First Friday's escalating popularity with a non-art-seeking crowd (which the Current reported on last July) continues to plague the residents of surrounding Southtown and King William, who believe that recent reports of violence at the 15-year-old monthly street festival are gang-related.
"I don't really think it's possible [gang activity]," said King William Association President Brad Shaw. "I think it's a fact."
Shaw says that a 911 call February 6 about a fight involving 40-50 people in a vacant lot near the corner of Madison and Beaureguard went unanswered because police were busy with an incident at the rodeo. A quick google turns up a video documenting a quick street fight during First Friday, dated May 5, 2008; a videographer's note attached to the clip refers to the participants as "crews" and mentions tagging. Shaw says he has confirmed at least one "Fight Club style video" recording a First Friday throwdown; the Current doesn't know yet if it's the same clip.
Residents are circulating a petition to end First Friday as we know it, although Shaw says that the serious problems happen after 10pm, long after most galleries close at 9pm. "I think there is a way to separate [the art walk] out," said Shaw, perhaps with a curfew and enforcement of noise levels. "But the neighbors are very scared."
The neighborhood has the attention of District 1 Councilwoman Mary Alice Cisneros, who met with the King William Association last night. The Councilwoman has requested data regarding 911 and 311 calls and incident reports, and according to her campaign office has spoken in passing with the Chief about the possibility of sending the department's Tactical Response Unit to Southtown when the official art-walk portion of the evening ends. The SAPD confirmed that they have been in communication with the community about First Friday issues, and that San Antonio Fear Free Environment officers will be on patrol during March's event.
Shaw will be one of the speakers at a public meeting tonight at Bonham Elementary, 925 S. St. Mary's, at 6pm.
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