2007-07-14 07:31:28 UTC
S&M session gone awry -- or homicide?
Onetime Haight activist, anti-drug crusader found dead
Jaxon Van Derbeken, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, July 13, 2007
Joe Konopka. Chroncle photo by Lea Suzuki
Joe Konopka came to prominence in his Upper Haight neighborhood as a
For years, Konopka, 65, presided over monthly Wednesday evening
meetings of a now-defunct neighborhood watch group known as RAD,
formerly Residents Against Druggies, whose members crusaded against
local street-level drug dealers in San Francisco, whom they viewed as
magnets for more serious trouble.
He also ran twice for city supervisor, but Konopka's ardor for
crime-fighting seemed to have dimmed in recent years.
On those Wednesdays that he once spent meeting with activists --
nights his wife, a San Mateo Union High School District administrator,
attended school board meetings -- Konopka had turned to indulging in
sadomasochistic bondage sessions, police said.
And this past Wednesday evening, police were summoned to his home in
the 500 block of Ashbury Street after someone inside called 911 and
fled. Inside, officers found Konopka dead, bound, with his face
covered in plastic.
San Francisco police Lt. John Murphy said Thursday that investigators
are handling the case as a homicide.
Konopka's wife, Ethel, did not want to discuss the circumstances
surrounding her husband's death, saying police had revealed little to her.
She wanted him remembered as a man who "cared about the neighborhood,"
she said. "He was a good man."
Konopka came to the city in 1976 from the East Coast, she said, and
recently had retired from a career in the food business, which
included working as a chef and managing restaurants and banquets, as
well as stints in the hospitality industry.
Konopka twice mounted campaigns for the Board of Supervisors, but he
garnered fewer than 700 votes when he last ran in 2000.
Until about that year, Konopka held 7 p.m. RAD meetings every third
Wednesday of the month. He described his group as dedicated to
preventing drug-related violence and crime in the neighborhood, and he
organized street patrols to serve as a "visual deterrent to the buying
and selling of illegal drugs on the street."
Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, whose District 5 includes Haight-Ashbury,
said he had known Konopka for years and respected his work and
dedication to the community.
"Joe loved the city. He particularly loved the Upper Haight,"
Mirkarimi said. "He was a committed and dedicated member of the
community, and his activism was aimed at the betterment of the
Konopka told The Chronicle in 1993 that he helped start RAD in March
of that year, and that in the first two months he had been beaten up,
called a Nazi and threatened with death.
Still, he said in an interview then, it was "more dangerous to stay in
the house and do nothing" about the problems in the Haight.
"We knew when we started it we were putting our butts on the line,"
said Konopka, who had lived in the Haight since the late 1970s. "But
we're in danger of losing the neighborhood, and we refuse to leave. We
refuse to give up the neighborhood."
RAD's 200 members took turns patrolling upper Haight Street, a
notorious hub of drug dealing. Clad in neon green shirts and hats,
about 15 members walked Haight, between Masonic and Clayton streets,
for two hours a night, hoping to intimidate street dealers and users.
When they spotted a drug transaction taking place, RAD members
immediately called police, refraining from verbal or physical
confrontations with dealers and buyers.
"We don't care if you do drugs," said Konopka, who said he originally
came to the Haight "to do drugs" himself. "We're just saying don't do
it on our streets."
Calvin Welch, a board member of the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood
Council, said he long lived across the street from Konopka.
He said his neighbor's crime-fighting efforts began as the city was
confronting a crack cocaine epidemic.
But, he said, Konopka "virtually disappeared" from public life in
"There is no longer a RAD, and Joe was not active," Welch said, adding
that Konopka's loss in the 2000 campaign for supervisor came as a blow
and caused him to retreat from activism.
"I don't think he ever quite recovered," Welch said.
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