Crossroads are mythopoetically charged spaces where one realm of existence touches another, and transformative encounters can take place. Faust met Mephistopheles at the crossroads to wager his soul, and Robert Johnson made a deal there with the Devil to learn how to play the blues. More than mere intersections, crossroads are sites at which to dream, to conjure new realities through the paths we choose to forge or follow. 1 Turk and Taylor Streets intersect precisely once in San Francisco’s impoverished Tenderloin neighborhood, but that singular geographical locus invites us to encounter the many forms of need and possibility that converge there. The crossroads of Turk and Taylor challenge us to envision — and to build — a future where justice dwells.
The resistance to police oppression at Gene Compton’s Cafeteria and the building’s later use as a for-profit prison are not unrelated.
In 1966, a structure at the northwest corner of the intersection, now identified by the San Francisco Assessor’s Office with the nondescript name 101-121 Taylor Street Properties, was home to Gene Compton’s Cafeteria. In August of that year, this popular hangout became the site of the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot — a landmark incident of collective resistance to police oppression targeting transgender or gender-variant people, most of whom were sex-working, young, and precariously housed. 2 Half a century later, the property at Turk and Taylor is owned by GEO Group, one of the world’s largest for-profit prison companies. In the building once inhabited by Compton’s Cafeteria, GEO Group now operates a “residential reentry facility” under contract to the federal and California state prison systems. An awning over the entryway reads simply “111 Taylor St. Apartments,” belying the fact that this is a correctional institution whose residents remain under the authority of the penal system while they prepare for post-incarcerated life.
The collective resistance to police oppression that unfolded at the intersection of Turk and Taylor in 1966 and the subsequent involvement of 101–121 Taylor Street in the prison system are not unrelated. Both are rooted in the Tenderloin’s historic function as a containment zone — its contours shaped by racial segregation, its borders enforced by often-corrupt law enforcement — in which abjected populations and criminalized behaviors, specifically those related to sexuality and gender expression, have been confined. In telling a narrowly place-based story about this single building while tracing socioeconomic transformations across the neighborhood, I aim to illuminate a broader history of carceral power.
My use of the term carceral power builds on work by cultural-studies scholar Rashad Shabazz, who draws from the thinking of Michel Foucault to suggest how the logics of the carceral complex — surveillance, policing, criminalization, confinement, correction — extend in space beyond prison walls to become organizing principles and practices of governance for society as a whole. 3 I use the term to explore the spatial dimensions of carceral power in the formation of the Tenderloin as a sex-work ghetto, and to describe how this historic red-light district has functioned as a catchment area for transfeminine people in particular. Across multiple generations, these residents of the Tenderloin have been excluded from the formal economy by discrimination in employment and housing; they were consigned to an illicit sex-work economy that, from the late 19th century, had been allowed to flourish around Turk and Taylor Streets. In attending to the processes through which a site of pathbreaking anti-carceral resistance has come to be occupied by an incarceration facility, I document a literal manifestation of Foucault’s insight regarding the diffusion of carceral power throughout the social fabric. I show, as well, the ways in which the techniques of this power vary over time.
What happened at Turk and Taylor was more than an isolated revolt by an oppressed minority of gender-variant people.
In attending to the spatial logic of containment that informs the Tenderloin’s history both before and after the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot, my hope is that readers can come to remember what happened at Turk and Taylor Streets in August 1966 as more than an isolated identitarian revolt by a particular oppressed minority of gender-variant people. Rather, the riot should be “re-membered” as part of a broader anti-carceral undertaking — a composite response, decades in the making, by many sorts of subjugated people, advancing additional sorts of cultural, economic, and political resistance, as they grapple with material conditions in this part of the city. While it is vital to highlight the role of trans, gender-variant, and gender-nonconforming people in what happened at Compton’s, to understand this watershed incident solely as a “transgender riot” is to obscure the multiplicity of issues at stake in this place, then and now. At the risk of a bad pun, our understanding of how best to serve justice here needs to be truly “intersectional.”
Most importantly, in revisiting this history, I want to suggest how legacies of resistance manifested in that riot might be mobilized for social justice struggles in the present.
A Prehistory of the Tenderloin
The four-story building at 101-121 Taylor Street was designed by Abram Edelman (1863–1941) in the aftermath of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, in a district once known as St. Ann’s Valley.4 Occupying the unceded ancestral territory of the Ramaytush Ohlone people, St. Ann’s Valley lay midway between the Franciscan basilica of Mission Dolores and the village of Yerba Buena on the eastern shore of the peninsula beside San Francisco Bay. The Mexican-American War (1846–1848), which transferred the territory of California to the United States, and the Gold Rush of 1849, which inundated the region with tens of thousands of new inhabitants, transformed Yerba Buena into the commercial heart of the new city. A sandy ridge at the north end of St. Ann’s Valley and a salt marsh to the east effectively cut the area off from the bustling mercantile district springing up around the wharves. Presaging the neighborhood’s future function as a human dumping ground, the barren dunes at the valley’s western reaches became San Francisco’s first unofficial cemetery. Miners camped in its salt marsh. Even so, the valley itself contained some of the most fertile soils on the peninsula, watered by a spring-fed creek and a small freshwater lake that lay near what is now the cable-car turnaround at Powell and Market Streets. In the next decades, St. Ann’s Valley evolved into a middle- and upper-class enclave of single-family homes, schools, churches, and businesses, including a commercial nursery for cut flowers. In 1888, the property at the northwest corner of Turk and Taylor where Edelman’s building would someday stand was occupied by the firm of Doyle, Jawls & Leibold, who advertised themselves in the San Francisco Examiner as “first-class harness makers.” 5
The social character the valley began to change again around the turn of the last century. At that time, according to muckraking journalist Herbert Asbury in The Barbary Coast: An Informal History of the San Francisco Underworld (1933), “a small colony of prostitutes succeeded in gaining a foothold” in the district, and hotels and nighttime entertainment venues sprang up near Market Street. 6 This transformation into what would become known as the New Uptown Tenderloin corresponded to the movements of what urban geographers Neil Shumsky and Larry Springer have called San Francisco’s “shifting zone of prostitution.” These shifts in turn reflected patterns of racial and ethnic segregation after the Gold Rush. 7 In an “instant city” of some 50,000 migrants drawn from around the Pacific Rim as well as across North America, White rule had been secured in the 1850s through waves of extra-judicial violence by self-appointed Vigilance Committees. Anglo-American elites entrenched themselves in the emerging urban core beside the bay. Ethnic enclaves encircled them: an Italian and Portuguese settlement near North Beach, a Little Chile and a Latin Quarter, a Jewish section, the “Sydneytown” claimed by a notorious band of Australian convicts called the Sydney Ducks, and — most significantly — Chinatown. A carceral power that spatially confined — ghettoized — racial and ethnic minorities structured San Francisco’s geography beginning in its first decade. 8
A carceral power that spatially confined — ghettoized — racial and ethnic minorities has long structured San Francisco.
