Trust the police? - Page 3

Relations between the cops and certain communities have been strained over the last year

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Protestors blocked Muni on the anniversary of Kenneth Harding Jr.'s death.
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY YAEL CHANOFF

On paper, San Francisco isn't having a particulary bad year. Manfredi said there have been "two officer-involved shootings and at least one was a fatality" so far in 2012. That's compared to eight officer-involved shootings with three fatalities in 2011 and 14 officer-involved shootings with three fatalities in 2010.

But community perceptions and unease can linger for a long time when incidents don't seem properly investigated or atoned for.

"It's very alarming. Especially the rate that it's happening at. And anybody is paying attention, they're starting use all the same stories for all these young black teenage males that they're murdering," Chatman said.

Alan Blueford, 18, was killed by Oakland Police on May 6. He was confronted by police on suspicion of hiding a gun and ran away. Police first said he had drawn a gun and shot an officer as he ran; an investigation later revealed that the officer who was injured shot himself in the foot. There has been no evidence uncovered that Blueford had a gun.

A month later, Derrick Gaines, 15, was confronted by South San Francisco police, again for looking suspicious. Police say he ran away and drew a gun, and that they needed to fire in self-defense. At a community speak-out July 13, Gaines' mother, Rachel Guido Red, said she had just received the coroner's report. It's conclusion? "Derrick was shot in the back."

She related what she believes happened: "He was running. He was scared. He was tripped by the officer, and he didn't have a chance to pick himself up because this man played judge, jury, and executioner."

Over and over, police investigations clear the cops of wrongdoing, as an investigation of Hill's shooting on a San Francisco BART platform recently did. Chatman said lawsuits like the one she filed are often the only way to seek justice.

 

DEMANDS FOR CHANGE

Chatman wants to see shoot-to-kill policies changed. "I would like to see a bill passed making these people responsible for murder," she said. "And then maybe they'll start going back to original ways, of maybe wounding somebody, firing a warning shot, or doing something to injure the person, instead of shooting to kill. Because now they all come with their guns drawn. How come every police man there has to shoot? Why do they all have to shoot? Why can't one officer shoot, and just shoot to wound?"

Manfredi said the policy isn't shoot-to-kill, but it isn't shoot-to-wound either. Instead, it's to aim for "center mass" (the torso area) and shoot until there is no longer a threat. "We never, ever had a shoot to kill policy," he said. "We shoot to stop the threat. And once we assess the threat and realize there's no longer a threat, then we stop."

Sharen Hewitt, founder of the Community Leadership Academy and Emergency Response Project (CLAER) is also indignant about Harding's murder. "I don't think that I should pay for Kenneth Harding to be shot down in my streets because he didn't have two dollars," she said.

In her decade of work with CLAER, Hewitt has overseen many projects that improved conditions for families whose children were killed by police, from funding funerals for families who can't pay to bury their dead to counseling for family members other than biological parents of murdered kids. CLAER also sends emergency responders to sites of murders.

"We thought it was important to deal with the immediacy of the homicide and provide support so we could mitigate the possibility of retaliation," Hewitt said.

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