01/24/2007

Officer John Victor Young remembered

By Jim Herron Zamora, Chronicle Staff Writer
The San Francisco Chronicle

Everyone thought John Victor Young would be the last police officer in San Francisco to become a killer's target.

Young was known as the kind of officer who would rather take a drunk to church than to jail, drag a rowdy teenager to his parents' house instead of to juvenile hall, or let a driver go with a stern warning instead of a speeding ticket.


Sgt. John Young was on desk duty at the Ingleside Station on Aug. 29, 1971, in San Francisco, when attackers barged into the station and shot him through an opening in the bulletproof glass. (AP Photo/SFPD)
So his colleagues saw it as particularly disturbing and cold-blooded that an officer with no known enemies was shot to death while sitting at a reception desk in the Ingleside Station on Aug. 29, 1971. After news broke Tuesday that eight former members of a radical group, the Black Liberation Army, were arrested and charged with murder for Young's killing, former colleagues reflected on Young's life, his untimely death and the violent world of San Francisco in the early 1970s.

"Jack Young was about the kindest, gentlest man to ever put on a San Francisco police uniform," said Frank Jordan, a former mayor and police chief who served as pallbearer at Young's funeral. "We really felt at the time that if someone would kill Jack Young, they would kill anyone. I don't think he had an enemy in this city."

Jordan sat next to Young for several years when the two men worked together in the office of Police Chief Thomas Cahill in the late 1960s. Young, who was killed at age 51, was known for his volunteer efforts in the community. He was married but had no children of his own and volunteered at the Hanna Boys Center in Sonoma County and the Claussen House in Oakland.

"If these guys wanted to strike at the white power structure by assassinating a so-called oppressive cop, they really got the wrong guy," said former Deputy Chief Kevin Mullen, an author who has written extensively about the department's history. "Jack Young had this almost priestly quality about him. Murdering him was one of the most pointless and vicious crimes."

Young often organized trips for children from Hunters Point to Giants games or Playland, the amusement park near Ocean Beach that closed in 1972. He would get discounted tickets and then pay for kids' snacks and rides out of his own pocket. He also volunteered at a senior center and helped organize retreats for Catholic police officers, his friends said. And he would recruit other officers to help chaperone kids to events.

"He was always organizing some kind of charitable event," said Jordan. "He would make the rounds and get all the young officers to volunteer. He was the exact opposite of the tough macho cop. Jack Young admired St. Francis and really saw his role in society as a peacemaker, a person who had a calming, stabilizing effect on everyone around him. He really considered himself a peace officer in the truest sense of the term."

One of Young's other jobs in the police chief's office was to review the cases of men getting out of prison, Jordan said. Young developed a reputation as a guy who would pick up the phone and try to help an ex-convict get a job or find an apartment.

Former Police Chief Tony Ribera met Young shortly after joining the department.

"He was really a mentor to a lot of young officers," Ribera said. "He was streetwise but gentle. He projected kindheartedness that can be difficult when you are a police officer and you are called on in tough confrontations."

At the Ingleside Station, Young was known for his efforts to reach out to children, teens and their parents in African American neighborhoods such as Ocean View that were often alienated from police.

"I saw Jack Young as the personification of everything I tried to do with community policing as chief and as mayor," Jordan said.

At the time Young was killed, San Francisco was in the midst of its most deadly two-year period for police officers. Six officers had been killed in the line of duty from January 1970 to July 1971. Four of those officers were killed by gunfire; one by a bomb; another in a helicopter crash. Attackers had set off a bomb -- injuring several people -- at the funeral of one of those police officers in 1970 at St. Brendan Church. There was a bombing attack at the Park Station and an attempted bombing at the Mission Station, and all of San Francisco's police stations were equipped with bulletproof glass, as well as reinforced steel and concrete, as a result.

The night Young was killed, he was pulling desk duty, sitting behind a bulletproof glass partition where he could speak to the public through a small opening.

His killers dashed into the lobby of the station, and one of them put a shotgun muzzle through that opening and began firing into the police office. Young was struck and later died from his wounds. Ellen Lipney, a civilian police clerk, was wounded as she sat at a desk typing up a police report.

The killing shocked the department because of the widespread belief that Young was not personally targeted but was the victim of a symbolic attack on police.

"It was hard not to be somewhat paranoid, to feel like the uniform was like a target," Ribera said. "Jack Young's assassination was really an act of terrorism. I'm very excited that after all this years, these guys will be held responsible."

Copyright 2007 San Francisco Chronicle
All Rights Reserved

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