Anger erupts over police shootings

Two recent officer-involved shootings spark protests throughout San Francisco

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Police Chief Greg Suhr (left) and Elvira Pollard, mother of another police shooting victim, speak at the July 20 meeting
GUARDIAN PHOTOS BY REBECCA BOWE

rebeccab@sfbg.com

As the murky details of two recent police shootings emerge, a palpable anger surging through targeted communities points to a deeper issue than the particular circumstances surrounding each of these deaths. Simply put, many Bay Area communities are fed up with police violence.

For many activists who descended on transit stations to protest the fatal BART police shooting of Oscar Grant III, the 20-year-old unarmed Hayward man who was killed on New Year's Day 2009, an upwelling of rage was rekindled after BART cops shot and killed a homeless man named Charles Blair Hill on July 3 in Civic Center Station.

Then, on July 16, San Francisco police officers in the Bayview shot 19-year-old Kenneth Wade Harding Jr. multiple times after he ran from the T-Third train platform because he'd been stopped for fare evasion, leaving him dead on the sidewalk.

The recent officer-involved shootings occurred under two different law enforcement bodies, and both incidents remain under police investigation with many questions still unanswered. BART police say Hill was brandishing a knife; the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) said its response was justified because Harding fired at officers first. The investigation in Harding's case took a bizarre twist July 21 when SFPD issued a press release based on a medical examiner's report stating that Harding had died not from rounds fired by police, but a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

But among communities distrustful of the police, the particulars of each case seemed to matter less than the perception that officers are too quick to escalate conflicts into deadly standoffs. Both incidents provoked intense anger because they resulted in marginalized transit passengers suffering sudden, violent deaths following interactions that were initiated by police. The shootings sparked angry protests, prompting standoffs at Civic Center BART Station, along the T-Third line in the Bayview, on Valencia Street, in Dolores Park, inside the Castro Muni Station, and at the cable car turnaround on Powell Street.

A group of activists staged protests in the Mission following the Bayview police shooting, snaking through the streets as they disrupted traffic and public transit service. "The march began at Dolores Park where nearly 200 of us departed," an anonymous post on the anticapitalist Bay of Rage website recounted, describing the events of a July 19 protest that resulted in 43 arrests. "Upon reaching the Castro Muni Station, all hell broke loose.... What had now become a mob moved effortlessly past the bewildered cops ... Trash was set alight and thrown down onto the tracks below ... ticket machines, the fare checkpoints, and the agent booth were all smashed with hammers and flags — totally ruined. Smoke bombs and fireworks were thrown throughout the station."

This display occurred just eight days after protesters shut down BART stations in downtown San Francisco during rush hour to condemn the fatal shooting of Hill, the homeless BART passenger.

The message from outraged Bayview residents at a chaotic and emotionally charged community forum staged July 20 at the Bayview Opera House was not that people were upset that this had happened to Harding, a Washington state resident, in particular. Instead, people expressed outrage that police had gunned down yet another African American youth, and that unless some complicated and long-standing issues were addressed, it could happen again, to anyone. The forum was organized in partnership with the SFPD and clergy members from the Bayview. Police had prepared a PowerPoint presentation, but never managed to get that far.

Comments

This is excellently written and well researched. It is a very sensitive perspective. I would like to point out, however, that Kenneth Harding was declared dead at the San Francisco General Hospital, were I trained in trauma neurosurgery, at 7pm on July 16, 2011. He was not dead when he lay on the street face down in a pool of his own blood, arching his neck back to breathe and kicking his legs! The blurred video image of the gun an unidentified witness posted on youtube was at least 25 feet away from his mortally injured body. Could he have run that far...or farther with a .038 bullet lodged in the inner table of the right side of his skull???

Posted by GuestAhimsa Porter Sumchai MD on Jul. 27, 2011 @ 5:39 pm

Amy Hart, M.D., the San Francisco Medical Examiner has not...and will not issue an official cause of death because Kenneth Harding, Jr. died of hemorrhagic shock and medical negligence at the San Francisco General Hospital. He was declared dead at 7pm. He was witnessed being shot at 4:40pm.