Chinatown functioned as San Francisco’s first red-light district — a mapping of proscribed activities onto racially segregated spaces. 9 The Gold Rush population was predominantly male, and female prostitution became a lucrative enterprise. White entrepreneurs eager to emulate the success of brothels (and gambling dens and drug-dealing parlors) run by Chinese tongs quickly established comparable zones under their own control. The Barbary Coast took shape to Chinatown’s north, while to the south, in what is now the heart of the Financial District, Montgomery Street and its environs hosted squalid “cribs,” brothels filled with rooms just big enough for a single bed. It is important to note that, due to the fundamentally racist nature of carceral power’s spatial practices, these new zones explicitly set aside for sex work were by default White sex-work zones. The “unmarked as White” nature of the Tenderloin would play an important role in the district’s mid-20th-century history.
Goldmining made San Francisco a center of international finance, and the subsequent Silver Strike in the eastern Sierras, notably the discovery of the Comstock Lode in 1873, accelerated the city’s growth. As Grey Brechin notes in Imperial San Francisco: Urban Power, Earthly Ruin (2006), the Comstock Lode was so large that it required development of new engineering techniques, with steel lattices to support electric elevators and ventilation systems. Architects quickly realized that these inventions could be used above ground, too, to construct the first modern high-rises. 10 Downtown San Francisco was hemmed in to the south by the peculiar dual street grid established between 1847 and 1849 by the O’Farrell and Eddy Surveys, which set blocks north of Market Street at an odd angle to those on the south side, allowing just one through-street, Van Ness Avenue. Market Street itself was broad enough to be difficult to cross on foot, and a daunting row of luxury hotels further impeded expansion south of Market. The burgeoning commercial center thus had nowhere to grow but westward, displacing the southern prostitution westward toward Maiden Lane, adjacent to increasingly fashionable shopping district of Union Square, and eventually into St. Ann’s Valley, to the west of Union Square. Although a few discreet parlor houses had existed in St. Ann’s Valley as early as the 1880s, their number ticked steadily upward in the decade prior to the 1906 earthquake. In the new century, the volume exploded, as the area’s socioeconomic characteristics shifted and post-earthquake reconstruction radically transformed the built environment. 11
Abram Edelman, who designed 101–121 Taylor Street, was born and raised in Los Angeles, the son of a Polish-American rabbi; he trained as an architect in San Francisco, designed several building of historic significance in Southern California, and served in the 1930s as president of National Council of Architectural Registration Boards. 12 His building at Turk and Taylor opened in 1908 as the Hotel Young. It was a low-cost rooming house that reflected the altered demographics of St. Ann’s Valley, as well as City Hall’s desire to increase housing stock as rapidly as possible after the earthquake. 13 The Hotel Young lacked a lobby and dining room, and its 115 rooms shared just 50 bathrooms, ensuring that it would cater primarily to working-class or otherwise marginalized constituencies — including, it seems, a pronounced Jewish presence. One tenant who in 1915 advertised services as a “psychic healer and teacher of personal magnetism” plied their trade under the Hebrew name Zazel (זאזל), a generic word meaning “spirit” that also names a powerful “dark angel” in Kabbalistic lore. And before the ground-floor storefront was occupied by Compton’s Cafeteria, it was home to Mindy’s Kosher-Korner. 14
The first known use of ‘Tenderloin’ dates to New York City in the 1870s, when it described a zone of nightclubs, brothels, and gambling dens.
By the time Zazel was living and working at the intersection of Turk and Taylor, the building originally dubbed the Hotel Young had become the Empire Hotel, and St. Ann’s Valley was becoming the New Uptown Tenderloin — a name signposting an intensified association with criminalized behaviors. The first known use of “Tenderloin” in this sense dates to New York City in the 1870s, when the term described a collection of nightclubs, brothels, gambling dens, and bookie joints that sprawled across what are now Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen, the Garment District, and the Theater District. Perhaps-apocryphal accounts attribute the name’s origin to police officers who collected bribes and kickbacks that allowed them to dine on fancy steaks rather than cheaper cuts of meat. 15 “Tenderloin” in any case is a semiotically rich place-name, associatively linking loins, sexuality, underbellies, carnality, and value, to create an image of the metropolis segmented like a butchered animal, with prime cuts of urban real estate allotted to corrupt officers of the law. Most U.S. cities once had similar districts segregating so-called vice from bourgeois residences and civic institutions — a segregation enforced through the development of modern urban police forces that constitute the spear-tip of carceral power. Though historic red-light zones survive in many places, San Francisco’s Tenderloin is the only one that retains this 19th-century appellation. 16
The “Uptown” part of the district’s name derived indirectly from Progressive Era reforms that imagined red-light districts not as necessary evils, but as blight to be eradicated. In 1910, Congress passed an anti-sex-trafficking bill, the Mann Act, making the interstate transport of women and girls for “immoral purposes” a felony. In San Francisco in 1911, an unlikely coalition of public-health officials, madams, politicians, and police officials with an unscrupulous financial interest tried to circumvent the national trend by legalizing prostitution, with the provisos that sex-work remain confined to the established prostitution district in and around Chinatown, and sex-workers report twice a week to the Municipal Clinic to be screened for disease. In 1913, however, California passed the Red Light Abatement Act, declaring brothels public nuisances and granting citizens across the state the right to sue the owner of any building housing prostitution. In San Francisco, highly visible commercial sex-work in the Barbary Coast went underground, and St. Ann’s Valley, with its beachhead of upscale parlors and new SRO hotels — including the Empire — attracted this displaced demimonde. The area became known as the “New Uptown Tenderloin,” and what had been the Barbary Coast was retroactively renamed the “Old Downtown Tenderloin.” 17
Today’s Tenderloin thus emerged as the principal bawdy entertainment district of early 20th century San Francisco. During Prohibition, covert drinking establishments proliferated there. The much-raided Amocrat Club, for example, was hidden behind a barbershop on the ground floor of the Dahlia Hotel at 70 Turk Street, half a block from the Taylor Street intersection. Floor-to-ceiling mirrors concealed a steel door leading to the club; as raiding police smashed the mirrors in search of the secret entrance, patrons scurried through side doors into adjacent alleys and buildings. 18 In 1986, renovations of the hotel at 111 Taylor, by then known as the Hyland, revealed a secret basement room plastered with theater posters from the 1920s. Presumably it, too, was once a speakeasy. 19
Gender-Variance in the Tenderloin
Red-light districts have historically been catchment basins for those who comport themselves in ways that can be construed as “transgender,” whether or not such people have used that word to describe their ways of being. As historian Peter Boag notes in Re-Dressing America’s Frontier Past (2011), stories about “cross-dressers” were ubiquitous in western U.S. newspapers in the second half of the 19th century. 20 It’s a commonplace of San Franciscan lore to note the prevalence, from 1849 forward, of practices that transgressed Anglo-American gender norms: male miners dancing the ladies’ parts in same-sex parties; Chinese people perceived as gender-ambiguous because of unfamiliar hairstyles and clothing; female people who presented themselves as men for adventure, safety, romance, or economic opportunity; cross-gender fancy-dress balls; feminist dress reformers swapping their skirts for “bifurcated” pantaloons; swaggering butches promenading with gorgeous femmes on their arms; transfeminine people seeking new lives in different genders far from their places of origin. It was enough to make San Francisco one of numerous U.S. cities to explicitly criminalize cross-dressing. The city’s 1863 municipal ordinance forbid any person to “appear in public in a dress not belonging to his or her sex.” 21
Red-light districts have historically been catchment basins for those who comport themselves in ways that can be construed as ‘transgender.’
