City orders neighbors to remove graffiti at murder memorial

Mission District site was scene of an unsolved May 1 fatal shooting

Despite public outrage over a 311 complaint requesting the clearing of a memorial honoring a man fatally shot in the Mission District last week, the memorial has once again been targeted for removal — only this time, city officials have tasked nearby residents with the abatement.

On May 1, 28-year-old Jonathan Bello was shot by a man on a bicycle in broad daylight at 22nd and Bartlett streets, near the City College of San Francisco Mission District campus. He later died at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital.

Less than 24 hours after Bello’s death, The City received an anonymous complaint requesting the clearing of a memorial erected in his honor — flowers, some 15 candles, a cross, several empty liquor bottles and the words “RIP Dae Dae” scrawled in bright orange and black lettering on the public sidewalk where Bello was targeted. The request angered many on social media, but city officials left the memorial intact in deference to mourners.

Earlier this week, however, with the memorial still in place, neighbors fronting the site at 115 Bartlett St. received a graffiti abatement notice from the San Francisco Department of Public Works, ordering them to clean it up within 30 days or face a fine of up to $500.

Given the palpable social tensions in the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood, a neighbor slapped with the notice said that he felt it was disrespectful and unsafe for a city department to expect residents to clean up a space created for mourning.

“I think it’s outrageous to demand of us — to be conscripted into taking down a memorial and erasing this tragic event and the suffering of his friends and family as if the residue of a murder is just some kind of blight,” said Ben Rosenfeld, a resident of 115 Bartlett St.

Rosenfeld added that initially, Public Works “seemed to deal with that [311 report] in an honorable way” by not clearing the memorial, but “that honor seems to have melted away quickly.”

“There’s already layers of extreme disrespect baked into the dynamics of extremely rich people invading the working class community before you even arrive at the crossroads of asking relatively new neighbors to take down a memorial,” said Rosenfeld, who has lived in the Mission for 15 years and said that a lot of “gentrification issues play out on my doorstep.”

Public Works spokesperson Rachel Gordon confirmed on Wednesday that the abatement notice had been posted on the residence, but said that she wasn’t sure why.

Following public outrage over the initial 311 report, Gordon said that Public Works crews were instructed to keep the memorial in place until a funeral or memorial service is held, which is protocol.

“I don’t know if our graffiti unit went out and did that posting. We are trying to see what is happening,” said Gordon, adding that the department understands “the importance of memorials as a symbol for people to remember and grieve the person who lost his or her life.”

“We want to help support that process, while being mindful that it doesn’t become a nuisance,” she said, adding that should the memorial attract “rodents and other pests,” Public Works would intervene.

“If the sidewalk memorial poses a public safety hazard, such as forces people to walk into the street, or poses a tripping hazard in the path of travel, we would try to alleviate that problem,” she said.

Asked whether it is fair to hold residents responsible for the cleanup, Gordon said that the order is in line with city policy.

“If it’s on private property, it is the property owners responsible to clean up” and “if it’s on the sidewalk, it is the fronting property owner’s responsibility,” said Gordon.

She added that residents and property owners may request a courtesy abatement or appeal the order. They could also formally request for the memorial to remain on the site.

“However, if it’s graffiti or a memorial that could incite issues — if it became a point of contention for warring factions that would [trigger] a consultation with the police about whether it stays there or not,” she said. “We don’t want it to be a place for a battle or fight.”

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