As Captain Paul Chignell of the Bayview Police Station walked up to the microphone, the sound of booing filled the auditorium of the Bayview Opera House. So did the sound of clapping.

The crowd of 300 Bayview residents, police officers, protesters, cameramen and journalists at tonight’s town hall meeting ran the gamut from polite to enraged. And so the clapping and the booing continued, simultaneously. The noise was deafening.

Chignell went ahead and introduced SFPD Police Chief Greg Suhr anyway. The chief had agreed to participate in the meeting, organized by community activists, to explain the events that led to the death of Kenneth Harding Jr. of Seattle. He had come equipped with a PowerPoint presentation.

“I love the Bayview,” he said. The boos grew even louder. “No you don’t,” someone shouted.

“We’re sorry,” he said. The booing got even louder.

He stepped away.

The preacher who had said a prayer before the meeting returned to the microphone. The first slide of the presentation — the SFPD logo — remained projected on the stage behind him. In the last few days, police had issued press releases stating that Harding was wanted in connection with a murder in Seattle, that he had attempted to pimp out a 14-year-old girl, that residue from firing a gun had been found on his right hand, that a gun linked to Harding had been found in the house of a person near where the shooting had occurred. None of these disclosures were doing anything to endear police to the crowd.

The story of Harding’s death as it appeared in the neighborhood newspaper, the San Francisco Bayview, is that Harding was shot while running away from a police officer who had asked to see his Muni transfer.

“OK,” said the minister. “You want to say something? Come to the microphone.”

“We are being dehumanized by the police department!” said a man with dreadlocks, who had been at the protest march from Mission to Powell the day before. “The ambulance should have arrived to treat the man who was shot faster. He deserved medical treatment no matter what.” He was referring to a video posted on YouTube several days earlier, of police standing with their guns trained on a wounded and struggling Harding as he lay on the pavement.

“Police are the enemy!” shouted a man with a shaved head.

“I don’t want to hear police speak!” yelled a man in a white hoodie. “I know exactly what they’re going to show us. They’re going to show us that he fired at police. But they’re lying. They’ve lied before.”

“Liars!” chanted the crowd. “Killer cops!”

Suhr stepped forward again. “We’re sorry you feel that way.”

The crowd surged forward and Suhr backed away. A man reached out from the crowd and grabbed the microphone. “Who told the police to bring machine guns?” he yelled.

The crowd struggled for control of the microphone. “I was arrested by four officers four years ago,” said one woman. “Why did they arrest me?”

“I don’t have an answer to that,” said Suhr. Someone had found him another microphone. Behind him the PowerPoint presentation had gone dark, and the officers were packing up their audiovisual gear. “I wasn’t the chief back then.”

The other microphone kept on moving through the crowd. “My son was killed by police seven years ago,” another woman said. “I want to know why he was shot 35 times.”

“I remember that case,” said Suhr. “I wasn’t the chief back then, and so I don’t have that information. I can talk with you about that later, privately. But tonight I can only talk about this case.

Another man wrested control of the microphone from the crowd. “When I was arrested,” he said, “I had handcuff marks. Why were the police so rough with me?”

“I am not prepared to answer those questions. I am prepared to answer questions about the Saturday shooting,” said Suhr.

A group of officers stepped up and began conferring with Suhr. “I think it is necessary,” said the chief to his aides. “They have to say what they gotta say.”

The crowd continued to struggle for the microphone, shouting over each other. “Why are there so many cops in Bayview?” yelled one person. “Why do we have to pay for Muni?” yelled another. “We don’t have jobs. Two dollars is a lot of money for us. People are killing each other. You should worry about gang violence more than checking the fare. Muni should be free, and then you can take care of gang members.”

Other people said things, but it was almost impossible to hear anything over the sound of the crowd.

“I understand if you disrespect me,” said Suhr. “But you should not disrespect the people who are trying to speak.” The meeting had been going on for almost two hours.

Suhr turned toward the door of the Opera House and started walking. As he left, the reporters and video cameras trained on the crowd turned and followed him out of the building.

“You know, we got a bad guy,” Suhr said to the cameras once they were outside the building. Police had put themselves between a dangerous criminal and the public, he continued.

“They didn’t know who this man was before they shot him!” yelled a woman from the crowd.

“There has been aggression all this time against our community,” said local filmmaker Kevin Epps. He and community activist Geofrea Morris had spent much of the meeting trying to quiet the crowd. “It is unfortunate that this event was a wake-up call.”

Morris was clearly disappointed by the meeting. She had come, she said, to get answers from a police force she is having a hard time trusting. “We want an outside entity to investigate. I know what they are going to show us. He shot this and that. But they have lied before.”

After Harding’s shooting, the street filled with 20 cops carrying semi-automatic weapons, she said. “Nobody burned anything or caused civil disobedience. Why would they send so many cops?”

She said she was happy that people had gathered in the Mission District on Wednesday. Even though the protest led to 43 arrests, police in the Bayview are much harder than cops in the Mission, she said.

“I am glad they did that in the Mission,” she said. “They are not scared, like us.”

Heather Smith

Heather Smith covers a beat that spans health, food, and the environment, as well as shootings, stabbings, various small fires, and shouting matches at public meetings. She is a 2007 Middlebury Fellow...

