Saturday, August 30, 2008

SFGA History: A Well-Guarded Muni Ride Into The Hunters Point Battle Zone

A Well-Guarded Muni Ride Into The Hunters Point Battle Zone;

San Francisco Chronicle : Feb 20, 1988. pg. A.4

The mood was secure and calm aboard the Muni's embattled 15-Third Street line as driver Reginald Jones wheeled his articulated bus into a Hunters Point combat zone.
"Here we go into the front- lines," laughed Jones, 39, a streetwise, eight-year veteran driver, as the long bus hissed to a stop near the intersection of Third and Palou streets Wednesday night.

Third and Palou is one of the danger spots near housing projects where buses have been ambushed and bombarded with bricks, sticks and bottles during the past few weeks, including a rock attack and a violent robbery on Tuesday night.
Yet there was no sense of apprehension among the dozen or so passengers. They appeared secure with six, red-bereted Guardian Angels and a private security guard on board and a black-and-white police cruiser following close behind.

`We Make People Feel Safe'

"Beautiful. God Bless you," an elderly woman passenger whispered to Scott McKeown, 31, West Coast director of the Angels and leader of the squad on the bus.
McKeown smiled and thanked her, then turned to his team spread through the bus.
"OK, heads up," he commanded when the bus moved through the Sunnydale projects. Twelve Angel eyes probed the darkness outside.

"There's not much we can do about rocks hitting the bus, but we can sure do a lot about people coming aboard and beating the passengers," he said. "We make people feel safe."

Zoima Herrera, 37, hugged her 3-year-old son, Marvin, and said, "Yes, they make me feel better, especially with the baby here."

A portly man in a heavy jacket leaned forward in his seat and pulled up his sleeve, exposing a lead-tipped billy club. "I've been on a bus that was rocked," he chuckled. "This is what makes me feel safe."

The Captain of the Ship

McKeown assured Jones that the Angels would not usurp his authority. "You are the captain of the ship, we're just here to help out and act as your eyes and ears. You make the decisions. You are the leader."

Jones smiled, shrugged and rolled his eyes.

"You bet I'm the leader. They start throwing rocks and I'll lead us right out of here. I'll turn this bus around and go off duty. We get rocked tonight, and we'll be gone."

Later, after the Angels transferred to another bus, Jones said that he did not want their protection because it only drew attention to his bus.

"I don't need the Guardian Angels or a police escort," said Jones, whose bus has been spared attacks in the recent wave of violence against Muni. "I was born and raised in this area. I'm familiar with the neighborhoods. I know the people and how to handle trouble."

Jones has seen plenty of violence on buses during his eight-year career, and expects to see more before he retires in about 15 years. He figures the latest series of rock-throwing incidents has just about run its course.

The Dealers Control the Streets

"The drug dealers are losing business with all this police activity and public attention," said Jones. "They are the ones who are going to solve the problem. The dealers are going to tell those kids with the rocks, `Hey, the stock in cocaine is down, cool it.' The dealers control the streets."

Jones remembers when he was a kid, and admits to tossing a few brickbats at buses himself in those days. "Just like these kids, we did it for fun, just screwing around. We rocked the bus and ran, just to have someone chase us."

"These kids don't get much attention, and when they get all this TV coverage, it just encourages them," said Jones.

Others speculate that rock-throwing has been instigated by dope dealers to divert attention from their activities that Jones pointed out on many street corners in the Hunters Point-Visitacion Valley area.

Violence Occurs in Cycles

"One of our problems is that we don't know who is doing it, or if it is being done by a variety of groups or who is most to blame," said Muni spokesman Alan Siegel. "Violence against the buses seems to occur in cycles, and we hope it is winding down."

There were no violent incidents reported Wednesday night. But Thursday around 8:30 a.m., someone broke a window with a thrown object on a 9-San Bruno Line bus in Visitacion Valley. A few minutes later, a window was smashed on a 44-O'Shaughnessy Line in Hunters Point. No injuries were reported.

"A heavy police presence and community outrage seems to have calmed the situation," Siegel said. "But the Muni and the police will continue their vigilance."

Siegel said there have been more than 100 reports of serious incidents on buses since December 1. about half of them have been rock, bottle and egg barrages, mostly in Hunters Point and Visitacion Valley.

"A lot of people in those neighborhoods are dependent on public transportation, and are really upset and inconvenienced by the violence," Siegel said.
PHOTO; Caption: Muni veteran Reginald Jones grew up in the Hunters Point neighborhood he now drives through / BY TOM LEVY/THE CHRONICLE

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