A 50-year-old white man was driving a red car through the intersection of 19th and Mission streets a few years ago when he was attacked by bottle-hurling Sureño gang members.
Although the driver wasn’t in a gang, Lt. Jim Miller of San Francisco’s Gang Task Force said he was targeted because his car was red, the color claimed by the Norteños. The driver happened to be in the wrong place at the very moment the Sureños were hungry for retaliation. A few hours earlier, rival Norteños had thrown bottles at them.
While Miller said Mission gangs rarely target innocent people, when they’re angry and looking for payback, they may pounce on anyone resembling an opposing gang member.
Simply being a young Hispanic male can make someone a target.
“It can be just a matter of what they feel that day and why they feel it,” he said.
That urge for retaliation could explain why a 22-year-old restaurant cook was shot dead Tuesday morning while smoking a cigarette outside an eatery at 19th and San Carlos streets. Although police have been tight-lipped about the murder investigation, they say Norteño gangbangers mistook Gaspar Puch-tzek, a young Hispanic male, for a Sureño.
Cops are now saturating Mission gang turfs as they brace for retaliation for that killing, as well as possible payback for the shooting death of a known Sureño later Tuesday.
“Any time there’s a gang-related shooting, we have to prepare for retaliation,” Mission Station Capt. Greg Corrales said.
It would not be the first San Francisco gang slaying stemming from mistaken identity. In 2008, Tony Bologna and two of his sons were shot dead in the Excelsior while driving home from a picnic. Authorities believe the killing was in retaliation for the shooting of an MS-13 member earlier that day in the Mission.
The Bolognas were mistaken for gang members, prosecutors said.
Miller said such incidents are rare, but that awareness of gang locales is important. Avoiding certain blocks, particularly following gang-related incidents, also is key to safety.
“Most people who live in the Mission district, especially young Latin males, they know where to walk and where not to walk,” Miller said.
For cops, the killing of innocents at the hands of gangs is both hard to take and “infuriating,” Corrales said. While those who live the gang lifestyle run the risk of being killed, regular folks such as Puch-tzek don’t deserve that fate, he said.
“Here’s a guy trying to support his family, and this jerk just comes and shoots him,” the police captain said.