Revolution #241, July 31, 2011

More on the cold-blooded police murder of Kenneth Harding in S.F.

Posted August 1, 2011

Revolution received the following correspondence:

Last week’s Revolution (#241, “Cold-Blooded Murder in San Francisco”) reported on the police killing of Kenneth Harding who was shot while running away from a $2 bus fare evasion. Many people on the scene were asking why he was shot while he was unarmed. On the YouTube video “SFPD ruthlessly shoots and kills unarmed 19 yr old man over $2 bus fare,” you can hear the enraged residents shouting “where’s the gun, where’s the gun?”

Kenneth was killed on July 16; and NOW on July 28 the police claim to have finally produced the gun that Harding had. The police claim it’s the real deal, the ballistics match, and so on, from their own crime lab.  At this point we don’t know what the actual truth is in terms of what they are saying about this gun. But the police have spun and re-spun this story. And we've seen how the police have done this before—how they lie, change stories, and fabricate evidence on a routine basis in order to maintain a brutal capitalist system, which puts millions of young Black men in Prison.

Since the July 16 killing, the police story has changed so many times; as one young woman put it, “they want to keep you confused.” First, 7 hours  after the shooting , the police proclaimed that they fired in self-defense. According to the SF Bay Guardian (July 28), when asked why they didn’t move quickly to snap up the weapon Kenneth Harding supposedly fired at them, a police spokesman said, “police had to prioritize officer safety” (... keeping their weapons trained on a suspect).  Meanwhile, they left Kenneth, who was dying, unattended to for several minutes. No gun (other than the cops’ numerous weapons) was recovered at the scene, but a cell phone video soon appeared on the nightly mainstream news showing what appeared to be an object on the ground near the murder site. This object was quickly alleged by both cops and media to be the missing gun, the same one they had put out a reward for finding days before. 

Then they supposedly found the gun at the home of a parolee; but then quickly retracted this story. Then a week later they concocted a preposterous story put out by the SF Chronicle that Kenneth Harding committed “suicide” (later, called an “accident”). A “medical examiner” proclaimed that Harding was shot twice ... once in the leg with an unknown caliber, and once in the neck which lodged in his cheek (or head depending on the news source) with a 38-caliber which is not police issue. All of this information is being provided by the police. There is no independent investigation.                

So the latest police story is that Kenneth “accidentally shot himself while running.” After he’d been shot in the leg “he lurched forward” and “accidentally” shot himself in the neck, according to the new police chief, Greg Suhr.  Few among the Bayview residents believe this whole story. As one woman put it, referring to the video gun, “they can do anything with a video. And it’s a lot easier than a throw down gun.”  (And now, police claim the actual new gun presented to the public is the same one seen in the video.)

In the SF BayView newspaper, Davey D comments: “Some people may ask why be so distrustful of San Franciscos finest? Well, as San Francisco filmmaker and Bayview resident Kevin Epps pointed out, SFPD has already lost credibility with the public. Many have forgotten it was just three months ago SFPD was rocked with a scandal that involved dozens of felony cases being dropped because cops were shown on video behaving in unethical manners ranging from falsifying reports, illegally searching suspects, stealing from victims etc. what was shown was believed to be the tip of the iceberg, and as a result a federal investigation was being launched.”

Kenneth Harding’s mother, Denika Chatman, is in town demanding real answers; while the police control everything from information to autopsies. She said at a press conference, “because of shifting stories, changing allegations and retractions, the truth seems to be far from at hand.” She asked that the police give her the “fruits of their investigations.” Meanwhile, many residents are demanding the truth, period, with a growing number demanding prosecution of the killer cops.

Nothing seems to be beneath the police including the intimidation of witnesses. Fly Benzo is a community activist in the Bayview who the police attempted to question shortly after the Harding murder. (He was on the scene shortly after.) A couple of days later, he was attending a demonstration in the Mission which went downtown and a number of people were arrested. There were 4 people from the Bayview in the snake march, and Benzo was in the march, although he was not one of the arrestees. On Sat., July 23, he was arrested off the street on vague charges (“threatening an officer?”), which were quickly dropped ... although they held him in jail until late Tues. night. In a press conference following Fly’s release, his father said that the police had come to his house threatening to tow his cars during this same time frame. But he added “I’m proud of my son.”

The protests have crossed over to the Latino community as well. There have been reports of immigrants evading bus fares who were abused and arrested by police, which eventually would end in deportation. In a recent case, a Latino man Jesus Castro in another Northern California city was filming police abuse, and was subsequently put before deportation proceedings.

The chorus of  “enough is enough” needs to be more widespread; and there are plans to broaden the protest to prominent and professional people throughout the city. One of the voices of outrage at a recent community meeting came from a doctor who was shocked that there wasn’t the hint of the police aiding a man choking on his blood, when clearing the airway can mean the difference between life and death.


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