Although a full history of such ordinances remains unwritten, they seem to have been enacted in cities experiencing the rapid influx of new residents from heterogeneous backgrounds, suggesting that anti-cross-dressing statutes were a strategy by which local political elites sought to retain social control. The national trend represented a novel technique of carceral power, regulating public space through new ways of regulating individual personal appearance. The net effect, as historical sociologist Clare Sears has shown in Arresting Dress: Cross-Dressing, Law, and Fascination in Nineteenth-Century San Francisco (2014), was to link gender-variant people, racially minoritized people, and people with visible disabilities in an implicit category of “problem bodies” segregated from a public sphere defined by White, heterosexual, gender-conventional, and able-bodied norms. Through threat of arrest, previously ubiquitous gender-variant practices and persons in a heterogeneous public sphere became confined by carceral power to certain physical spaces: the private sphere of homes and members-only clubs; entertainment venues such as freak shows, dime museums, and nightclubs both within and beyond the Tenderloin; and corruptly policed urban precincts tacitly set aside for illicit activities. 22
People assigned male at birth who persistently expressed themselves in feminine ways were particularly likely to land in the Tenderloin — walking its streets, living in its cheap accommodations, performing on its stages. A self-identified “transvestite,” who used the name Jenny when conducting an anonymized correspondence with the eminent German sexologist Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, wrote to him about arriving in the Old Downtown Tenderloin in 1885. Though she considered herself a woman and had lived as such in her youth, she feared arrest when dressed accordingly in San Francisco, and presented publicly as a man. Jenny’s letters describe her work as an itinerant bookseller who “sought out the dance halls and sold trashy literature,” and narrate her friendships with young dancers; these women, she writes, “accepted me just as nature made me,” and shared their cast-off clothes with her. Eventually, Jenny “set up a house and became their room mother,” and “cooked when they invited their friends over.” Only when selling books, she notes, “did I have to play the man.” 23
A generation later, in 1908, a bar called The Dash on Pacific Street, also in the Old Downtown Tenderloin, advertised male wait-staff in feminine attire who, for a dollar, would take customers to private booths to be sexually serviced. 24 (The Dash was quickly shuttered.) San Francisco Police Chief Jesse Cook went so far as to keep a private scrapbook of people his officers arrested for cross-dressing, including a photo of Geraldine Portica, apprehended in December 1917. Cook’s caption reads: “This is not a girl, but a boy, who was reared by his mother as a girl and has always dressed as a girl and went to school as a girl and has never associated with anyone else but girls.” Portica, the caption notes, had been “employed as a chamber maid on 6th St” (a.k.a. the “Tenderloin Panhandle”). She had been arrested while walking on Market Street near the intersection of Sixth and Taylor, perhaps in consequence of venturing beyond the de facto boundaries of the New Uptown Tenderloin. 26 Newspaper stories from the 1920s through the 1950s continue to document the presence of criminalized and exoticized gender-variant people in the district.
By the 1960s, the intersection of Turk and Taylor had gained a reputation as the toughest corner in the city’s toughest neighborhood. 26 Not coincidentally, it was also the center of San Francisco’s transgender ghetto. Tamara Ching — an advocate for sex-workers’ rights and HIV-prevention who had herself strolled those blocks — remembers transgender street sex-work as being policed into a nine-block area bounded by Turk, O’Farrell, Mason, and Leavenworth Streets.27 The Market Street commercial corridor was off-limits, as it had been for Geraldine Portica half a century before; Powell Street, with its tourist-friendly cable-car line, was likewise out of bounds. Transfeminine people did sometimes venture, at heightened risk, into the “Meat Rack,” a male hustling zone just north of Market, or down to the Doggie Diner at Powell and Market, once the site of the freshwater lake in St. Ann’s Valley.
At the heart of the neighborhood, an estimated 600 transgender residents lived in a dozen SROs known as queens’ hotels, including the Bijou, the El Rosa, and the establishment at 111 Taylor that had been the Young and the Empire, known by then as the Hyland Hotel. 28 Turk Street was the de facto main drag. Amanda St. Jaymes, a leading trans activist in the 1960s, recalls, “Turk Street was our street, and the buildings that were on it, the hotels, that’s where we lived, that was our home. We had no other place to go.” 29 Dives like the Chukker Club, the Hilliard, the Camelot, the Sound of Music, and Rossi’s Corner catered to trans people, their admirers and customers, “slumming” tourists, and urban thrill-seekers of all sorts. 30
The intersection of Turk and Taylor had gained a reputation as the toughest corner in the city’s toughest neighborhood.
