Bayview residents express outrage at meeting

July 21, 2011 12:50:50 AM PDT
The town hall meeting was expected to be a tense one and it was. The objective was to repair relations after San Francisco police shot and killed a man last weekend in the Bayview District, but the meeting never really got off the ground in a meaningful way.

The relationship between police and poor African-American communities nationwide has traditionally been tense and certainly Saturday's shooting has the Bayview on edge. So Police Chief Greg Suhr went to the Bayview to answer questions about Saturday's shooting, but emotions ran very high.

"I love the Bayview community..." said Suhr.

The chief was booed and cut off pretty quickly by a large crowd at the Bayview Opera House. Many were frustrated and angry, not just about Saturday, when 19-year-old Kenneth Harding was shot and killed by San Francisco police, but about the ongoing violence in the Bayview.

Harding was shot after he ran away from police during a routine fare inspection at a Muni light rail stop. According to police and an audio recording of the department's ShotSpotter system, Harding shot at officers first.

But Wednesday night, the crowd barely got questions or answers in about Saturday's shooting. Instead, many chose to focus more on the problems in the Bayview and about feeling targeted by San Francisco police.

One man shouted, "You don't come and get down with us and see what we want and how we want to do it. That's disrespectful to come to where we live and don't sit down with us and see what the problem is and let's fix it!" and the chief replied, "I'm standing five feet away from you trying to do just that."

"People are upset that an act of violence happened in their town square, but we were doing our best to make sure that Mr. Harding didn't do violence to the community," said Suhr.

At the time of Saturday's shooting, police didn't know that Harding was a parolee from Washington state and that he was a person of interest in a murder there earlier this month. Some witnesses on Saturday say Harding never had a gun and that he never shot at police. However, a YouTube video shows a gun on the ground believed to belong to Harding. It later disappeared. An informant told police they could find the gun in question at another parolee's house in the Bayview and officers did find a gun there. Tests still do not prove who the gun actually belongs to.

As for Wednesday night's event, it was supposed to have lasted an hour. Instead, it lasted about 90 minutes. The chief finally left since he kept getting cut off by people, and again, there was a lot of shouting and anger in the room. Still, the chief says, he will be back to talk to the community again, possibly even this weekend.

Earlier on Wednesday, ABC7 sat down with Suhr before the meeting. He said, "We'll give them everything we have with regard to the facts of the case."

Suhr is facing the biggest test of his tenure as top cop. Regarding Saturday's shooting, Suhr said the evidence came from several independent quarters and is backed by witnesses.

"The cellphone video that demonstrated the firearm on the ground, which was picked up, came from a member of the Bayview community. The video of the chase is off the Bayview Opera House itself, that's not the police department's video. The scientific forensic examinations that have been done are completely objective and without bias," said Suhr.

He also said those tests show gun powder residue on the victim's trigger hand, but protesters are not buying it.

Tuesday night, demonstrators marched from Dolores Park and into the Castro. There was some vandalism until officers in riot gear began making arrests on Powell Street near Market. There were 43 arrested; police say only one was from the Bayview and 16 were from other San Francisco neighborhoods, but most were from other cities, including Fresno, San Diego, Burbank, Irvine and Yuba City.

The outside protesters bother Thomas Taper. He heads up the Southeast Community Response Network in San Francisco, which tries to keep peace on the streets.

"They are just agitating the situation and possibly causing more harm than good," said Taper.

But others welcome the demonstrations.

"We definitely encourage that kind of activism," said Geoffrea Morris, a neighborhood activist. "The people of Bayview are grieving. The city has done nothing to provide grief counselors."

Suhr was captain of the Bayview for two years before becoming police chief and says he loves and respects the people there.

"I couldn't feel worse about the fact that this act of violence, this exchange of gunfire, took place in the town square, basically in the Bayview community," said Suhr.

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