The Summary Execution of Kenneth Harding and Reaction to Police Terrorism in the San Francisco Bay Area: A Timeline

July 16, 2011: Police pursue and shoot Kenneth Harding for evading a fare on a public bus in the Bayview district of San Francisco

A cell phone video starting seconds after Harding was shot several times in the back:

Police use another video to bolster claims Harding was armed. yet the “handgun” appears to be a cellphone. Later, police will describe the figure in striped hoodie as wearing a black hoodie.

Harding dies at 7 PM on the evening of the 16th, amidst claims by police that he had a gun, even though none was found on the scene and despite multiple witnesses who said Harding was unarmed.

The shooting happened in the context of the Bay Area’s long history of police racism.  Kenneth Harding was an African American shot in the black neighborhood of Bayview .

From SF Bay View 

Another Black man – shot down in the street like a mad dog by occupation forces paid for by our tax dollars and 456 years of dehumanization – I read accounts of the incident and wonder: What is this young man’s name? Who are his people: family, friends etc.? Does he have a mother? Does she know her son is dead?

July 16-17 (overnight) Demonstrators respond to the murder, briefly occupying streets in Bayview  and the Mission.

From the So Stadium Status blog:

The angry, but mostly controlled crowd gathered near 16th and Valencia streets and walked through the Mission and Bayview around 1 a.m. Sunday morning. Police said there were reports of garbage being thrown into the street and several newspaper racks being overturned, but they made no arrests.

The demonstrations keep local Bay Area media focused on the shooting. KCBS quotes a woman saying “They’re rioting because people are pissed.” 

A flyer distributed at the protest declares war on the police: In reporting this we hope to make it obvious: we will no longer allow the police (regardless of what badge they wear) to murder us in the streets. When they kill, we will respond with force. These two marches along with the burgeoning revolt in Bayview are only a beginning. We do not care about their attempts at justifying themselves. In each of these killings they claim that their lives were in danger. We say they lie, but honestly don’t care either way. As the State has removed any illusion that it exists to serve or protect people, we can see clearly that it exists only to push us into prisons and to shoot us in cold blood. Two single dollars are worth more to them than our lives. The very existence of the police clearly endangers all of us, and we won’t be safe until they are destroyed.

Various groups report on the protest and connect the series of police murders in the Bay Area to the neoliberal economics of austerity

Meanwhile, the SFPD issues the following statement:

Information is still preliminary. The officers detained a 19 year old male suspect on the Muni light rail platform. This suspect then ran from the police officers who pursued him on foot. It appears that the suspect was armed with a gun and fired at the pursuing officers. At least one of the officers returned fire, in self defense, wounding the suspect. The suspect was transported to the hospital with life threatening injuries. He was pronounced deceased at 7:01 p.m.

July 17: Residents of Bayview  hold an impromptu speakout . Police pepper spray and attack participants. Meanwhile, activists organize a protest on the 19th.

July 18: Bayview  residents hold a second speakout 

July 19-20 (overnight): Activists protests in the Mission, near the Powell Street BART station.

(above) photos of action in the Mission July 19, 2011

Police with shotguns kettle activists, adopting a despicable strategy recently used by  London’s Metropolitan Police in recent protests over cuts to education.

Meanwhile police attempt to justify their action by releasing information about Harding’s past as a pimp and his conviction for attempting to promote prostitution involving a 14-year-old girl and stated that he was “a person of interest” in a shooting in washington state. The SFPD attempts to justify their actions on the basis of Hardings past, despite the fact that the cops involved knew nothing about it when they murdered him. Protestors responded to this specious argument in a leaflet distributed at the action:

The Police and the State consistently justify their systemic racist violence by saying they are protecting women. Patriarchy, the dominance of men over women, happens everywhere in our society, but the state tries to convince us that Black men are the main perpetrators. This racist lie helps the state justify their violent control over “uncontrollable” communities. Patriarchy is one of the overarching structures of our world and therefore we should not be surprised that any man has a past that includes violence against women. The police’s shooting of Harding is one instance of the way the state terrorizes a community that is a threat to the current social order, that has been historically attacked and barred from access to stable employment, etc… Its no longer politically correct to lynch Black men, but the police can shoot down Black and Brown people in the street and justify it through demonizing them.

The national media continue  to ignore the murder of Harding and it’s aftermath, but  bloggers in the Bay Area, such as Davey D, focus on it and the SFPD’s troubled history, pointing to the department’s recent dropping of more than 50 felony cases due to tainted evidence and insisting that the police account of the murder should not be taken at face value.

Local Bay Area media start to mildly question police inaction after Harding shot.

July 20th: Blogs associated with the national independent press start to cover Harding’s murder.

Bayview residents shout down San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr at a town hall meeting intended to justify the police’s action and calm the community.  The meeting serves to radicalize the consciousness of those in attendance. Many participants made statements such as:

We need to shut down the T line until we get answers to our demands – no police on trains, free trains or no trains at all. We’ll make sure there are no trains at all if that’s the way they want it.  

July 21: Police claim that the SF Medical examiner’s report shows that Harding shot himself while running away from police. The new SFPD account claims that they recovered a gun that matched the ballistics of the shooting and alleges other facts contradicting eyewitness accounts of Bayview  community members.

July 22: The Chief Medical Examiner of San Francisco states that she had not concluded that Harding shot himself. Suspicion and outrage grow among activists and Bayview community members. Some at rallies begin to ask if Harding was shot by a cop’s secondary weapon. Others call for a fare strike against MUNI and BART. Some invoke Chief Suhr’s dubious past to attack the limits of the SFPD’s credibility.

July 23: Activist Debray Carpenter A.K.A Fly Benzo arrested by 9 police officers “obviously in retaliation for organizing he has been doing” around Harding’s murder. “With this arrest, SFPD is attempting to fragment resistance to police terror & isolate the Bayview from collective action.” Call for action  his arraignment July 25 8:30 AM San Francisco Hall Of “Justice.”

The New York Times finally publishes a piece about Harding’s murder. The story assumes the police told the truth and frames SFPD Chief Suhr as the beleaguered hero of the story, among other bits of disinformation.

July 25: According to @mrdaveyd on Twitter®: Hardings family holds press conference with lawyers at the offices of John Buris, run down the police department’s shifting story, point out fallacies in official statements, the Buris law office formally requests  all SFPD evidence, family demand evidence be made  available to public, address Harding’s suposed criminal background and refute the claim Harding was “on the run.” Oscar Grant’s uncle and a dozen community leaders at press conference. Harding was enrolled in a Seattle community college. He was in the Bay Area to meet with a music manager. Harding’s brother owns a San Francisco record lable.   Witnesses have contacted Buris law office contradicting SFPD claims and stating Harding was left bleeding on the ground for 30 minutes. The nearest firehouse was 7 Blocks away, but paramedics did not come for 30 minutes. Witnesses establish a timeline.

Fly Benzo arraignment and action “tentatively” delayed until Thursday July 28th.

July 26: Charges dropped against Fly Benzo. Police repeatedly delay his release.

July 27: Early AM: Fly Benzo released after crowd at Hall of  “Justice” dissipates.

July 28: Press conference about DeBray Carpenter, AKA Fly Benzo, Noon. SF City Hall.

The people of the bay area will not accept serial summary executions by police. Further actions to come.