Gender-atypical behavior in what the San Francisco Chronicle called the “Neon Sex Jungle” was nevertheless brutally targeted in the name of vice suppression, particularly in places where race-mixing and gender-crossing took place, and most especially in after-hours venues that facilitated sexual liaisons. 31 One 1965 article describes a raid at the Chukker Club (66 Turk Street), where patrons included “young things in bouffant hair-styles and false eyelashes” who “fluttered through the throng”; the newspaper felt bound to insist that “there was, of course, a desperate shortage of women.” 32 Police arrested 56 people, “including 23 mascaraed men.” One was the “heavily made-up owner,” 26-year-old Carla Lara, then a Latinx queen who later transitioned to womanhood; she was “booked for impersonating a woman, keeping a disorderly house, and contributing to the delinquency of minors.” Four active-duty members of the armed services were turned over to military police and three minors were taken to juvenile detention, while another 141 patrons were “checked for identity and released into the Tenderloin night.” Police Chief Thomas Cahill told the press, “This whole area has been a great police problem for some time. These are not just sick people. It’s not as simple as that. They are dangerous men with criminal records.” Lara, for her part, capitalized on the notoriety by placing a sign outside her establishment that read: “The Chukkers — Famous for its Unusual Entertainment — Now Presents Police Harassment! Every Fri. & Sat. from 8 pm to 6 am. For Reservations Call 474-7941.” Other signs advised patrons to enter at their own risk, while assuring them that, for their convenience, “local bail-bond numbers are listed inside.” 33
Redevelopment and Revolt
San Francisco’s built environment transformed in the postwar period. The population had swollen due to the city’s role as a center for wartime shipbuilding, and as an administrative hub for military operations in the Pacific. The sheer number of new residents stressed local physical infrastructure. New arrivals were predominantly poor and working-class, a mix of Whites, Blacks and Mexican-Americans that compelled political elites to grapple with new race-and-class dynamics. But as in other cities nationwide, urban elites in the Bay Area used the need to address real urban problems to redesign the city in their own interests — drawing on such resources as the GI Bill’s home-loan program and the 1949 Housing Act that funded “slum clearance.” They re-envisioned San Francisco as a home for white-collar industries, notably banking and finance, and as a destination for the arts and tourism. Major port facilities and heavy manufacturing would move to the East Bay, while freeways and a Bay Area Rapid Transit system would whisk suburban office workers to and from downtown.
In the process, neighborhoods inhabited primarily by racial and ethnic minorities, and by poor people of all sorts, were targeted for demolition. The rooming houses south of Market that had served maritime workers were torn down in anticipation of the Yerba Buena museum-and-convention district (which was planned for decades before finally being built). The Fillmore and Western Addition districts had become predominantly Black during the war, after their Japanese residents were interned in wartime concentration camps. Now these newly-arrived Black populations were relocated to new housing projects in Bayview and Hunters Point, to make way for higher-density apartment buildings and a revitalized commercial district in what became Japantown. 34
Protest against such changes united San Franciscans of many ideological stripes in grassroots movements. 35 The Johnson administration’s Great Society and War on Poverty programs, which allocated federal block grants to be apportioned by local authorities, also occasioned dissent. Perceptions of corruption in the distribution of these funds fueled the Watts Riot in Los Angeles in 1965, and in the aftermath, Bay Area activists used the implicit threat of cities in flames to broker a more community-driven process. “Anti-poverty target areas” were established in Chinatown, Bayview, Hunters Point, and the predominantly Latinx Mission District.36 This strategy reflected activists’ keen understanding of links between poverty and structural racism, patterns that led to disinvestment in infrastructure, social services, and economic opportunity. Indexing poverty so directly to the spatialization of racial minorities, however, had unfortunate implications for the poorest neighborhood in San Francisco — the so-called “White Ghetto” of the Tenderloin. 37
Organizing for social and economic justice in the Tenderloin in the 1960s required new forms of coalitional politics.
The Tenderloin remained more than 85 percent White as late as the 1970s, a fact that emphasizes the ways in which sex-work districts outside racial-minority enclaves remain unmarked as White. The neighborhood did not achieve majority-minority status until the 21st century; in 2010, White residents still accounted for 42 percent of the population. 38 The Tenderloin’s impoverishment in the 1960s reflected its history as a district for predominantly White people expressing gender-variance, practicing same-sex sexuality, or engaging in sex-work, which in turn had made it a discard zone for other mostly White San Franciscans stigmatized in other ways. People with histories of incarceration ended up there. So did those suffering addiction or mental illness. Unhoused youths and elderly pensioners who fell outside “chrononormative” social expectations — privileging able-bodied working adults living in reproductive heterosexual families — found places in the neighborhood, as did those who lacked formal education, and those who couldn’t work due to disability. Organizing for social and economic justice in the Tenderloin therefore required new forms of coalitional politics. 39
Rising to the occasion, a remarkable campaign to establish a Central City Anti-Poverty Program coalesced in the district in 1965 and ’66. The coalition drew together neighborhood residents, ministers affiliated with the Tenderloin’s socially progressive Glide Memorial Methodist Church, veterans of the Civil Rights Movement, leaders of pioneering “homophile” organizations like the Daughters of Bilitis and the Mattachine Society, and radical community organizers who sought to “agitate, educate, and organize” at grassroots level. 40 They advanced an expansive argument for social inclusion, abstracting the model of racial minoritization that informed the War on Poverty and applying it to other sorts of “problem bodies.” 41 In doing so, the coalition offered an early articulation of an emergent “identity politics” that addresses the specificity of oppressions targeting particular forms of embodied social existence. This in turn motivated a compensatory “intersectional” analysis capable of reconnecting cross-cutting structural vectors of oppression disarticulated by identitarian segmentation. 42 To fully appreciate the sociopolitical dynamics that would soon play out in and around Abram Edelman’s building at Turk and Taylor Streets, we must bear in mind these simultaneously identitarian and intersectional understandings. Trans people were specifically targeted by police, yet the violence they experienced arose from the multidimensional workings of a carceral power that targeted other populations as well.