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12 Comments

  1. Oh are ya ready?

    So was watching the news this evening in regards to the townhall meeting in the Bayview opera house with the police chief attempting to address the crowd.

    In the tv coverage you can clearly see 2 groups of people the ones seated mostly elderly individuals and women while the other groups from the start of the meeting rowdy big mouths that didn’t give Greg Suhr a chance to speak in an efficient manner.

    These thug supporters clearly still think the victim was an innocent individual and that he did not have a gun. Please shut up. These guys are in NO WAY , representatives of the Bayview district. I live in the Bayview, and these guys may claim to be the representatives but they are mistakenly Wrong about who they are representing. All they are doing is blasting propaganda and lies to the viewers on TV trying to claim their 15 minutes of fame.

    All I say tonight was the disgust of the people in the audience generally wanting to talk to the Police Chief yet they were intimidated by these perps yelling and hollering about all sorts of problems in their lives. You punks did a fine job of intimidating the REAL citizens of the Bayview and preventing them from even speaking about real issues. These guys make me sick they have their own agenda and just because KTVU, NBC, etc local news have their camera in the room they seem to all want to be on camera.

    Bottom line Kenneth Harding was a punk. He tried to be a playa in the game but got played. Game over nuff said. You thug supporters need to face the truth, none of you witnessed the start of the incident up to the end of the incident that day. Yet you claim to have seen everything. Stop your lies and propaganda to the general public. We don’t believe ANY of you. Try to man up and be a real man and admit this guy got his he was a punk criminal!

      1. I would say the exact Same things to all those Overpowering the general Bayview audience that didn’t have a chance to speak up. I watched news footage of one woman that was plain frustrated and spoke on camera and had no opportunity to voice her opinions because these so called representatives are hooting and hollering about random issues other than what Greg Suhr was trying to address. Who ARE they to speak up on behalf of ALL community? – Now thats Blatant Arrogance.

    1. Bbq, did you witness the incident, or do you believe everything you read in the lamestream media?

      1. As a matter of fact I did not witness the incident and I’m positively guessing for a fact that a majority of the so called people that saw everything didn’t either.

        1. So what you’re saying is that you believe what the authorities are saying through the lamestream media and otherwise you’re talking out your ass.

          Greg Suhr is blatant arrogance personified.

  2. so criminals should just be gunned down, cause someone says they’re a criminal…what logic is that…? a very young man was shot dead….like so many before…by the cops… you cop lovers are quickly losing your humanity…if you ever had any..in the first place…i’m not into thugs terrorizing the hood believe me…especially the ones with badges.

    1. If this criminal had been on his way to rob or kill someone, then the cry would have been why didn’t the police protect us? If one of the shots he fired, had killed a person on the street, they would have complained that the police aren’t catching the thugs. The guy fired on police!!! I know many residents of bayview and the police who work there. The police aren’t perfect but how many more residents are killed and victimized by the criminals than those who are killed by the police.
      The real residents who want the criminals with guns out are getting shut out by the loudmouths. These ignorant folks come out in droves to “rally.” But they don’t show up at their kids’ schools. While the sensible folks are too afraid to show their faces on TV. Shame.

  3. Whats funny to me is this. NO ONE KNOWS WHAT …… HAPPENED EXCEPT HIM, THE POLICE AND OUR LORD AND SAVIOR. ……………..YOU ALL are so JUDGMENTAL. So quick to throw stones and kick people under the bus. Listening and getting your stories from the media (LIARS) and then putting your own twist on it and ranting and raving about it. The same with Casey Anthony and OJ. It was so easy to believe the Black man did it right. ANd so easy to believe this woman killed her child but LOOK they are both out, (Well not OJ anymore) but if she did it there would have been enough proof to send her ass to jail. GOD will JUDGE and Deal with those people. All of you need to worry about your……kids, make sure you raise them right so that you don’t ever have to worry about something like this happening to you. And mind your OWN …….USINESS. T…….. Life is short. too short. People are dying and regardless of what someone does, no one deserves to die. No one. Not like that. He was a young boy. 19. Made mistakes and stupid decisions. Did he maybe deserve to go to jail for a very long period of time, yes if the story about the woman is true. But two wrongs dont make a right. And I feel for that young lady as well but we (as a people) do not KNOW the tru story so why are we arguing back and forth ……. I cried for him as I watched him squirm on the floor. No on deserves to die that way. But i wish all of you a better life. Black and White. We have to get it together people. We have to…

  4. I would assume that most of the men who were shouting and mugging for the cameras, are not married, are not involved in the lives of their children and are not gainfully employed.

    ONE of the reasons that I have left the Black community behind. You could not pay me to live in a Black hood. I cannot remember the last time that I went to Hunter’s Point. This BM aren’t protected women and the community.

    BM as a general are selfish. Spoiled and immature, raised by mothers abandoned by their father’s, coddled, always wanting the BW to lift him up and support him cause he’s a “King”.

    KINGS lead Kings don’t need women to support them it’s the other way around.

    Those fools in the Bayview are the stereotypical norm.

    Hey BM get a clue! BW are sick of you as a group and we aren’t marching for your causes. Really, the way BM loot, rob, rape and terrorize BW and children, it’s a wonder they can get laid by a BW!

    Goodbye, BM. Nice knowing you!

    Signed,
    Brown Black Chick

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