Tension among community members and San Francisco police is rising this week following the July 16th killing of 19-year-old Kenneth Wade Harding by SFPD officers in the city’s black Bayview district. The disturbing incident was captured by cell phone cameras and uploaded to Youtube on Sunday, sparking outrage as it made the digital-rounds.
Earlier this week, residents took the streets in protest of what they’re calling "transit racism," and heightened police surveillance in communities of color. And on Wednesday, a community meeting intended to help relieve the tension ended in the city’s police chief being booed out the Bayview district.
Demonstrators took to the streets Tuesday night to protest what they see as a recurring trend of police brutality. The group of more than 150, holding a banner that read "They can’t shoot us all," and chanting "How do you spell murder? S. F. P. D.," began at Dolores Park and marched towards downtown and through the Castro District. More than 35 protesters were arrested for unlawful assembly. A few others were locked up for vandalism.
The protest occurred the same day that San Francisco police announced that gunshot residue had been found on Harding’s right hand, which, along with data collected from a gunshot-location system, seemingly confirms claims by police that Harding shot at officers before they opened fire. Harding, a Seattle resident, was stopped by police in the Bayview district Saturday afternoon to check if he was carrying a Muni ticket. He ran from the officers, but was eventually shot and killed. The last moments of his life were captured on video.
The upsetting footage shows officers surrounding Harding with guns drawn as he lays on his stomach, barely moving and bleeding profusely. A number of bystanders watch nearby, yelling, "Where’s the gun?" and "Your career is over" at the officers, one of whom is armed with an assault rifle.
Saturday’s killing occurred only 13 days after BART police officers fatally shot an intoxicated transient named Charles Blair Hill, who allegedly pulled a knife and threw a glass bottle before the two officers opened fire, at San Francisco’s Civic Center station.
The citizen-captured video of the incident is proving to be both helpful and hindering to San Francisco police. "We would be having a different kind of conversation if we didn’t have these videos that were brought forth by people in the community," said police Commander Mikail Ali in a press conference. On one end, the grisly footage shows a man picking up the handgun police believed Harding to be carrying but could not find immediately following the shooting.
On the other, it has struck an emotional chord with viewers who are tired of what they see as a pattern of police brutality in the Bay Area, especially towards people and communities of color.
"What’s really important about the video is that it has created additional trauma in a neighborhood that is tired of murder, whether it’s at the hands of the police or someone else," explained Alicia Garza, Co-executive Director of People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER). "The main thing that people responded and reacted to was the image of … bystanders asking [the police] to get him help, and the young man himself asking for help. But instead of doing that, he was left to bleed and die, in front of children, in front of mothers, in front of fathers. What people are reacting to in this community is the complete disregard for life."
For many, facts about Harding’s actions Saturday afternoon and his prior relationship with the criminal justice system (he was a person of interest in the killing of a 19-year-old Seattle girl and his rap sheet includes a robbery conviction and promotion of prostitution) aren’t up for dispute, but are beyond the point. "I think we’ve see that this is an extension of the impacts and effects of the hyper-surveillance of low-income communities of color," said Garza. "It’s important to highlight the presence and prevalence of, what we understand to be, transit racism." She pointed out that Kenneth Harding was not engaged by officers because he had a gun, or because he has a criminal record, but because he was being pulled off of a bus to make sure he had paid Muni’s $2 fare.
"In the more wealthy districts of the city, you see Muni Agents who are checking for proof of payment," Garza continued. "In San Francisco’s working class neighborhoods and communities of color, you’re seeing the use of the San Francisco Police Department to do the exact same job."
A spokesperson for the SFPD had no comment when reached for a statement this morning.
Tiny, aka Lisa Gray-Garcia, Cofounder of San Francisco-based POOR Magazine, echoed these sentiments. "There is a specific targeting of poor communities of color. There are just as many people getting on for free in the Sunset, but police are only mobbing buses in Bayview, the Tenderloin, the Mission, and other redlined areas."
Alicia Garza says people are fed up with the police departments prioritization when it comes to fighting crime. "Why does it take somebody two hours to get a response from police when they’re reporting a shooting but only five minutes when someone hasn’t paid a $2 fare?"