Like the rest of the Tenderloin, 101-121 Taylor Street had become increasingly dilapidated over the first half of the 20th century. The hotel changed names and owners — from the Young (1908) to the Empire (1910s) to the Chapin (1920s) to the Raford (1940s) to the Hyland. 43 By the early 1950s, the former home of Mindy’s Kosher-Korner had become the newest location for Gene Compton’s Cafeteria, a popular local franchise. With a seating capacity of 165, plate-glass windows, cheap food, and all-night hours, Compton’s at Turk and Taylor was the largest watering hole in the “Neon Sex Jungle,” one of the most highly trafficked spots in a thriving after-hours ecosystem of the down-and-out. Harold O’Neal, who knew the family of founder Eugene Compton, recalls hearing that the Turk-and-Taylor location was always the chain’s “problem child.” 44 Eugene died in 1959, and under the direction of his nephew Irving, the Tenderloin location experimented with limiting its hours. As San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen noted on June 16, 1964: “The Compton’s cafeteria at Turk and Taylor, which had been an open-’round-the-clock spot since the year ’01, now closes at 9:30 p.m., on acct. too many Weird Ones were hanging out there in the wee hours. This, plus seven or eight police cars parked at the curb to keep an eye on the Strangelings, made Boss Irving Compton figure it was time for a change.” 45
Compton’s customer base at Turk and Taylor reflected its location at the literal crossroads of the transgender ghetto. The cafeteria did not serve alcohol, and so did not exclude minors or ask for ID, making it a magnet for young people whose appearances did not match the names or genders on their driver’s licenses. Far from the “dangerous men” Chief Cahill fulminated against, many who nursed endless cups of coffee at Compton’s would have been akin to the trans women assembled by Amanda St. Jaymes for a snapshot on the corner in 1966. They would have recognized themselves in the visions evoked by an anonymous 22-year-old, writing in fine Burroughsian style, while “high on methedrine” in the Tenderloin:
With crystalline eyes I view the human carnage boiling before me in the maddened ecstasy of music men minds gone wild. … She comes toward me, a mannequin in lace. Her face a study in chemical transformation, her body clothed in illicit passion: breasts heaving, cock pulsing. … She walks past, her latex buttocks swinging from side to side, her hairless legs showing above sandals below skintight levis. Her cotton breasts inviting all. She is a magician about to do a trick. 46
Transfeminine customers at Compton’s routinely experienced harassment from the management and the ever-present police. Even so, Felicia Elizondo, a trans woman who patronized the cafeteria in the 1960s, remembers it as the place to show off new outfits and boyfriends, and to splurge on big meals after a night’s work. A teenaged Kreemah Ritz, later a member of the genderfuck performance troupe the Cockettes, rendezvoused there with drinking buddies before a night of Tenderloin bar hopping with fake IDs, and returned to sober up over a plate of eggs. Activist “night ministers” met at Compton’s with the troubled souls they encountered on the streets, while community organizers steeped in the radical coffee-house movement used it for consciousness-raising sessions whose seeds might blossom into collective action. 47
Transfeminine customers at Compton’s routinely experienced harassment from the management and the police.
Just such a blossoming took place in the summer of 1966, when — amidst the Central City Anti-Poverty Program campaign — sex-working street kids banded together to form their own group, Vanguard. Their first action, on July 17, 1966, was to picket Compton’s in protest of its discriminatory treatment of transfeminine patrons. The cafeteria had resumed 24-hour service, but had also hired private guards and instituted a “service charge” to discourage late-night loitering.48 In the aftermath of Vanguard’s July protest, Caen reported: “Compton’s, the all-night cafeteria at Turk and Taylor, is now being picketed by some of the weirdniks who’ve been rousted by the tough Pinkertons on duty there. If you’ve never dug the Tenderloin types who generally hang out there after midnight, you’re missing one of the Sights of the City. Positively Eerie.” 49
Conflict between restaurant customers, management, security personnel, and police escalated over the next weeks, culminating in the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot. It is no longer possible to determine one fundamental detail about the watershed event: its exact date. This is due to a confluence of circumstances, including police records having been disappeared; the failure of both mainstream and gay media to cover the uprising at the time; and the imprecision of participants’ recollections years after the fact. Careful cross-referencing of the best evidence suggests a weekend night, probably a Saturday, with August 27 being most likely. Whichever night it was, another routine raid brought police into the restaurant. One of the queens resisted arrest by throwing a cup of coffee in an officer’s face. Other patrons joined in, pelting the police with cutlery, crockery, and trays; they hurled sugar-shakers through the plate glass windows and poured into the streets. Police reinforcements arrived and started cracking heads, but the queens repurposed their purses and spike-heeled shoes into weapons of resistance, beating the officers who were beating them.
An estimated 200 people fought in and around the intersection of Turk and Taylor; a police car was vandalized and a newsstand set on fire. In the words of gay-liberation activist Reverend Raymond Broshears — who six years later would write the single fullest account of the disturbance — “general havoc was raised that night in the Tenderloin.” 50 Some reports suggest that Compton’s was picketed again the next day, and that the windows, re-installed overnight, were shattered once more. Amanda St. Jaymes participated in the melee. She remembers, “there was a lot of joy after it happened. A lot of them went to jail, but there was a lot of, ‘I really don’t give a damn, and this is what needs to happen.’” 51
A Post-1966 History of the Intersection of Turk and Taylor
The Compton’s Cafeteria Riot is remembered today primarily as a militant turning point in U.S. transgender or LGBTQ history, largely through how that incident was represented in the documentary film Screaming Queens (2005) that I made with my colleague Victor Silverman. That narrow sense of its importance, however, also needs to be “re-membered” into a more expansive history of resistance to the carceral power that constructed the Tenderloin District as a containment zone in the 19th century. Indeed, such militant resistance remained necessary for gay and trans communities in the Tenderloin well after the riot. In 1971, for example, activists staged a “Gay Unity Rally” in St. Mary’s Square to express solidarity with the National Peace Action Coalition’s opposition to the Vietnam War. The rally evolved into an impromptu action to “liberate Mason Street” along the 100 block, a fifteen-minute walk from the Square; rally organizers described this stretch as the new “front porch of gay people — transvestites and transsexuals — in the Tenderloin.” Roughly 150 protestors blocked traffic and denounced ongoing police harassment, with one participant telling the press that “It is time we free our own turf, and have an anti-war demonstration against the war we have to fight with police here every day.” 52
A corporate-dominated public-private growth regime took shape in San Francisco, continuing to create inequality in the Tenderloin.
Full appreciation of the post-1966 history of the Tenderloin, and the eventual use of 111 Taylor Street as an incarceration facility, requires attention to activist episodes like the rally at St. Mary’s Square, which linked the government’s war abroad to the government’s war against its citizens at home. It also requires understanding changes in policing practices, changes that reflected liberal attempts to partially accommodate radical demands for social transformation. In response to escalating clashes between police and protestors throughout the 1960s, liberal elites nationwide endeavored “to make the state more effective” in ameliorating social conflict, as historian Christopher Agee explains in The Streets of San Francisco: Policing and the Creation of a Cosmopolitan Liberal Politics, 1950-1972 (2014). Liberal urban leaders advocated for a new balance between democracy and social control that split the difference between law-and-order conservatism and progressive calls for supposedly “kinder, gentler” forms of policing. 53 In San Francisco, such reforms were implemented by Mayor Joseph Alioto, who served from 1967 to 1976. They did nothing to end the explicit targeting of marginalized minority populations that would lead, in later decades, to the Black Lives Matter movement protesting the deaths of George Floyd and so many others like him. But these reforms did break the explicit relationship between opportunities for corrupt policing and the geographical confinement of tacitly tolerated criminalized activities in Tenderloin-like urban precincts. In the aftermath of reform, carceral power began to operate differently.