Posted by GuestAhimsa Porter Sumchai MD on Jul. 27, 2011 @ 7:19 pm

What a poster child for "police violence." A felon who either killed himself or someone else (NOT the police) shot.

Really can't seem to muster up any tears for dead sex traffickers transitioning to "independent rappers."

Posted by Lucretia "Secretia" Snapples on Jul. 27, 2011 @ 8:48 pm

I couldn't agree with you more Lucretia. Well said.

Posted by Exacto on Jul. 29, 2011 @ 3:54 am

your tears should be for the unjustified actions of the police who let the man fester in his own blood. The didn't run a background check on him before firing rounds at him and chasing him down. This could have been anybody they are hunting Black Male Youth criminals or not. This is an ongoing problem with officers.
When the police are above the law and street sweeping with their guns and unmarked guns that is a problem. Where did the .38 come from again, watch the video.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 09, 2011 @ 10:24 am

There are many ways to spin this, and it is your right to report it any way you want, Rebecca, but at the late date of July 27, 11 days on, we would expect you to have the basic facts right. Saying Harding was shot "multiple times" is simply wrong, unless you have some secret information.

The medical examiner says he was shot once in the leg by police. Do you think the medical examiner is part of a cover up? If so, fine, but report that--with some, even meager, evidence to support it. Otherwise, you are just printing misinformation.

This kind of reporting hurts the credibility of the SFBG, and the cause of liberalism.

--Dana

Posted by Dana on Aug. 01, 2011 @ 7:44 am

Hey Dana, thanks for reading. SFPD SpotShotter data revealed that there were nine rounds fired; police have explained this by stating that they believe Harding fired the first round, followed by eight rounds fired by police. A spokesperson from SFPD media relations confirmed to me last week that this was also his understanding of what that data revealed.Therefore the current understanding is that SFPD shot at him eight times, with just one bullet striking him in the leg. At the time I was writing this story this information was not as clear as I did not have much of an opportunity to process the info. from the July 21 press release or speak with the SFPD and medical examiner due to deadline constraints, but more up-to-date information has since been published on our Politics Blog. Your critique has some merit in that it might have been more accurate to say that police shot AT Harding multiple times.

Posted by rebecca on Aug. 01, 2011 @ 12:04 pm

For God's sake - you people are pathetic losers. The man was on parole from Washington State for two felonies, one of which was for raping a child. He had just recently shot and killed one person and had wounded several others in Seattle while he was out on parole, and he came to San Francisco on the run from cops up there. There was gunshot residue on his hands and police say that he was shooting over his shoulder while he was running from them and accidentally shot himself. Yeah - lets cry him a river.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 17, 2011 @ 4:04 pm

perhaps you didn't realize that.

"For God's sake - you people are pathetic losers. The man was on parole from Washington State for two felonies, one of which was for raping a child. He had just recently shot and killed one person and had wounded several others in Seattle while he was out on parole, and he came to San Francisco on the run from cops up there. There was gunshot residue on his hands and police say that he was shooting over his shoulder while he was running from them and accidentally shot himself. Yeah - lets cry him a river."

Posted by RamRod on Aug. 17, 2011 @ 5:14 pm

you can kiss my ass, there is no way the cops knew that shit before they cut him in half, so get it straight asshole they killed him because he ran from paying a bus fare and thats all there is to it. there are 4-5 videos from all different angles and not one of them shows a gun and not one of them shows him shooting at the cops. So take your fucking soap box and get the fuck out of here

Posted by Guest on Sep. 03, 2011 @ 3:38 pm

u have a definite problem-there is no evidence he was nearly cut in half!! he was shot once in the leg!! get a grip on urself-ur the reason nobody pays any attention anymore to these situations-ur just a trouble maker.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 13, 2012 @ 7:53 pm