Halloween in the Castro
With Halloween 2003 only days away, the annual Halloween gathering in
the Castro plans to be a much different event from years past.
After last year's event, which attracted an estimated 300,000 people
from all over the Bay Area and beyond (nearly three times the average
attendance), was marred by several acts of gang and alcohol related
violence resulting in 30 arrests, the SFPD promised changes. Shortly
after, City and other government officials began meeting to decide the
future of this event.
The city has long wanted to control the Halloween festivities in the
Castro District, even going so far as to start their own celebration
several years ago in the Civic Center in the hopes that it would draw
people away from the Castro celebration. The isolated violence last year
gave them the perfect excuse to come in and "organize" the
event to make it "safer" and more "fun".
Now with the prized plum of San Francisco events firmly in hand, the
city has dropped its plans to continue Halloween festivities at the Civic
Center and promised the following changes to Halloween in the Castro:
First, perhaps the most significant change in this year's celebration
will be the banning of alcohol sales and consumption on the street. Both
on- and off-site vendors of alcohol will have SFPD officers posted at
their doors to remind customers that alcohol will not be tolerated on the
streets. On-site vendors will also have additional door security and
signs posted to enforce the street alcohol ban. Only residents with
proper ID will be allowed to purchase and transport alcohol inside the
event. Those caught consuming or selling alcohol on the streets will have
the alcohol confiscated. It is unclear at this time if they will be
arrested, escorted out of the area, and/or face criminal charges.
Second in the long list of changes, the entire area will be gated off
and SFPD officers will be searching those who enter the area for
contraband. Dumpsters will be provided to dispose of contraband for those
who do not wish to walk back to their cars or residences. For a map of
the area to be gated off see the More Information section below.
Third, $3 voluntary donations per person will be collected at each gate for
entry into the area. The proportion of the donations collected that will
benefit the charities that provide the volunteers to collect the
donations will be 50 percent. The balance of the donations collected will
go to defray costs of entertainment and related security costs to the
stages and informational materials. If any money is left over, it will be
rolled into a fund for next year so that the celebration can be improved.
Fourth, volunteers and police at gated entry points will check
Halloween revelers for "Bad Costumes". Terrance Alan of
the San Francisco Halloween Working Group 2003, has described a "Bad
Costume" as any containing gang colors, dangerous weapons, knives,
Fifth, Halloween in the Castro will be shut down promptly at midnight
rather than 2 am as in years past. According to organizers, this is to
allow attendees ample time to make it home via public transportation or
continue on to the after-party of their choosing.
Sixth, there will be four stages of entertainment throughout the area
with over 100 performers who have volunteered to work for free this
night. Market and Castro will have the "Main Stage" featuring
performances by Trannyshack and costume contests. On Market and Sanchez
will be the "Tantra Underground Stage" featuring electronic
dance music. On Market and Noe will be the "Live Stage" with
live music and dance. The last stage, the "Dance Stage", will
be located on Castro and 19th and will feature local club DJs.
Seventh, over 500 officers (up from 300 last year) including police,
fire, sheriffs, and special patrols will be performing various aspects of
crowd management and intervention as well as DPT officers controlling
traffic and reporting disturbances on the side streets surrounding the
At Haunted Bay we're worried that the fun and spontaneity of Halloween
in the Castro may be draining away and the city's response may be
somewhat of an over-reaction to last year's isolated violence. Some
disruption is to be expected when a crowd the size of a medium sized city
congregates in such a small area. It is both very sad and very
unfortunate that some people were injured last year. However, the
violence was reported to be largely gang related and the exception, not
the norm. The police have stated that alcohol was the primary culprit in
the problems that the event had last year. In fact, there were only eight
minors cited for underage drinking and a total of 30 arrests including
those for the gang violence and disorderly conduct, which may or may not
have been alcohol related. This equals 0.01 percent of the crowd getting into
some sort of trouble. A percentage that, at least in our opinion, does
not merit drastically changing the event.
While event organizers claim "The public was involved in as
much as they wanted to be.", as people who have followed Halloween
related news for some time, we heard nothing about it until yesterday. Queries
to the city, police department, BART, and MUNI went unanswered until the
beginning of October and then it was only MUNI that replied and told us
they would send a press release with route changes "two weeks before
Halloween". For an event that has grown from a small community event
to THE city's Halloween event with international awareness, it does not
sound like anyone wanted public input.
We understand wanting to make something as fun and safe as possible
and to recoup the investment in law enforcement and clean-up, but the
reason the Castro was fun was that it was a spontaneous non-structured
event. For those who wanted a rigidly structured city-sponsored event
there was the Civic Center.
Haunted Bay is interested in your thoughts on the changes to the
Halloween celebration in the Castro. Please join the discussion in our
forums and tell us what you think. Join
the discussion here!