The gradual dissolution of the historic arrangement between corrupt policing and the containment of illicit sex-work in the Tenderloin represented one particular shift in the broader neoliberal restructuring of society and urban space in the 1970s. The new corporate-dominated public-private growth regime that took shape in San Francisco at that time continued to create conditions of inequality in the Tenderloin, a neighborhood it considered always-already slated for redevelopment whenever doing so might become profitable. This regime did not imagine Tenderloin residents as participants in or beneficiaries of its new order, but it did not need to rely on old-school policing practices to achieve its goals. A new arrangement of carceral power was beginning to take shape that would culminate in GEO Group’s occupation of the building at Turk and Taylor. 54
The Compton’s Cafeteria Riot had transpired at an inflection point in this urban regime change. Construction of the new BART lines under Market Street began the same year as the riot, and profoundly disrupted the commercial corridor until the transit system opened in 1973. The Mid-Market stretch remained economically depressed well into the present century, when public subsidies transformed this portion of downtown into a ground zero for the tech boom, home to corporate headquarters for Uber, Twitter, and Square, as well as to new luxury high-rises. Slum clearance of the “skid row” district south of Market Street had begun in 1966 as well, increasing competition for affordable housing in the Tenderloin. The resulting housing shortage fell particularly hard on the Tenderloin’s transgender population. When the Hyland Hotel changed hands in 1973, the new management wasted no time in evicting 33 drag queens in anticipation of greater profitability by catering to less stigmatized residents; a flyer announcing a Gay Activist Alliance protest in response to the evictions noted that, after the mass expulsion, just one hotel remained of the dozen “queens’ hotels” once known for renting to trans people in the Tenderloin. 55
Compton’s had spluttered along until August 1972, when Caen lamented in his column: “The great old cafeterias continue to go. Now Compton’s at Turk and Taylor, first place to be picketed by Gay Lib for rousting the tray-gay boys, has closed after 20 years.” 56 The restaurant did not fully vacate the storefront until 1976, when it advertised the sale of all equipment and furnishings for $26,500. 57 By then, the building was derelict. A fire in 1971 at the Hyland Hotel upstairs had damaged the structure, and another in 1978 gutted many of the rooms, after which the building stood condemned for over a decade. 58 The street-level space remained usable, however, and had in fact been purchased in 1977 by Earl Kuhns, who opened Frenchy’s K & T Book Store there. A marquee advertised the emporium as an “Erotic Sex Center” featuring not just print pornography but a 25¢-per-view “Peeporama,” coin-operated live “Fantasy Booths,” and a “Topless Change Girl.” Kuhns was a colorful character, who bragged that the tailpipe of his Cadillac scraped the pavement, weighed down as the car was by the $400 worth of quarters he hauled out of Frenchy’s every day. He may have purchased the entire Hyland Hotel at the time he acquired the storefront; in any case, Kuhns owned 101-121 Taylor Street outright by 1985, when he filed for bankruptcy. 59
For the next few years, the building seems to have been up for grabs — though a rapid series of changes in ownership apparently made little difference at street-level. Community mobilization in the early 1980s resulted in the formation of several nonprofit organizations promoting affordable housing in the district, and one such group, the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation or TNDC, attempted to purchase 101-121 Taylor Street after Kuhn’s bankruptcy. The TNDC owned 25 SRO hotels, offering below-market rents to more than 25,000 low-income residents in the Tenderloin, and they had secured a $2,000,000 commitment in public funds for the Hyland Hotel to become the 26th. 60 At the Taylor Street property, however, they were beaten to the punch by an outfit called the Soon Lim Yuen Trading Company, which quickly flipped the building, selling it to a private developer named Gary Raugh. Raugh changed the Hyland’s name to 111 Taylor Street Apartments, sank roughly two million of his own money into renovations, and planned to offer market-rate accommodations. (It was during his renovations in 1986 that workers uncovered the erstwhile speakeasy in the basement). 61
By the early 1990s, the transformation from SRO to for-profit prison had quietly begun.
Despite his expenditures, Raugh did not proceed with urgency; in November 1987, Tenderloin Times editor-in-chief Rob Waters opined that the city’s top priority for revitalizing the district should be the rehabilitation of abandoned SROs, starting with “the Hyland Hotel at the corner of Turk and Taylor. Fixing up this building and getting rid of Frenchy’s Book Store would dramatically improve a corner that has long been one of the most rundown and sleazy in the neighborhood.” 62 Raugh’s ownership, in any case, was short-lived. In 1992, the property passed into the hands of Eclectic Communications Inc. of Ventura, California. ECI was described in the Tenderloin Times as a corporation running detention facilities for parole violators and undocumented immigrants, as well as participants in work-furlough programs throughout California. The transformation of 111 Taylor Street Apartments from SRO to for-profit prison had quietly begun. 63
An enormous infrastructure of private, community-based residential treatment facilities — “halfway houses” — that offered rehabilitative and supportive social services to inmates preparing to exit prisons began to take shape in the United States in the 1960s and ’70s. There were fewer than twelve such facilities nationwide in 1960, but more than 2,000 by 1980, when they contained roughly 20 percent of all incarcerated people in the nation — a population numbering in the hundreds of thousands. “Despite their treatment-focused, anti-institutional, and humane rationales,” historian Cyrus J. O’Brien contends, “community treatment initiatives matured to become part of the broader infrastructures of punishment and confinement” that characterize the shift toward mass-incarceration policy and practice in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. 64 Residents in such facilities, he notes, are involuntarily confined and have compulsory work schedules; their movements are monitored, their relationships with family and friends are surveilled and intruded upon, their personal property is subject to confiscation, and their wages to garnishment. They risk reincarceration in conventional prisons if they fail to comply with treatment regimens or to report as required after an off-site work assignment.
