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The brawl "was a dividing point," recalled one of the men, whom we'll call R, who was loyal to Wysinger. "When the fight broke out it opened up an area for cats to say, 'I don't like him, I don't like him.'"
The dispute bifurcated the loose group of roughly 30 or so young men who controlled the trade in crack and marijuana in Lakeview Wysinger remained a player on Randolph Street, while Stevens was exiled to Oceanview Park, a low-traffic area designated a drug-free zone by the city, which meant stiffer penalties for anyone caught holding drugs in the vicinity.
Those closer to Wysinger stuck with him; those allied with Stevens went over to the park. Neither group, however, could really be called a gang. The factions weren't hierarchical, and didn't have rules, codes, or organizational structures. The groups didn't even have names.
Some participants in the feud "were ready to fight," while "a few were ready to die," R said. And indeed, before long people started dying.
At the same time the conflict was simmering, the drug game was mutating. Crack and weed sales were down. Meth and ecstasy were supplanting rock cocaine in popularity, and the Lakeview hustlers weren't as well connected when it came to acquiring the new drugs. Meanwhile, the clientele was disappearing as poor drug users left the city for cheaper environs in the deep East Bay and elsewhere.
Guys who were accustomed to pulling in $500 a day watched as their profits dwindled. "Lakeview was always about money, hustling," R told us. "There's not that much money in the drug areas anymore."
Our other source, whom we'll call W, echoed the thought: "There's a lot of frustration on the streets. There's not much money in the dope game. If you can't live comfortably, you got nothing but anger."
The anger expressed itself in gunfire, as the two factions began taking aim at one another and that, the sources say, is when the feud really exploded, with each shooting sparking a retaliatory barrage of bullets. What began as a fist fight and hurt feelings quickly morphed into a string of grisly tit-for-tat killings.
Less than a week after the fight, Sean Anderson, 18, one of the alleged participants in the brawl, and an ally of Stevens, was murdered. Marking his demise with a five-sentence-long blurb, the San Francisco Chronicle reported, "Anderson was walking on Capitol Street in the Oceanview district at 8:30 p.m. when the two men started chasing him. He stumbled between two parked cars, and the men opened fire. ... Inspector Thomas Cleary of the homicide detail said police have no suspects or motive."
Three years later detectives probably have a theory about the case, but they still haven't taken a suspect into custody for the slaying of Anderson. That's not unusual for the San Francisco Police Department, which has been struggling to make arrests in serious cases for many years. As of early December, 80 people had been slain within the city limits during this calendar year; police, according to a well-placed source at the Hall of Justice, had made arrests in only 21 cases.
After many fairly quiet years, the city's murder rate began ballooning in 2004, hit a 10-year peak in 2005 when 96 people were killed, and today remains well above the levels documented in the mid- to late 1990s.
In this violent context, Wysinger was known both as a heavy-handed pugilist, and a fun-loving, weed-smoking partier. "He liked everything a young nigga would, like partying and feeling good," W told us, adding that Wysinger loved fast cars, motorcycles, and bikes. "You could see Dernae going to the X Games or somethin'. I saw him wheelie all the way up Randolph, and if you been to Randolph, you know that's a long way."
In R's opinion, "[Dernae] was respected and feared in Lakeview. My perspective is a lot of people were scared of him and they didn't want to fight him, so they went the alternate route." As in using bullets to take him down.
Guns, especially military combat weapons, are easy to come by in Lakeview. W, for example, owns a Chinese-made AK-47, a Russian-made AK-47, and a third rifle, a collection he picked up for a mere $750. "It's easier to get an assault rifle than a handgun. You can get one before you can get a 9 [mm handgun]," W told us, explaining that assault rifles retail for less on the streets because they're harder to conceal.
Wysinger's father, Randolph Wysinger, says the gunfire that popped off around the neighborhood didn't faze his son. "Dernae wasn't scared of anything," he recalled. "That's probably what got him killed. These guys were looking for him for months."
Before the feud erupted, Dernae had more opportunities to display his warm, gregarious side. "He could get along with anybody. There was a time when we lost our place and we were staying in a hotel in San Bruno. It wasn't but a couple days we were staying there and Dernae had met everyone around there," his father recounted.
Today Randolph Wysinger is still wrestling with the loss of Dernae and Naemon. He's also dealing with another painful loss: an adopted son who's been banished to state prison for his role in the fratricidal street war.