Community Meeting Ends in Chaos - NBC Bay Area

Community Meeting Ends in Chaos



    NBC Bay Area's Jean Elle inside a San Francisco town hall meeting that came to an abrupt end when communication broke down between police and the community. (Published Thursday, July 21, 2011)

    A town hall meeting held in San Francisco's Bayview District  Wednesday night to address a fatal police shooting there over the weekend ended early after angry community members took over the microphone to yell at  the chief of police.
    San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr called the meeting to make his case to the community about the police response to a Muni fare stop of a 19-year-old Seattle  resident Kenneth Harding.

    Harding allegedly ran from officers as they performed a random fare inspection Saturday afternoon at Third Street and Palou Avenue in San Francisco.
        Police said Harding fired at the officers as he ran away so they returned fire, striking and killing him.

    Police have produced cell phone video from witnesses that they say proved he had a gun. The coroner also reported that Harding had gun residue on his hand, which means he also fired a shot.

    Even with that evidence, some in the community still don't believe the shooting was justified.
        The shooting has prompted a series of protests, including a rally and march through San Francisco on Tuesday that resulted in 45 arrests.
        Right from the start of Wednesday night's meeting Police Chief Greg Suhr had trouble speaking to the crowd because of heckling.
        Suhr stepped away from the microphone as organizers allowed  various community members to come up and air their grievances against the  Police Department and other city officials.
        A second microphone was eventually set up to allow Suhr to answer  questions from a handful of people, many of whom accused the Police  Department of unfair treatment, including enforcing fare evasion more often  in the Bayview than in other parts of the city.
        Suhr said, "I get it, I get how upset everybody is" and tried to  restore order by saying "I don't care if you disrespect me, but don't  disrespect everyone else that came here to talk."
        As the meeting devolved further, about an hour into it, Suhr and  other police officials left the building, but said they would be returning  for more discussion with the community at a later date.
        "I'll be back all the time," he said.
        Keevin O'Brien, one of the local ministers who organized tonight's  event, said it may have just been held too soon.
        "The community kind of knew from the way they were feeling on  arrival that it would end up this way," O'Brien said.
        But Geoffrea Morris, a local community organizer who said she was out at the scene after Saturday's shooting, said, "I liked that (Suhr) stayed  ... he tried to answer to the best of his abilities."
        Supervisor Malia Cohen, whose district contains the Bayview, said,  "This is part of the democratic process, the ugly side of democracy," but  added, "We're not going to give up."
        Police have said Harding was a person of interest in a shooting in  Seattle last week that killed a 19-year-old pregnant woman and injured three  other people.
        He was on parole in Washington after serving part of a 22-month  sentence for attempting to promote the prostitution of a 14-year-old girl,  and was in violation of his parole by being in San Francisco, according to  police.
    Bay City News