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Black youth gunned down by San Francisco police

Published Jul 27, 2011 4:16 PM

Kenneth Harding, a 19-year-old African-American man, was shot and killed by San Francisco police in the Bay View neighborhood June 16. His “crime”? Not having a transfer pass from the Muni public transit system to show that he had paid his $2 fare. When approached by the police, Harding took off running and was shot at least 10 times by the police.

Kenneth Harding
Photo: SF Bay View

A large, angry crowd gathered in the busy shopping area as the young man lay writhing on the sidewalk, cordoned off by the police. A bystander caught the police attack on video, showing Harding lying alone for several minutes on the ground, bleeding profusely, without any police officers or medical technicians coming to his aid.

The police instead were busy training their guns on the dying Black youth and roughly keeping away concerned community members who were outraged by this latest police atrocity. Harding was finally taken to a local hospital, where he died.

Despite disinformation attempts by the police stating that Harding shot at the police first and that he was a parolee wanted for questioning in Washington State, no gun was found at the scene at the time of his murder. Additionally, eyewitnesses clearly stated that Harding never turned around after police started chasing him.

ABC Channel 7 news interviewed Trivon Dixon, who said, “He was running. How could he be a threat in retreat? And he wasn’t running backwards, turning around shooting. He was in full throttle, running away from the police. I don’t see in any way how he could be a threat to the police.”

Several people who witnessed the police attack on Harding stayed and watched while firefighters washed his blood off the sidewalk. In an eyewitness account on his Facebook page, Rick Hauptman noted, “The police seemed almost jolly. I saw many handshakes among them; I couldn’t figure that out. Were they solely being respectful to their colleagues and to senior officers, or was it something else?”

Police killings are not new to this city. In fact, there has been an epidemic of police brutality and murders.

On July 3, a homeless man, Charles Hill, who could barely stand, was shot and killed by the Bay Area Rapid Transit police. Hill is the third person killed by BART in three years.

The community still mourns the police killing of Oscar Grant, another young man, who was shot and killed on Jan. 1, 2009, on the platform of the Fruitvale BART station. Grant was unarmed and physically restrained by the police at the time that he was shot at point-blank range. Grant’s death has sparked several demonstrations and community rebellions in Oakland.

Police terror, fare hikes connected

The community has been organizing to demand justice for Harding and all victims of police brutality and murder. On July 18, a news conference was held by the Idriss Stelley Foundation and SF Education Not Incarceration, at the corner of Oakdale and 3rd in the Bay View neighborhood. The Idriss Stelley Foundation is the group that has been spearheading this city’s fightback against police brutality for many years.

On July 19, approximately 150 people gathered at Dolores Park in the Mission Neighborhood to protest Harding’s killing. The spirited demonstration wound its way through the Mission and Castro districts where protesters disrupted traffic and stormed one of the Muni stations. Police arrested 43 people by the end of the protest.

The following evening, at a town hall meeting organized by a local minister at the Bay View Opera House, SF Police Chief Greg Suhr was shouted down by an angry crowd of over 300 Bay View residents.

Despite the fact that the police are now claiming that Harding had a gun and that he had gun residue on his hand, the community is demanding answers to the real crime — the senseless killing of Kenneth Harding for not paying his bus fare.

“How come a Black man can get shot for not having a transfer? How come a Black man has to be so terrorized that he feels that he has to run for not having a transfer? These kinds of killings have not, would not, do not ever happen in white communities anywhere in the world,” notes Malaika Kambon in a Facebook discussion about the murder.

Besides the blatant racism of the SFPD, there’s another glaring reason why Harding was killed over not paying his Muni fare. Muni riders have been waging a battle for lower fares for years. Muni workers recently came close to striking as the city has demanded more cuts in pensions and wages.

In an article written by Willie Ratcliff, publisher of the San Francisco Bay View newspaper on July 18, he mentions a recent demonstration by a Mission District-based community organization at the end of June, calling for free Muni and transit passes for all passengers.

According to Ratcliff, “The San Francisco Municipal Railway (Muni) has followed up major rate increases in recent years with greatly intensified police fare enforcement, imposing heavy fines and even jail time for riders who are unable to prove by showing a paper transfer that they paid their fare.”

In Kenneth Harding’s case, no transfer translated into an unprovoked racist murder by the police. This killing is sparking a mass movement here. The struggle against police murders and brutality will continue to grow in the Bay Area, as will the fight for justice for all poor and working people.

For more information, contact the Idriss Stelley Foundation, 415-595-8251 or the SF Bay View Newspaper at sfbayview.com.

Source: June 18 article by Willie Ratcliff reprinted in the online edition of SF Bay View at http://tinyurl.com/3n3w6x6