Friday, July 13, 2012

Misguided wrath

A grieving family whose son was shot by San Francisco police a year ago is planning to protest that shooting and police violence generally. I can't imagine their grief. Worse, the official account of the shooting says the boy shot himself by accident, which I find hard to imagine considering he was shot in the neck. I've never shot a gun so I don't know how plausible that account is, but I can't imagine how that would happen.

However, the protest will not be targeting the police — not directly, anyway. Instead, it will be aimed at San Francisco's transit agency, Muni.

KTVU, Channel 2, has a story on the planned protest. The story isn't quite clear on why Muni, rather than the police, is the target; the only connection to Muni is that the victim, Kenneth Harding, Jr., "died after an encounter with police conducting Muni fare inspections".

"We want free transit for all youth," organizers said in a message sent Thursday. "No youth should have to worry about losing his or her life for not having a $2 transit fare."
(Free Muni rides for youths are under consideration, coincidentally. To my knowledge, the idea was not prompted by Harding's death.)

However, the KTVU newscast that aired this story showed footage of a member of Harding's family at a press briefing angrily denouncing multiple police shootings, implying that the protest is rooted in anger at the shooting, not at whatever happened on Muni before it.

As I said, I can't imagine what Harding's family has gone, or is going, through. However, this protest is seriously misguided.

Harding died during an encounter with the police. He wasn't run over by a bus. (Tragically, several people have died in accidents involving Muni vehicles in the past few years.)

That Harding's encounter with the police occurred after, and apparently as a result of, failing to pay transit fare doesn't mean that Muni was at fault. It is simply wrong to target Muni for this protest.

Nobody at Muni did anything wrong. Fare evasion is a crime. If you don't pay your fare, you can be cited. That's the law, and I agree with it. Like every transit agency in the country, it needs every dime its riders are supposed to pay.

Maybe youths should ride free. (I can't imagine how Muni would pay for this, but that's another topic.) But if that's the point the protesters want to make, how does disrupting Muni service help?

If, on the other hand, the protest is to focus public attention and anger against the police for unjustified shootings ... well again, I must ask, how does disrupting Muni service help?

No matter the reason for the protest, all it will do is to piss off Muni riders inconvenienced through no fault of their own. It might renew attention to the Harding shooting, but will it prompt others to join the protesters' calls for justice? I have to admit, as a Muni rider I'm not well-disposed to them right now, no matter how just their cause might be. I doubt the protesters mean to disrupt my day, but if that's what ends up happening, I'm not going to care what their motives are. It will feel like they're taking out their anger on me, when I didn't do anything to deserve their wrath. And my sympathy for them will dry up.

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