I’m just finishing up my radio report on tonight’s town hall meeting at the Bayview Opera House in San Francisco’s Bayview district, organized in response to Saturday’s police shooting of 19-year-old parolee Kenneth Harding. The standing-room-only event degenerated into chaos and started clearing out soon after SFPD Chief Greg Suhr took the podium. Eventually he had enough and walked out after about an hour of trying to be heard.

Suhr used to be captain of the Bayview District police station before becoming chief. But that apparently wasn’t enough street cred to satisfy many in the crowd. He barely got a minute into describing the events that led to Saturday’s shooting before several angry residents shouted him down. Suhr backed away from the podium, and it wasn’t long before a string of shouting attendees replaced him.

To my knowledge there were no incidents or arrests; all of the officers inside the Opera House were dressed in standard patrol uniforms and kept pretty calm. In the end the chief dismissed the meeting’s chaos as a distraction from the ongoing work of making Bayview safer and more livable.

Here’s the Bay Citizen’s video of the meeting, from the time Suhr started speaking. He is soon interrupted, to the point where he stops and leaves the podium.

I talked to him briefly just after he left the meeting, surrounded by a cadre of SFPD officers, asking him what the next step was. “We’re so committed to the Bayview community,” Suhr told me. “We just keep going, we just keep working with the community of the Bayview. People are upset, an act of violence happened on their town square.”

Suhr also stood up for the police involved in the shooting. “The police officers put themselves between a dangerous criminal and the public. It’s never a good thing when anybody gets killed, but I don’t think the officers signed up to get killed either.”

Here’s the video of that interview:

The difficult thing about tonight’s event and about Monday’s protest is that the anger and distrust toward the police can eclipse everything else. Barely anyone tonight asked about Saturday’s shooting. Plenty of people asked about previous incidents they say amounted to police brutality — often, incidents involving them directly. Suhr offered to meet directly with those who had concerns.

The investigation into the shooting continues both through internal affairs and through outside entities like the District Attorney’s office and SFPD’s Office of Citizen Complaints.

Leaving the meeting, I admit I felt rather disheartened.  The folks in Bayview remind me of people I grew up with: generally good people fighting some major, decades-old problems. And it always seems hard to discuss these problems rationally without letting people vent first. This time the venting derailed the conversation in ways that left some of us shrugging our shoulders. I heard quite a few people express hope for a productive dialogue next time — if and when there is a “next time.”

SFPD Chief Suhr Walks Out of Chaotic Bayview Town Hall; Video, Interview With Suhr Afterward 21 July,2011Joshua Johnson

  • Eric Westby

    A great report. With emotions so raw, sometimes a willingness to listen to the rage is the first step. I hope it doesn’t dissuade Chief Suhr from trying again.


Joshua Johnson

Joshua Johnson is the creator and host of Truth Be Told, a special series on race from KQED and PRI. Prior to creating the show, he served as the station’s morning news anchor for five-and-half years.

Prior to joining KQED, Joshua spent six years as an anchor/reporter for WLRN Miami Herald News. He’s a native of South Florida, with degrees from the University of Miami. His reporting and newscasting have won awards from the Radio Television Digital News Association and from the National Association of Black Journalists. Joshua is also active in his union, SAG-AFTRA. He lives in San Francisco.

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