A community meeting July 20 at the Bayview Opera House dissolved into chaotic shouting when Police Chief Greg Suhr attempted to present the San Francisco Police Department's version of what transpired July 16 when a 19-year-old African American man was shot nine times by police and killed just blocks from where the meeting was held.
"On Saturday afternoon, two officers at the Bayview station ... contacted a fare evader whose name ended up being Kenneth Wade Harding, Jr. of Seattle, Washington," Suhr began. "After asking him for his identification, he became a little bit anxious, and at one point in time he jumped off the platform and ran across the street, and ran through crowded Mendell Plaza. I cannot tell you how badly that I feel ... as captain of this station for two years. I love the Bayview community."
At that point, angry shouts rose up and Suhr started getting booed, but he continued. "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."
Kilo Perry began shouting back at the chief, saying, "You are not a friend of ours. You are the enemy," before bystanders tried to calm him down. The SFPD had planned on showing a power point presentation about the incident, but that didn't happen. Instead, Suhr was drowned out, and the microphone was passed to various community representatives and members of the clergy, who'd helped organize the meeting, as they tried to regain control. Lifelong Bayview resident Charlie Walker asked people to sit down and relax.
Several hundred people had gathered at the Bayview Opera House to get answers about the shooting, and most remained seated as people continued to swarm around the police chief. After some time had passed, community leaders managed to set up a question-and-answer session with Suhr.
From this brief exchange and venting session, it became clear that people had come to the meeting with broader concerns than just what transpired Saturday. Elvira Pollard stood to recount how, seven years ago, her son had been shot by police 36 times, and that police had claimed that he'd shot first. She said it took more than nine months to get an autopsy report. "It's the same scenario!" she charged. "Do you really think they aren't going to lie about this one?" Suhr said that he couldn't comment on that case specifically since he didn't know the details, but offered to meet with her.
As people spoke, police violence against youth emerged as a theme. Harding was not a resident of the Bayview, and it came to light after his death that he had served time for attempting to promote prostitution and was a person of interest in connection with the fatal shooting of a 19-year-old woman. But to many who expressed outrage at the meeting, his death was linked to past instances in which youth had been gunned down by law enforcement. One woman showed up wearing a T-shirt, earrings, and a handbag displaying images of Oscar Grant, the 20-year-old unarmed Hayward man who was shot and killed by BART officer Johannes Mehserle on January 1, 2009.
A concern that was voiced again and again was that people felt the police routinely harrassed youth on the T-Third line. Grilled about why police were constantly stopping young people over MUNI transfers, Suhr responded that police had recovered weapons from T-line passengers while conducting fare inspections in the past.
The meeting broke apart when Suhr was escorted out, surrounded by uniformed officers, news cameras, and angry residents who continued to demand that he release the names of the officers who shot Harding. One simply yelled, "stop shooting black people in the back!" Once outside, with beads of sweat rolling down his face, Suhr told reporters, "I'll be back."
Here's a video of the tense exchanges that took place at the July 20 meeting.
Video by Rebecca Bowe