New Year Brings an Increase in Homicides to San Francisco

New Year Brings an Increase in Homicides to San Francisco

In San Francisco, the homicide count has climbed to 11, a "shocking start" to the year for a city amid a technology boom with soaring rents and construction cranes, fashionable restaurants and gentrifying neighborhoods.

Published February 23, 2015

(Photo: AP Photo/Ben Margot)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — It was, the mayor of San Francisco said, a "shocking start" to the year for a city amid a technology boom with soaring rents and construction cranes, fashionable restaurants and gentrifying neighborhoods.

In January, four young men sitting in a stolen car were gunned down in a trendy neighborhood near City Hall. Ten days later, a mother was shot dead outside her home in front of her three children. In another, a blood-spattered woman staggered into a restaurant seeking help for bullet wounds, and a man was found shot dead in an SUV outside.

With the homicide count climbing to 11, fears and tensions have been stoked between those coming to the city for high-paying jobs and longtime residents in neighborhoods that were once predominantly minority. Most of the murder victims were young black men, and police are investigating their ties to gangs.

Newly arrived residents decry the violence outside their pricy apartments, while some black community leaders complain police are not putting enough resources into solving homicides labeled as "gang related."

Mattie Scott, a black community leader whose 24-year-old son was slain in the same neighborhood in 1996, said after the Jan. 6 quadruple homicide that police and city officials aren't making violence in the area a priority.

"Our community is bleeding," Scott said after the four young men were gunned down. "We need help to end the violence."

Police and city officials say the spike appears to be an anomaly rather than an ominous sign of things to come. They are hopeful the streak of lethal violence will soon subside.

"The quadruple homicide in January is an abnormality," Sgt. Monica McDonald said. "We do not anticipate that this is a trend we will see throughout the year."

Still, this year's homicides have unfolded at an unsettlingly quick pace for a city where fatal attacks have plummeted by more than half in the last several years. San Francisco recorded 45 murders in 2014 and 48 in 2013. The city recorded 98 murders in 2008 and 100 in 2007.

The city's recent murder numbers are still dwarfed by rates in many other cities of similar — and smaller — sizes. Across the bay in Oakland, the year started with 14 homicides.

The income gap between San Francisco's wealthiest and poorest residents was growing the fastest in the country, according to a study by the Washington D.C.-based Brookings Institution last year. Tech jobs in the city have increased by 56 percent over the last five years and unemployment has plunged below 4 percent. But that success has caused a severe housing crunch and rents have skyrocketed. The median monthly rental for a one-bedroom apartment is $3,120 according to data gathering company Priceonomics.

"It really is a tale of two cities," said San Francisco public defender Jeff Adachi, who has represented indigent criminal defendants in for nearly 20 years. "The economic disparities are profound."

The four were killed across the street from the San Francisco Zen Center in the Western Addition, a neighborhood historically plagued by gang woes but is now a destination for upwardly mobile professionals. The median monthly rental for a one-bedroom apartment in that neighborhood has increased from $2,195 in 2011 to $3,750 in 2014, according to Priceonomics.

Fearing gang retaliation, the police department temporarily stepped up patrols immediately after the quadruple homicide.

Last year, a federal grand jury issued a 17-count indictment charging 10 alleged members and associates of a Western Addition-based gang with murder, racketeering and drug charges connected to illegal activity dating back to the 1990s.

Community leaders and residents complain the economic boom of the city and their neighborhood in particular seems to have overlooked lower-income families, fueling resentment. "A lot has to do with economics," said Terry Lusk, a longtime Western Addition resident. "A lot of these young kids feel left out."

Asale-Haqueenyah Chandler, the mother of one of the quadruple homicide victims, says she's upset that her son's killers haven't been found. "The city has not made his murder a priority," Chandler said. "If it was a priority, it would have been solved by now."

Chandler says that her son Yalani Chinyamurindi, 19, was not associated with a gang. Neighbors and friends agree, saying the community college student was quiet and mostly kept to himself. Police said he had no criminal record.

Chinyamurindi was on a 30-minute break from his Japanese restaurant job when he accepted a ride from a childhood friend.

"He was at the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people," Chinyamurindi's mother said. "He was a good kid."

A police spokeswoman said officers continue to investigate the quadruple homicide along with the seven other still-unsolved killings of 2015 — a tally that doesn't count the headless and handless body of Omar Shahwan found stuffed inside a suitcase left in front of a Goodwill store last month. The medical examiner is trying to determine a cause of death and police are investigating the bizarre case as a possible homicide.

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Written by Paul Elias, Associated Press

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