one here for me to conquer -- and thanks for knowing who I am."

It all goes to show that when you throw 600-odd cops into a neighborhood, shut down BART and Muni service, lean on local businesses to shut their doors, and spend scores of thousands of dollars warning people to stay away, you can effectively kill a party. While many folks felt the “Home for Halloween” campaign was laughable, it appears the constant repetition of the message that the Castro was “not the place to be” had its desired effect.

So, yes, Halloween in the Castro was safe. But it was safe in the same way that drinking Drano will make your insides clean -– but also will hollow you out. It would be a stretch to say there wasn’t fun to be had, but the sparse numbers, the dead neighborhood, and the platoons of policemen didn’t make for a festive evening.

While pleased that the night didn’t descend into the bloody, pissy free-for-all they’d warned of, members of Citizens for Halloween were still in a bloody pissy mood. “No one called New York City, Dallas, West Hollywood or Toronto -- where the city started a Halloween celebration to foster economic development or tourism,” said Rick Galbraith. "The easy solution was to just call in the cops."

Added Alix Rosenthal, “They’ve turned the Castro into a police state, wreaked havoc with the transit system, and shut down the local economy.”

Incidentally, the businesses that did resist the city’s wishes to close reported lackluster sales. Koch Salgut, the proprietor of Ararat restaurant, told me that a phalanx of police officers walked in, told him he didn’t have the proper permit to have candles on the tables, and insisted he’d have to take his 50-for-a-dollar bag of tea lights to the fire department to get them approved.

“They were looking for an excuse. But they couldn’t find anything else,” he said.

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North Korean general, zombie, and Indian princess engage in delicate, tripartite negotiations.

With the gutters overflowing from the street-cleaning trucks, the Castro was a ghost town by midnight. And a splendid time was not had by all.

“Did I have fun? Absolutely –- except for the thousands of cops, no drinking, and the Porta-pottis hidden in an alleyway no one knew about,” said the gargoyle with the necklace of faux human fingers.

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“It was awful. There was no party. I went to the Mission and there was nothing there either –- though I did see a cop smoking a cigar while text-messaging,” said the continental soldier.

“It was so bad this year. There was no charisma, no energy. The crowd was so low-key. And there were so many police, everyone was scared to do what they wanted to do -– have a good fucking time in the Castro!” said the tipsy young reveler from Concord.

“It was a downer,” said the policeman –- a real policeman. “This is obviously not the festive time people are used to having.”

Well, next year Halloween falls on a Friday (as does Critical Mass). So pulling the plug and calling every cop in San Francisco just isn’t going to work. The city has 365 days to devise a safe celebration plan. Start thinking.


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