The San Francisco Bay Area is still very much on edge since the New Year's Day 2009 shooting of Oscar Grant that resulted in BART officer Johannes Mehserle being sentenced for Involuntary Manslaughter.
So it came as no surprise that protesters came out in force in the wake of two unrelated fatal police shootings in San Francisco the first two weeks of July.
The first shooting involved BART Police killing a suspect who reportedly attacked officers with two knives at the Civic Center BART station. A week later protesters stormed the same platform, effectively disrupting and shutting down the station during the peak afternoon commute.
The second shooting involved SFPD officers conducting a "fare check" at a light-rail platform in the city's Bayview District. The suspect fled on foot, firing a handgun at pursuing officers. They returned fire apparently hitting the suspect. No officers were shot. The suspect died.
Graphic cell phone video captured the ensuing chaotic scene. The suspect lay writhing on the sidewalk in a pool of blood. Officers were immediately confronted by a large, hostile crowd. They called for assistance.
Amid the swirling chaos, additional cell phone video captured an unknown male picking up the suspect's handgun from the sidewalk. The suspect's handgun has yet to be recovered. Angry crowds accused police of "murder" and not providing medical assistance to the suspect.
SFPD reinforcements rushed to the scene to prevent the rapidly escalating situation from exploding in violence. Uniform officers had to remain posted for hours as SFPD inspectors conducted their on-scene investigation amid mounting tension.
The situation was volatile enough to call out the SFPD Tactical Squad (SWAT) in full gear with their ARV (armored rescue vehicle) at the ready. The large show of police effectively prevented the volatile situation from erupting into further violence.
Searches for the suspect's "missing" handgun resulted in one gun being confiscated from a parolee's nearby residence.
Tensions in the Bayview area remained high throughout the ensuing week. SFPD learned the suspect was a parolee from Washington state and a "person of interest" in a recent Seattle multiple shooting that left a pregnant woman and her baby dead and three other people wounded. Even this news did little to calm tensions in the Bayview.
On June 19, approximately 100 demonstrators marched from Delores Park to the intersection of Market and Powell Streets. A route that's nowhere near the Bayview.
The protesters were largely "anarchists." They were dressed in all black, with backpacks, many with faces covered by red bandanas, a number of them carrying black flags mounted on very substantial wood poles. They marched purposefully in city streets, then "on cue" veered off to invade a Muni Transit station where they threw smoke bombs then smashed ticket machines with hammers. All of this was shown on live TV.
The anarchists' next target was a bank where they smashed a window with a hammer. Followed by a SFPD substation where they threw paint and a hammer at police. Emboldened by their own actions, the "anarchists" continued to the Market and Powell intersection in the heart of the Financial District.
There, they sat down on the street. They were quickly surrounded by riot-clad SFPD officers but refused to disperse. Some 43 protesters were arrested.
On June 19 SFPD Chief Greg Suhr and his staff attended a community meeting in the Bayview Opera House to provide the SFPD side of the story. Before becoming chief, he was the captain in charge of the SFPD Bayview Station.
Chief Suhr was immediately shouted down by a number of angry, anti-police persons - repeatedly shouting/screaming epithets like "F__k the PO-lice!" "Murderers!" "Pigs!" and slogans like "No Justice, No Peace!"
Despite the intervention by community leaders, the meeting was completely taken over by protesters. Chief Suhr and his officers stood off to the side answering individual questions. Eventually, he and his officers left without having a chance to talk.
On June 20, the San Francisco coroner dropped a "bombshell" that stunned everyone. The Bayview suspect had died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. A .380 caliber bullet recovered from his head matched a .380 caliber bullet found in his pocket. The coroner went on to say the fatal bullet was not fired from any SFPD issued firearm.
The Coroner's revelation stunned and shocked the entire SF Bay Area, including even the most veteran news reporters. The news that the suspect died by his own hand, and not by SFPD, effectively stopped the mounting anti-police protests and rhetoric dead in their tracks.
I have no illusions that this news will change the views of the ardent, anti-police advocates. However, it just might cause fair-minded thinkers to learn all the facts before they leap to conclusions.
On July 25, local media reported the family of the dead Bayview suspect has now hired a well-known Oakland attorney to ensure the SFPD shooting investigation is "transparent." This story isn't over yet.