On July 16, 2011, Kenneth Harding Jr. lay bleeding on the ground. He was surrounded by San Francisco Police officers, who were in turn surrounded by neighbors and community members. The minutes ticked by and no ambulance arrived. After 28 minutes, Harding was dead at 19. The official story: after being stopped in a Muni fare check, Harding ran from police, drew a gun, and shot himself.
A year later, family members and community supporters maintain that the official story is a lie. A protest on his death's anniversary this week shut down Muni service for an hour in his honor.
But protesters weren't speaking of just Harding. Since he was killed by law enforcement officers, so were Charles Hill, Alan Blueford, and Derrick Gaines. All have led to varying degrees of protest that feed tensions between the cops and segments of the community.
Hill's fatal shooting by a BART cop in San Francisco sparked last summer's OpBART demonstrations, the energy from which flowed into early manifestations of the Bay Area's Occupy movement, which was also marked by tense standoffs with cops that were followed by "fuck the police" marches throughout the Bay Area.
Despite such lingering tensions, Mayor Ed Lee recently suggested curbing gun violence by giving cops stop-and-frisk authority, a controversial idea that has been the subject of massive protest movements in New York City where what critics say is widespread racial profiling heightens tensions between police and communities of color.
Lee's idea was widely criticized, triggering the Board of Supervisors to pass a resolution on July 10 criticizing the idea, urging Lee to abandon it, and saying it would destroy trust between the community and police.
There has always been tension in San Francisco between police and segments of the community, but a series of emotional, high-profile episodes and unsatisfying official responses over the last year has frayed that relationship even more than normal.
When Harding was killed, his mother Denika Chatman moved from Seattle to San Francisco. She wanted to convict the officers she believes murdered him. But the SFPD announced within weeks of the shooting that Harding had shot himself.
Now, Chatman and attorney John Burris have filed a federal lawsuit. "I know that it was murder," she said. "I know his human rights had been violated."
Chatman and other family members and friends maintain that when Harding was stopped while off-boarding the T train by SFPD officers and asked for proof of paying the $2 fair, he was unarmed. Harding ran, and those officers drew guns and shot him.
Police say that Harding had pulled out a gun as he ran and shot at police, prompting their return fire. They didn't recover a gun at the scene, but after a weeklong "community effort," police say a neighbor turned in a gun found at the scene.
The gun shot .38 caliber bullets, police reported—smaller than the .40 caliber bullets in a standard-issue SFPD weapon. The police crime lab then concluded Harding's fatal wound was from a .38 caliber bullet, a finding confirmed later by the Office of the Medical Examiner.
A widely circulated video show's Harding on the ground, bleeding to death, as police stand around him.
But as SFPD spokesperson Carlos Manfredi tells it, "The officers did not just stand around. Officers had just been involved in a violent confrontation, they were fearful for their lives...A hostile crowd began surrounding the officers."