Kenneth Harding — Shot by the SFPD

Kenneth Harding, RIP

On Sunday night July 17th, I saw the video of 19-year-old Kenneth Harding dying at the hands of the San Francisco police.  Tears and rage welled up inside me.  In the video, he is dying in broad daylight, lying on the pavement, blood pouring out of his body, as he makes feeble attempts to move.  Police officers do nothing but train their guns on him and create a barrier to hold back an increasingly upset crowd.

Only adding to the pain and anger has been the way that the SFPD has so blatantly lied, and the way that so much of the media parrots the SFPD press releases.  These issues are nothing new, but this most recent case, like all others, deserves a thorough vetting.

On July 16th, Harding was riding a Muni train.  When uniformed SFPD officers detained him for not having proof of paying the $2 fare, he ran.

At a July 18th press conference (video here), SFPD Chief Greg Suhr admitted that police officers had killed Harding.  But he said it was justified because Harding had shot first, so they’d fired in self-defense.  But as journalist Davey D has pointed out, all eye-witnesses that have spoken to the media have said Harding was unarmed.

Then on July 19 and 21, the SFPD came out with more press releases in which they 1) created a body of evidence to back up their story, and 2) changed their story.

Their supposedly conclusive evidence is gun residue on Harding's right hand and a .380 caliber round found in his pocket. But the gun residue was reported by the SFPD only, and has not been confirmed by an independent party.  The .380 caliber round found in his pocket was found by the SF Medical Examiner, but keep in mind the police had said nothing about this for the first four days after the shooting.

Furthermore, the SPFD completely changed their story and are now saying that Harding shot and killed himself.  They say the bullet in Harding’s head (.38 caliber) couldn’t have been fired by a police weapon (.40 caliber).  But again, the bullet’s caliber has not been confirmed by a third party.

All of this must be understood in context where, only several months ago, the SFPD was forced to throw out 57 felony cases for falsifying evidence, as Davey D has consistently reminded folks.

It has been frusturating to see how a lot of the media covered this, often leading their stories with the fact that Harding was a "person-of-interest" in the murder of a pregnant teen in Seattle, Washington, as well as the fact that he was on parole for attempting to promote teenage prostitution. As horrible as these crimes are (whoever did them), they have nothing to do with this case. The police officers were chasing a black teenager who hadn't paid his Muni fare.  Period.

The case in under investigation by four agencies, but who are they?  One is the SFPD Homicide Detail, the department responsible for initially floating the idea that Harding could be a murderer, when in reality he was not even a suspect, but a "person of interest."  Another is SFPD's Internal Affairs, which is obviously also part of the SFPD.  Another is the District Attorney, George Gascon, who was the police chief of the SFPD until only six and a half months ago.  The fourth is the Office of Citizen Complaints.

Several protests have occurred since the shooting.  On July 21, Fly Benzo was arrested by 9 officers for “threatening a police officer.”  But many say he was targeted for having been so outspoken about the case.  His arraignment is tentatively scheduled for Thursday July 28th, and more info can be found on a Facebook event here (but I think you have to be signed in.)  You can join the folks who are planning to pack the courthouse.

On Monday July 25th, attorney John Burris met with Harding’s family and held a press conference. Burris called for all of the SFPD’s evidence to be made public, and said that Harding was left unattended for 30 minutes when the fire department was only 7 blocks away. Harding’s mother, Denika Chapman, demanded truth and justice for her son, who she said was enrolled in Seattle Central Community College and had come to the Bay Area to see his music manager.

To continue following this story, follow Davey D on Twitter and his blog.  You can also follow the SF Bayview Newspaper and the RecaimUC blog. All of the SFPD press releases can be found here.

As Davey D suggests: Keep shining a light on SFPD and the media.  Hold them accountable.