One month after an alleged attack on the Baker’s Dozen a cappella group in San Francisco, Bay Area interest in the incident and the subsequent lengthy police investigation has yet to die down.
Since Jan. 1, the incident has been broadcast on national news — including television networks ABC and Fox News — in addition to around-the-clock coverage by the San Francisco media. Local residents attributed the prolonged fascination with the case to continued bafflement over the long duration of the police inquiry, as well as local interest in the incident’s connection to Yale.
Students in the all-male singing group were allegedly assaulted by more than a dozen assailants while leaving a New Year’s Eve party thrown in their honor. The violent attack, which occurred in the midst of the group’s winter singing tour on the West Coast, resulted in a number of serious injuries to the singers, including a broken jaw, a concussion, a sprained ankle and black eyes.
The San Francisco Police Department has been widely criticized for slow pace of the investigation into the fracas. SFPD officials have said the investigation is still “open and ongoing,” but the San Francisco Chronicle reported Wednesday that the case could head to prosecutors as early as next week.
San Franciscans differed in their explanations as to why media buzz has not yet subsided.
Dawn Edwards, director of the Bay Area Police Watch, the Oakland branch of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, said the SFPD police officers are usually criticized for sluggishness in cases involving people of color, and she said many people were surprised to hear the police department criticized for lack of action on a case involving victims from the stereotypical “right class” and with the “right income.”
“Since these were upstanding gentlemen from a very prestigious school, you would think that they would be taken seriously,” Edwards said.
SFPD public affairs representative Neville Gittens said the complexity of the case, which obliged officers to travel to southern California and New Haven to interview the Baker’s Dozen students, has made it difficult for the department to set a time table for a resolution.
“It’s a work in progress,” Gittens said. “But we’re hoping to have a conclusion shortly.”
Tina D’Elia, hate violence survival program director of Community United Against Violence in San Francisco, said she thinks the scandal drew national attention because of the homophobic language that was allegedly directed at the Yale students on the night of the attack. D’Elia said the city, which has a history of being socially progressive, was shocked by reports describing the slurs dealt to the singers.
“It was the hate language that was said that stood out in people’s minds, especially with the connection to San Francisco,” she said.
Witnesses to the events preceding the attack recalled that two uninvited guests entered the party and called members of the a cappella group “homos,” “queers” and “fags” upon seeing the well-dressed members and watching them lead the singalong.
Reno Rapagnani, the owner of the home in which the New Year’s party was held, said the city has seen a rise in violence, gangs and drugs in poorer neighborhoods in the last 20 years, problems which he said have forced the SFPD to engage in more intercommunity policing. He said the media blitz over the incident likely occurred because, in this instance, violence was aimed at unlikely victims.
“The reason it has caught on is that this attack involved privileged students from Yale rather than gang members or people that you might expect this violence to take place around,” he said.
Rapagnani — a former SFPD sergeant who has publicly accused the Department of forcing him out of his job — said he thinks the investigation might have concluded by now had the incident occurred on any night other than New Year’s, when the police are typically spread thin across different neighborhoods and are unable to respond as efficiently as usual.
Whitney Leigh, an attorney representing one of the injured students, Sharyar Aziz ’10, expressed optimism for a favorable conclusion for his client.
“It is our belief that there is ample evidence for multiple felony charges,” he said.
San Francisco mayoral spokesman David Miree declined to comment on the assault or investigation, saying only that the Mayor’s Office recognizes the University as one of the nation’s premier learning institutions.
Several media, most notably ABC News, have criticized San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom for speaking out about the incident and attempting to shift focus onto the question of whether the students were drinking alcohol the night of the party.