Initially promoted as a more benevolent and cost-effective alternative to prisons, and often located within residential neighborhoods, halfway houses actually “replicated prisons’ technologies for surveillance, control, confinement, and management,” and “expanded and legitimated the carceral state” through a discourse of rehabilitation that conjoined a rhetoric of treatment with practices of physical control. Residential treatment facilities, in other words, extend carceral power to establish what one for-profit service provider called in their promotional and marketing materials “a prison in your community.” 65
Promoted as a benevolent alternative to prisons, halfway houses actually replicated their practices and extended their power.
The 111 Taylor Street Apartments replicated this broader national history in microcosm. In 1991, the Bay Area Services Network partnered with the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinics, Inc. to open a residential treatment facility at the site. 66 BASN and HAFCI traced their origins to progressive service organizations inspired by the grassroots movements of the 1960s, including the Delancey Street self-help organization for formerly incarcerated substance abusers, founded by Dr. Mimi Silbert in 1971. 67 BASN was Silbert’s brainchild. It originated in 1991, when the California Department of Corrections approached her for consultation on more effective ways of managing parolees. She proposed a model wherein social-service providers would not wait until a parolee tested positive for drugs or developed other problems adjusting to post-incarceration life. Rather, support teams would collaborate with correctional officials to evaluate parolees preparing for release, channeling them directly into a robust system of transitional housing, referrals for employment and social services, and treatment placements. Taking up Silbert’s recommendations, the state approved what was first called the Bay Area Parole Services Network (the word “Parole” was soon dropped from the name). BASN then contracted with HAFCI to operate the 111 Taylor Street Facility as its proof-of-concept project, starting in 1992. The pilot was deemed a success, and HAFCI’s residential treatment program operated at 111 Taylor Street until 2004, serving both state and federal prison populations. 68 HAFCI was not, however, the only tenant at 111 Taylor Street. For more than a decade after purchasing the property, ECI also continued to advertise apartments in the building for rent on the open market.
In March 1993, the facility became a focus of controversy, when multiple news outlets ran stories about the Sheriff’s Department’s previously publicly unknown use of that building to house pretrial prisoners, in what one source called San Francisco’s first private prison. A spokesperson confirmed that the department had contracted with ECI to “annex” 50 rooms for its overflow jail population, in order to avoid a $300 per day fine for every inmate held in excess of the jail’s legal capacity. 69 The Tenderloin Housing Clinic and another progressive advocacy group, the North of Market Planning Coalition, complained to the San Francisco Planning Commission that Sheriff Michael Hennessy was quartering prisoners in the neighborhood without official permission, and cited zoning restrictions to question the legality of the so-called “Tenderloin Jail.” A successful community mobilization effort forced the Sheriff’s Department to discontinue their use of 111 Taylor Street, but the building nevertheless continued operating as a carceral facility. 70
Since 2004, the building has been owned by GEO Group, one of the world’s largest providers of carceral services.
It’s difficult to trace the building’s ownership through the turn of the current century due to the byzantine array of for-profit entities entering the prison business in this period, and their tendency to consolidate in increasingly large and secretive transnational conglomerates. The generically named corporate shells that have administered the property (e.g. “101-121 Taylor Street Partners, Inc.”) further obscure the record. Two things, however, are clear: the building has been a carceral facility since 1992, and since 2004 it has been owned by GEO Group, one of the world’s largest providers of carceral services. (It’s plausible that GEO Group acquired the property through the acquisition of ECI itself). 71
The company now known as GEO Group began in 1984 as a division of the Wackenhut Corporation. Wackenhut had been founded in Miami in 1954 as Special Agent Investigators, a private-eye firm established by former FBI special agent George R. Wackenhut. 72 Operations quickly shifted into providing physical security services at airports, aerospace industry facilities, NASA complexes, Titan missile installations, nuclear power plants, and the Nevada Nuclear Test Site — where the Wackenhut Corporation ran a paramilitary force trained in SWAT tactics and the use of armored vehicles and attack helicopters. When the company went public in 1966, it moved into the international petroleum industry, guarding oil fields, pipelines, and production facilities in Venezuela and Saudi Arabia. Diversifying further in the 1980s, it acquired companies developing technology for security and surveillance; it supplied scab personnel to replace striking workers in critical industries; it assembled and trained privatized police, emergency, and fire-fighting operations that could be contracted to cash-strapped municipal governments as cost-saving alternatives to publicly funded — and therefore publicly accountable — first-responder services. This was the context in which the company formed a wholly own subsidiary, the Wackenhut Correctional Corporation, or WCC, that would eventually become GEO Group. 73
In 1987, WCC received its first contract to run the Aurora Processing Facility in Colorado for the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service. (INS was the forerunner of ICE — Immigration and Customs Enforcement). The firm went on to form partnership agreements and wholly-owned subsidiaries of its own in Australia, South Africa, and the United Kingdom, running private prisons and psychiatric incarceration facilities, and branching out to offer services in prisoner transportation, prison architecture and design, chemical-dependency treatment, and residential behavioral and mental-health programs. WCC became a publicly traded company in 1994, while still a Wackenhut subsidiary. When a Danish security firm now known as G4S acquired the Wackenhut Corporation itself in 2002, the WCC subdivision bought back twelve million shares of its own common stock, thereby transforming itself into a fully independent company, rebranded as GEO Group. In 2013, GEO Group reorganized again as a Real Estate Investment Trust, allowing it to avoid federal income taxes and expand access to private equity. Now, in addition to profiting from the carceral services it operates under government contract, the company also profits from investment in the commercial properties where it operates its carceral services.
GEO Group describes itself today as providing “turnkey solutions for numerous government partners worldwide across a spectrum of diversified correctional and community reentry services.” It manages 95,000 beds at 129 facilities worldwide, including the “concentration camp for kids” family separation-and-detention centers run by ICE on the U.S.-Mexico border. The company administers what it euphemistically calls “community supervision services” — such as ankle-bracelet monitoring and drug testing — for an additional 210,000 people. In 2020, GEO Group earned a profit of $565 million. It holds assets worth $4.3 billion, including the property at 101-121 Taylor Street. 74
Re-Membering the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot Within Coalitional Anti-Carceral Activism
In 2019, California passed Assembly Bill 32, which took effect on January 1, 2020, and forbids the state from “entering into or renewing a contract with a private, for-profit prison to incarcerate state prison inmates.” AB 32 further stipulates that, as of January 1, 2028, it will be illegal for California to use private for-profit correctional facilities to house inmates under the jurisdiction of the state prison system. The bill nevertheless contains loopholes that allow continued use of private prisons when necessary to comply with court-ordered caps on prison populations; the bill also exempts facilities like the one at 111 Taylor that claim to provide “educational, vocational, medical, or other ancillary services.” 75
We need to activate memories of revolt, to contest a carceral power that insinuates itself into more and more avenues of daily life.
