"What do you need?" a young man drenched by the rain asks just two blocks from the police precinct.
"Come with me," he says, heading toward Joey's Ice Cream. He yells out to a partner, and the two huddle up. In a few moments the dealer has product in his hands. So easy.
Are you worried about the cops?
"Are you a cop?" he shoots back.
"Then I ain't worried."
Days later, we asked Capt. Gary Jimenez, who supervises the Tenderloin precinct, why there was so much open drug dealing 50 feet in three directions from the front door of the police station.
"We're doing the best we can," Jimenez insisted. He criticized the district attorney's office for not prosecuting many of the people they arrest. He gave some stark examples, including one known dealer who was arrested for the sixth time in a year and said to the arresting officer, "Why do you bother arresting me? I'm not going to jail."
And he was right, Jimenez says. Although the cops saw the suspect selling the drugs, by the time they collared him, he'd sold his stash and didn't have any drugs in his possession. Without any dope evidence, the district attorney refused to file charges, Jimenez grouses.
But Bilen Mesfin, a spokeswoman for District Attorney Kamala Harris, disputes the suggestion that her boss is soft on drug crimes. She says the district attorney prosecuted 80 percent of drug-sales cases brought by the SFPD last year; she adds that prosecutors have been teaming up with Tenderloin police and have charged all 12 people arrested in February in the area for drugs.
Nonetheless, some Tenderloin merchants and residents sound resigned to living with an ambient level of lawlessness. We asked the clerk at a smoke shop at Jones and O'Farrell what he thought about the four people smoking and dealing crack right outside his door. "I just worry about what's happening inside my store," he replied.
When asked what she thought of street crime in her neighborhood, nurse Kathleen Schmidt said while sitting at Cafe Hurghada, "It's sad. Sometimes it's like the Wild West."