(FinalCall.com) – A coalition of San Francisco activists, youth and religious leaders held a “No More Stolen Lives” press conference at the intersection of Third Street and Oakdale Avenue in the Bay View Hunters Point neighborhood to demand an independent, federal investigation into the fatal shooting of a young Black transit rider by city police officers.
According to reports, when two officers stopped 19-year-old Kenneth Harding asking him about paying a fare on a Municipal Railway (Muni) train, he ran away. Officers claim he fired a gun at them and in return, they shot back. But according to some witnesses, the victim had no weapon and the only shots fired came from the direction of the officers.
There was no justification for police shooting the young man approximately 10 times in the back and neck, they charge.
“We are demanding a civilian review board of the police and we are asking to stop the criminalization of Bay View. Stop making us look like thugs and criminals, and stop killing,” said Mesha Irizarry of the San Francisco chapter of Education Not Incarceration and the Idriss Stelley Foundation, which organized the July 18 press conference.
Activists and community leaders are also demanding a civilian review board of the San Francisco Police Department and want District Attorney George Gascon, a former police chief, barred from participating in any investigation of the incident, saying his participation would constitute a conflict of interest.
Ms. Irizarry said the shooting hit home and when she heard the news she relived the fatal police shooting of her own son, Idriss, about a decade ago.
“This is very, very personal to all of us here because this happens all the time but this time it was caught on tape.These kids are terrorized by the police,” Ms. Irizarry told The Final Call.
Thumbnail images of the raw video footage and videos on the internet show the young man lying face down, still, in a large pool of blood.One video shows him moving slowly in pain and at one point attempting to get up, to no avail.
Ms. Irizarry told The Final Call many Bay View residents were incensed that the media and police have released stories about Mr. Harding’s past, as though it provides a justification for the fatal shooting. The issue witnesses say is the deceased was shot while he was running and the officers let him choke on his own blood, argued Ms. Irizarry.“For a transfer!All for a $2.00 transfer fare,” she said.
When the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency announced in February 4, 2008, the decriminalization of transit citations and that they would no longer require processing by the San Francisco Superior Court, these officers must have missed the memo, said activists.Adult fares for the Muni are $2 and there simply was no reason to shoot to kill someone for a train ride, they argued.
“My concern preliminarily is that law enforcement appears to have a shoot first policy when it comes to young Black and Brown men,” said Student Minister Christopher Muhammad of Mosque No. 26 in San Francisco.
It is hard for the community to take the circumstances surrounding the shooting, especially after the New Year’s Day 2009 fatal shooting of Oscar Grant by a Bay Area Rapid Transit officer and police overreactions, he said. Mr. Grant was lying handcuffed on a train platform when a BART officer shot him to death with the incident captured on cell phone videos. As the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan said, the notion of justifiable homicide is applied whenever Black men or Black people die at the hands of law enforcement, Mr. Muhammad, who leads the city’s Nation of Islam mosque, said.
Mr. Muhammad told The Final Call he is disturbed by apparent newspaper andpolice attempts to spin facts of the incident and demonize Mr. Harding by drumming up his past criminal record.But that is a routine tactic used to sway public opinion to justify police actions, he said.
People are increasingly angry about police misconduct and it is a volatile period, which calls for great responsibility, Mr. Muhammad continued.He said he recently learned that in Richmond, Calif., police were involved in distributing guns to teenagers and in Contra Costa County,Calif., law enforcement officers were involved in taking confiscated drugs and distributing them among youth. These officers were involved in criminal behavior so the police department and the media should refrain from demonizing anybody, he said.
“So this kind of rationale and justification gives cover for police overreaction and alleged misconduct,” said Mr. Muhammad. “When the wise and intelligent thing to do is to follow the facts–and just like the police department asks the community for calm and not rush to judgment–while the matter is being investigated. When there’s an officer involved in inappropriate behavior, the police department should show the same restraint with young men from the community when they are the victims of what could be potentially considered misconduct from law enforcement.”
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