The ease with which GEO Group can continue to profit from incarceration as part of a so-called “continuum of care” underscores the capacity of carceral power to encompass an increasing number of functions. 76 While progressive service models like those field-tested by HAFCI at 111 Taylor Street in the early 1990s sought to extend a humane ethos into the penal system, it resulted in exactly the opposite: a further extension of carceral power into the urban fabric, establishing holding facilities disguised as dwelling places in environments like the Tenderloin that have themselves been configured by carceral power. As the history of the halfway-house movement demonstrates, an ameliorative rather than abolitionist stance toward such power becomes complicit with injustice. It is therefore all the more pressing that we remember outright revolts such as the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot. We need to activate these memories in the present in order to contest the carceral power that insinuates itself, in an increasingly capillary fashion, into more and more avenues of daily life.
The Tenderloin today remains a discard zone for stigmatized and marginalized people. Since the 1970s, waves of impoverished migrants from South and Southeast Asia, China, and Central America have overwritten the district’s former status as a White ghetto. But the neighborhood still suffers San Francisco’s highest rates of crime, addiction, mental illness, and other social woes. It is still over-policed. It still bears the brunt of an urban growth regime that disinvests in both the population and the built environment. And, despite the laudable success of the affordable housing movement in this breathtakingly wealthy city, the Tenderloin is still home to high percentages of people who are inadequately housed or unhoused altogether. Many trans women still live there, but they do so because they are poor, or Black, and not because a corrupt police power has specifically consigned them to that space. 77
How might knowledge of the deep history of anti-carceral resistance in this neighborhood be harnessed to address its contemporary needs?
Public action in the streets can create awareness and disseminate knowledge of successful acts of resistance in the past. During the past year — in the midst of the pandemic; in the context of Black Lives Matter protest; at a time when populist authoritarianism continues to empower itself through voter suppression and increasingly blatant acts of antidemocratic violence — several demonstrations at the corner of Turk and Taylor have invoked the memory of the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot.. On June 18, 2020, the Courthouse2Compton’s march and rally for Black trans lives drew more than 1,000 participants, who converged at Turk and Taylor to protest the disproportionate impact of incarceration on Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities, and the cruel and unusual punishment of imprisoning trans people according to their assigned sex at birth. The organizers assembled a coalition of 25 co-sponsoring organizations with the expressed intention of seeding a grassroots campaign to push GEO Group out of 111 Taylor. 78
A few weeks later, over the July 4th holiday, the history of the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot was incorporated into #XMAP: In Plain Sight, a “highly orchestrated mediagenic spectacle” involving 80 artists, writers, and activists nationwide. In order to break down the walls that hide facilities like 111 Taylor Street in the midst of towns and city neighborhoods, each #XMAP artist devised a slogan to be spelled out by skywriting planes flying over detention facilities, immigration courts, and border checkpoints, to make visible and legible in the air something that too often remains unacknowledged on the ground. 79 Artists were also invited to conceive additional projects as part of #XMAP, and one film-based work posted to the #XMAP Instagram feed and elsewhere on social media drew connections between different communities affected by for-profit incarceration; it intercut footage from the Courthouse2Compton’s protest with first-person testimony offered by Karolina Lopez Barrera, a member of the group Mariposas sin Fronteras, which supports trans immigrants, refugees, and detainees. The mashup included images of the #XMAP plane flying over the privately-operated ICE detention facility in Eloy, Arizona, where Lopez Barrera had been detained, and spelling out the word “RELEASE.” 80
In August 2020, in honor of the 54th anniversary of the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot, administrators of the Transgender District — a city-sanctioned cultural-heritage district established in 2017 within the historic footprint of the Tenderloin’s transgender sex-work ghetto — shut down the intersection of Turk and Taylor to paint a huge Black Trans Lives Mural on the street. 81 On November 14, the immigrant-and-detainee support organization Free Them All staged a rally at Union Square before marching to the corner of Turk and Taylor, where they ritually defaced the exterior of 111 Taylor with handprints in red paint. 82 Early in 2021, the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office produced a scathing short video, “One Eleven Taylor,” documenting extensive malfeasance at the GEO Group facility. 83 A parolee housed there — Keith “Malik” Washington, then editor-in-chief of the San Francisco Bay View, a nationally distributed Black radical newspaper — had blown the whistle on a COVID-19 outbreak on the premises, prompting swift and unlawful retaliation. Washington’s cell phone was confiscated; he was prevented from leaving the facility for work, and forbidden to speak to journalists, including his colleagues at the Bay View. Washington was written up for numerous supposed parole violations, and threatened with re-imprisonment. 84 (He has since served out his parole and been released.) A rally to support him was convened at the intersection of Turk and Taylor on March 7, made prominent mention made of the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot. “It is an obscenity,” one speaker at the rally told the crowd, “that this historic site of trans resistance to police repression is occupied for profit by a group like GEO.” 85
When we come together at the intersection of Turk and Taylor Streets, as well as at their mythopoetic crossroads, what vision of the future might be conjured?
When people come together not just at the physical intersection of Turk and Taylor, but at its mythopoetic crossroads, what vision of the future might be conjured there? What would it mean, and what would it take, to liberate Abram Edelman’s old SRO and its vacant storefront from occupation by a corporation that confines people for profit? How might collective action in the streets and in the halls of power make continued operation of the Taylor Street Facility impossible? How might we collectively insist that the needs of the currently incarcerated be met by means that profit no one but themselves? How might practices of incarceration themselves be abolished? Why not finally turn a glorified private prison into low-income housing, as TNDC envisioned decades ago? Why not reopen a cafeteria or other business on the site to provide job training for people who need it? Why not open office spaces for nonprofit organizations that serve the community? Why not partner with museums and arts organizations to create historical and cultural programs about the neighborhood’s inspiring legacy of resistance?
As we come together in the crossroads of our historical moment, where the world we have inherited is in crisis and we struggle to bring forth a better one, coming together at the intersection of Turk and Taylor can inspire us to address the pressing needs and inspiring legacies we encounter there. The fact of the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot can teach us that resistance to carceral power is possible. In its spirit let us join anew in ongoing efforts to enact freedom, center the lives of the most vulnerable among us, and drive from our midst those who seek to profit from our oppression.