Reflections About Kenneth Harding Jr.

On Saturday, July 16 2011 a man was shot and killed by officers of the San Francisco Police Department in the Bayview district.  At the time I heard the news I was DJing at Radio Bar in Oakland.  A friend of mine who had come out to support me shared the news via a text message from a third party, “SFPD just shot and killed a 19 y/o 10 times in bayview for fare evasion. People in Bayview started hurling bottles at the pigs. Ralley now at 24th mission. Pass it on! Fare evasion is not cause for capital punishment!”  Upon hearing the news my first reaction was to think, “How awful!”  At the same time, my gut instinct was to desire additional information regarding the incident.  In two shakes of a lamb’s tail my friend would vanish into the night to participate in the aftermath of the incident with some of his anarchist friends, which apparently involved a protest.  The protest would be ignited by perceived injustice and further exacerbated by anarchist principles of lawlessness and civilian oppression, ironically organized by middle class white kids.  Glass bottles were hurled at SFPD.  Trash cans were set aflame.  Family-owned store windows were vandalized.  In the name of justice, anarchy ensued.

The following morning I went onto YouTube to watch the 19-year-old man, Kenneth Harding Jr., die on the sidewalk in a pool of his own blood right there on my computer screen.  The video depicted the post-shots-fired scene.  Mr. Harding squirmed as the blood spilled out of his body.  A large crowd circled around him as he eventually stopped moving.  People were screaming at SFPD demanding answers.  Eventually an ambulance arrived and took Harding to SF General, and he was pronounced dead at 7pm.  I was shocked by this video.  It made me feel immense sympathy for Harding.  I also felt an increasingly impatient desire to get more of the story behind this incident.

The only stories I could find online at the time were 140 character reactions alleging that this man had been gunned down for evading a MUNI fare inspection.  

For those unfamiliar to San Francisco, MUNI is our public transportation artery.  About 95% of inner city public transportation is covered by MUNI.  The fare to ride is $2 and this allows passage on any MUNI vehicle for a few hours as stated by your transfer (proof of payment ticket).  So the reports were all saying that Kenneth Harding Jr. was gunned down for evading MUNI authorities upon a fare inspection.  When approached by MUNI fare inspectors, it is standard operating procedure to proof of payment.  If the passenger cannot present proof of payment, a ticket may be issued.  In order for a ticket to be issued, a ticketless passenger must present the fare inspector with identification.

Getting back to the Harding shooting, I kept thinking to myself, “Why on earth would the SFPD shoot and kill a man for simply running away from a MUNI fare violation?”  I was extremely skeptical to believe that this was the real story.  Upon further investigation, I found some additional information regarding the incident.  Apparently Mr. Harding was in violation of parole and was also a suspect in a shooting in which a pregnant teen was murdered up in Seattle, WA.  There are also reports that Harding had fired the first shot at SFPD after they were called in by MUNI authorities.  SFPD possesses an audio tape of the entire incident and they are reporting that this tape proves that the first shots were fired by Harding. This already changes everything. Does it not?

While it seems nearly impossible to remain un-biased in a situation, I deeply believe that there is great value in thinking a bit before hastily choosing sides in a situation in which there is a lack of information present. If you’re going to take to the streets for a cause, research it a bit first. At the same time, this was a gruesome scene and it’s very sad that this young man died that day.

Read the article for yourself and tell me what’s on your mind:
http://www.mercurynews.com/news/ci_18499476

Updated July 20, 2011: http://www.sacbee.com/2011/07/19/3780484/police-gunshot-residue-on-man.html

  • Yahab

    Very well written and rationalized. It does seem that there is a bunch of evidence coming out showing that the police were justified. But as you mention near the end of your article many people jumped to conclusions and now that they have their minds made up as to the guilt of the ‘pigs’ they wont stray from it. I believe it to be caused by “Backfire bias”. This incident if really sad all the way around.

  • admin

    Thanks for your thoughts, Yahab. Backfire bias, yes! I was trying to think of some ethical or psychological principle to better explain this phenomenon. I had originally thought of the Fundamental Attribution Error, but that didn’t seem to fit completely. It is backfire bias, and also a bit of the mob mentality. Thanks for reading and for your remarks.