August 16, 2011

Anonymous Comic Book Antiheroes Protest BART Rider Slaying

Protester in Guy Fawkes mask at BART protest Monday. Unattributed photo from

Rule number one for BART cops: DON’T SHOOT THE PASSENGERS. Hell, you have my permission to beat the BART riders with billy clubs, handcuff them, arrest them, tase them, pepper spray them, but for God’s sake, DON’T SHOOT THEM! Everyone knows that when cops shoot you they aim at your head or your chest. Cops don’t shoot to wound or disarm, they shoot to kill. If I am wrong please enlighten me. And whatever happened to rubber bullets? If BART cops have the green light to shoot at riders, can’t they at least use rubber bullets or some other non-lethal force? Gladiator nets? Cattle prods? And by the way, why does it seem BART cops are shooting a disproportionate number of black people? Again, if I am wrong please enlighten me. If BART wants to look better in the media, that’s a good place to start asking questions.

Everyone recalls the shooting of Oscar Grant in 2009 on New Year’s Day. He was the 22-year-old black man who was lying face down with his arms behind him when a BART police officer shot him in the back. The officer in question was Johannes Mehserle, who just served 2 years in prison after being convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

Then last month, on July 16th, 19-year-old Kenneth Wade Harding Jr. was stopped by police for “fare evasion” at a light-rail stop on 3rd Street and Palou Avenue. When he ran away he was shot at “about nine times” by San Francisco police officers. Harding jr. was said to have shot at police while trying to escape. However, many eye-witnesses believed he had been gunned down by them in cold blood. Then as the story evolved days later, the coroner determined that Harding jr. had actually shot and killed himself as he ran, perhaps by accident. But with the July 3rd slaying of Charles Hill, who was allegedly homeless and drunk at the Civic Center BART station, officer involved shootings on San Francisco public transportation is  starting to look like a pattern. That’s not good for the image of the police, BART, MUNI or San Francisco.

I understand that cops have an impossible job. In fact, it is perhaps one of the hardest jobs in our society. People lie to them constantly and attack them just for being authority figures. But honestly, isn’t conflict resolution what cops are supposed to be good at? Killing people over fare evasion or acting out because they are drunk, stoned, or mentally ill? That’s not right.

It doesn’t help that Anonymous has joined with community activists and other groups to protest. Doesn’t it seem a little over-the-top to adopt the Alan Moore–created, V for Vendetta Guy Fawkes masks as their own? And doesn’t it seem really stupid and immature to attack the BART website and then expose the confidential information of BART customers? Why do that? How does that protest a shooting? How does that honor Charles Hill or help solve the problem? Is that the only data they could access and so they published it? Grow up! It’s the geek equivalent of throwing rocks at windows just to get noticed and have your friends say how cool you are. But seriously — how does attacking the BART site in that way actually help things? Wikileaks publishes for political reasons and is careful not to appear arbitrary in what it does. Anonymous is no Wikileaks and doesn’t appear to be interested in having the moral high ground, which is essential to have in a successful protest.

Earlier this summer when the Egyptian government shut down internet and cell phone access, it was also making mass arrests and killing demonstrators. It sure didn’t have the moral high ground. Both sides were fighting a technological war to frame the narrative of “the Arab Spring” revolution. The protesters clearly had the moral high ground, and that led to popular support and the uprooting of their oppressive government.

But in San Francisco BART made a stupid decision to also interrupt cell service as a means of disrupting protests — and who knows, maybe trying to control the narrative? Such a desperate act was pretty dumb, and BART should know better. The truth is that neither the BART riders, its customers, nor the protesters are an “enemy.” Nor is anyone trying to overthrow BART. People are angry because of the lack of leadership in dealing with a series of preventable deaths. That’s why people are protesting.

I have a feeling, though, that this is the face of contemporary protest movements — both sides employing social media (Facebook, Twitter, smart phones, and mobile-to-mobile networks) in order to get the word out, and in some instances, using both chaos and anonymity as a tactic. It’s hand-to-hand, cell-to-cell combat! After all, everyone knows what is at stake — it’s the winner who gets to write the official history. Go ask Guy Fawkes.

Comments (6)

  • Hey Sam, did you read my response to your first comment? I noted how the story has been evolving and it probably still is. I clarified re: Scott’s comments and then tried to clarify for you too and went so far as to include quotes from the chief of police on the matter. The story about him has evolved in the press and there may yet be more facts that come out. I mentioned him because his death seems to be part of a pattern.

  • Why did you fail to mention that Mr. Harding had shot and killed himself in your post? Though there was initial confusion about who actually killed him, your post and comment were both published long after the fact had emerged that Harding had shot himself. Yet you never mentioned it! You clearly were either unaware of that fact or you wanted to create the impression that the police had shot and killed him. Worse, you say in your comment of August 16 that you “clarified the exact circumstance of his killing.” You did no such thing.

  • “Police chief Greg Suhr said Harding fired the first shot at two officers on Saturday, who shot back about nine times.
    Harding was pronounced dead after the chase in the Bayview-Hunters Point area.
    The police chief told reporters the officers were well within their authority when shooting at Harding, who fired while running away.
    Police said the 10 shots were exchanged in six seconds.
    The officers ‘knew that their lives were in jeopardy and at that point they returned fire,’ Mr Suhr said.”
    ‘The officers are permitted to fire until they think the threat has ended.’

    Read more here:

    If you had read more about the shooting you would have learned that while he died from a .380 caliber gun shot to the head he was also struck in the leg by another bullet of which they could not determine the caliber. I’d say with two officers firing 9 shots at him, there is a high probability that one of those 9 bullets struck him. So it turns out they did SHOOT him but they did not KILL him, if that’s what you were trying to get at. It is very unlikely someone would shoot themselves both in the foot and the head at the same time, accidental or not. Nonetheless, it is an evolving story and I agree with you, that words are significant.

    Additionally, for many days the reports all said that he had been shot by the police. Not my words, SFWEEKLY’s words and CBS’s words. Also the police have revised the story every few days so the story has been evolving. I would also direct your attention to these other links regarding this case:

    This headline here states police shot him:

    And this about his family’s reaction:
    “Kenneth Harding’s family said Monday they were troubled that police first said the 19-year-old was fatally shot by officers then days later said they now believed he killed himself with his own gun.”

    SFWEEKLY headline reads “Kenneth Harding Identified as Man Shot and Killed by SFPD”

  • Chris,

    Mr. Harding wasn’t shot by police as you say in your comment above. He shot himself. As SF Gate reported: “The bullet that killed 19-year-old Kenneth Wade Harding on Saturday came from a .380-caliber firearm, authorities announced, and a round of the same caliber was recovered from Harding’s jacket pocket.

    San Francisco police officers, by contrast, are armed with .40-caliber ammunition and guns that can’t fire a .380-caliber shot, said John Sanchez, a firearm supervisor with the Police Department crime lab.”

    It seems like a rather significant fact here.

  • Chris Cobb says:

    Hi Scott, please note I didn’t actually say that Kenneth Wade Harding Jr. was in the BART or that his shooting was BART related, however I can see that I appear to be implying it. You are also correct – I should have not written that he was shot by BART cops. I should have just written the word police and not BART. Please note I made the correction and clarified the exact circumstance of his killing.

  • Kenneth Wade Harding Jr wasn’t shot by BART police but by the SFPD. His death wasn’t BART related, but was about fare evasion from MUNI in the Bayview district. Though a homeless man named Charles Hill was shot and killed by BART police at the Civic Center station recently for acting crazy. So don’t act crazy on BART. You may get shot.

See all responses (6)
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