Two recent officer-involved shootings spark protests throughout San Francisco
At the meeting, Police Chief Greg Suhr tried to provide an explanation for the July 16 shooting. "During this foot pursuit, at some point in time, the suspect ... fired at the officers, and the officers returned fire. This is the account that we have so far," he said. "I cannot tell you how badly that I feel ... as captain of this station for two years," Suhr continued, as an angry crowd shouted him down.
Police escorted Suhr out of the meeting before everyone who had signed up to speak had a chance to be heard. Once outside, the police chief told reporters that he planned to return.
After Suhr and other city officials departed from the meeting, District 10 Supervisor Malia Cohen stayed at the Bayview Opera House and addressed the crowd that remained, she later told the Guardian, and engaged in discussion with Bayview homeowners, merchants, and other community stakeholders.
"We had a very thoughtful conversation," she said. "People had questions about [Municipal Transportation Agency] policy over the SFPD riding the bus. We talked about the importance of attending Board of Supervisors meetings, Police Commission meetings, and giving public comment. And there will be future conversations, without obstruction."
Many who attended the meeting voiced concerns that went well beyond the July 16 incident. Several said they believed youth were unduly harassed by law enforcement over Muni fares on a regular basis. Elvira Pollard spoke about how her son was shot 36 times by police and killed seven years ago. Another woman complained that police had used abusive language when she was arrested in the Bayview four years ago.
Mayor Ed Lee told the Guardian that a bigger police presence at the Oakdale/Palou stop on the T-Third line was part of the city's strategy to prevent violence in that area. "I actually asked the chief to pay more attention to areas that had a history of gun violence and shootings and other kinds of violence ... and it just so happens that this particular area, Third and Palou, is a place where there's a lot of violence," Lee said. "So we had more uniformed officers on that specifically at not only my request, but with the understanding of the police chief, too."
Responding to acts of violence by sending in more police sounds simple enough, yet it seems a toxic environment has arisen out of a heightened police presence in a community where tensions between police and residents already run high, fueled by anxiety and bad past experiences. Add to this dynamic a trend of youth who lack other transportation alternatives riding public transit even if they don't have enough money to pay the fare, and the situation feeds ongoing strife, particularly when fare evaders are asked for identification and searched by police.
Lee, in partnership with Cohen, called a meeting in City Hall July 19 with leaders of the Bayview community. The press was not allowed to attend, but participants said later that officials gave a presentation about the shooting and played an audio of gunfire from the SFPD's SpotShotter program to offer evidence that Harding had fired first. Later that day, the SFPD reported that gunshot residue had been detected on Harding's hand, supporting the police account of what happened. Yet the July 21 press release, suggesting that Harding had shot himself because a .380-caliber bullet that police said could not have come from SFPD firearms had entered the right side of Harding's neck, made it even less clear what really happened.