A month after District Attorney George Gascón said there had been a rise in white supremacist activity in San Francisco, prosecutors are weighing filing hate-crime charges in a second alleged skinhead attack.The case involves the knifing of a homeless black man in the Western Addition last July 25. Prosecutors say the 56-year-old man asked a white man for change near Fillmore and O’Farrell streets.After a brief argument, the white man pulled a switchblade and slashed the homeless man across the face, leaving a gaping wound that stretched from his lip to his cheek, according to prosecutors. The man lost over a liter of blood and nearly died, investigators quoted a hospital nurse as saying.Later that night, police arrested 40-year-old Matthew Swan at an apartment on South Van Ness Avenue. Inside Swan’s apartment police found a silver knife similar to the one a witness described, emblazoned with a swastika, police said.The prosecutor on the case, Assistant District Attorney Victor Hwang, says the attack was motivated by hate and that Swan has an affiliation with skinheads. “We’re concerned that it appears that there are multiple skinhead cases surfacing,” Hwang said Wednesday.Hwang is also prosecuting three other men who he says have ties to skinhead groups for a Nov. 10 alleged assault on two Mexican nationals, who were punched and kicked outside a Tenderloin bar, leaving one of the men unconscious. Hwang said multiple witnesses reported hearing a group of three to five white men yell “white power” as they attacked the victims. He added that “physical evidence” pointing to associations with hate groups was later recovered from the suspects’ apartments.Hwang said another case in late December involved an Asian man who was beaten in the Marina by four white men with shaved heads, who were also yelling “white power.” No arrests have been made in that case, he said.
At Swan’s hearing in San Francisco Superior Court Tuesday, Judge Susan Breall ruled there was sufficient evidence to hold Swan for trial on charges of assault with a deadly weapon and mayhem.Hwang told the judge that he was considering adding hate-crimes allegations to the case, but Breall disagreed there was evidence of a hate crime. She also refused to allow evidence at Tuesday’s hearing of Swan’s 2008 arrest for vandalism, in which he allegedly defaced a Union Square wall with a swastika and other Nazi imagery.Following the hearing, Hwang said he was still weighing whether to add hate-crimes allegations, noting Swan was still facing substantial prison time for the current charges.“I do not believe that there is any basis that a hate-crime occurred, and the judge appears to agree,” Swan’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Christopher Hite said.
San Franciscans are justifiably concerned about the increasing numbers of homicides in the city’s African-American community. In common understanding, gritty Oakland is considered much more violent than jewel-box San Francisco, yet San Francisco's African American community has close to double the homicide rate of that in Oakland.
In San Francisco, where African-Americans comprise less than 10 percent of the 770,000 population, they make up 63 percent of the homicide victims. In Oakland, where they make up 36 percent of the 400,000 residents – a three times greater percentage than San Francisco-- African Americans comprise 77 percent of the homicide victims. Put another way, members of the most at-risk group to be homicide victims—young black males—are almost twice as likely to be murdered in San Francisco as those similarly situated in Oakland. A number of explanations have been advanced to explain high African American homicide rates generally. Most subscribe to the structural argument that the rates are caused by environmental factors like poverty, joblessness and general mistreatment by the larger society. Others add that part of the reason for high rates is that a subculture of violence has become imbedded in some parts of the African American community. But neither of those explanations address the wide difference between the rates in San Francisco and Oakland.
The six women belong to the Community Leadership Academy Emergency Response (CLAER) team, a project of San Francisco State University's Urban Institute. Funded by a measly $119,000-a-year budget and propelled by a desire to stem the seemingly perpetual bloodletting in the city's forgotten southeast sector, the team members sit at the eye of the homicide hurricane. Last year, one of the most violent in recent memory, the squad responded to 88 murders, most involving black or brown victims; 2005 is already shaping up to be worse. The team's head honcho, Sharen Hewitt, 50, a former aide to Mayor Willie Brown, sits at a table in front of a wall filled with grainy photos of dead black folks. She knows all the names, all the stories.Hewitt, who speaks bluntly and constantly, jumping seamlessly from street slang to academic jargon, points to a photo. "This guy here, he's the brother of the guy in the green jacket you saw hugging me," she says. She points to a second photo. It's an infant. "Two months old. Nobody bothered to stand up for a two-month-old baby shot in our fine progressive city." She points to third photo. "This boy was in a car and watched as his friend's head was blown off.""This is happening because they're black and brown and politically impotent," Hewitt spits. "Almost every black person left in San Francisco has been directly touched by homicide."