Thursday, September 15, 2016

Stained With the Blood of Youth: Potrero Hill, The de Haro Twins, and the Forgotten Murders of Prince Johnson and Jamar Samual

[EDITOR: In conjunction with the launch of PlayGround's 23rd season as well as the launch of PlayGround's Potrero Nuevo Project I attempt to explore the rich and often tragic history of Potrero Hill.]
The Potrero Hill neighborhood is rich with San Francisco history, from being the home of former Mayor Art Agnos and O.J., to being the location where tents were set up for those displaced by the 1906 Earthquake and the home of the Pickle Family Circus to soon becoming PlayGround’s new community. It’s impressive that this neighborhood with a skyline and view that has been featured in films from A Walk to Remember and Bullitt can also be home to the segregated population of the Terrace-Annex Housing Projects. Nestled in the middle of Potrero Hill and the Dogpatch areas with their multi-million dollar homes,  stylish storefronts, homey restaurants and bustling bars, the Terrace-Annex Housing Projects are San Francisco’s Bermuda Triangle. Fraught with gun-violence and facing the same fate as the rest of the city (in particular the low-income Housing Projects) in terms of gentrification and relocation/displacement, you would think that Potrero Hill would get more attention than an occasional mention of their Street Festival or news on the redevelopment but that is not the case. Take for instance the shooting deaths of Prince Johnson and Jamar Samuel in July/August of 2015. Two young men, shot dead, in the daytime, and still so many do not know their names. This occurred for a variety of reasons. The first is that violence of this kind is not new to the Terrace-Annex projects. Described as a fishbowl, the isolated housing projects have in a way recreated the hunting grounds that Potrero Hill (formerly Potrero Nuevo) were first known for. The stories of Prince Johnson and Jamar Samuel were largely overshadowed by the shooting death of Kate Steinle on Pier 14. The Steinle case was huge, taking up space on all major news outlets, sparking debates on local and national levels about immigrants and gun policies and the status of San Francisco as a “Sanctuary City”, but the major question was “a sanctuary for whom?”, and furthermore, “who are we saying matters in San Francisco?” Three people lost their lives, but only one person stood as a story worth telling. It brings to mind another buried story of the deaths of two young men. A story that is not often told but is vital to both local and national history. That is the story of Francisco and Ramon de Haro. Nephews of Don Jose Berreyesa and sons of Don Francisco de Haro, Yerba Buena alcalde (mayor) the de Haro twins were granted the Potrero Nuevo lands by the Mexican government, they were seventeen at the time. Two years later, in 1846, almost 170 years before the untold deaths of Prince Johnson and Jamar Samuel, the de Haro twins were with  their uncle heading to visit their cousins incarcerated as part of the Bear Flag Revolt and were shot dead by none other than the American Hero, Kit Carson) upon disembarking from their boat at Point San Pedro (near San Rafael). Their deaths along with the shooting death of their uncle were ultimately overshadowed by the larger U.S.  war against Mexico and acquisition of Alta California. Politics. Gun violence. Gentrification. Land grabs. Immigrants. All of these things that we now speak about as National debate topics have solid foundation on The Hill. But now that we know these things… what are we going to do with that knowledge?

On Monday, September 19th, PlayGround will kick off its 23rd season with Alumni Night. Six plays have been chosen as the foundation for the larger Potrero Nuevo Project, premiering at the newly renovated Thick House in January, 2017. For tickets and more information please visit:

Ashley Smiley is the newest member of the PlayGround team, having started earlier this month in the new full-time position of Administrative Associate. After obtaining her B.A in Performing Arts and Social Justice from the University of San Francisco and her M.A. in Drama from San Francisco State University, Ashley became a full-time freelance Stage Manager, Production Manager working with companies/venues such as Theatre MadCap, Z Space, Campo Santo, Youth Speaks/Ictus, Intersection for the Arts, The Rueff at the A.C.T. Strand, Berkeley Rep, and various others. Most recently Ashley acted as the Assistant Director for Campo Santo’s world premiere production of H.O.M.E. (Hookers On Mars Eventually), written by Star Finch and directed by Sean San  Jose. Currently, Ashley is continuing to work as a core member of Campo Santo, project managing for CandiceAntique/Antique Naked Soul, and is in the process of writing two original works, Crosswood Burning which is being developed with the Clika writing group of Campo Santo, and Of Thunderclaps and Icepicks which is being developed for submission to the JUMP! Theatre new works showing in March 2017.


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