THE BLOG
07/21/2011 01:42 pm ET | Updated Sep 20, 2011

Beyond the Hype : Putting Bayview Anger in Context

Sometimes, I feel like people just don't get it. The police shooting of Kenneth Harding Jr. by the SFPD isn't just about what happened on July 16th -- it's about the pain of an entire community over decades.

I appreciate that Mayor Ed Lee and other officials have been proactive in reaching out to those of us in the community to give us more information about the incident. But if we focus on the facts that surround this one incident, we will fail to learn the lesson. This is not about Kenneth Harding, per se -- this is about a neglected community that has a long history of being prioritized at the very bottom of a long list of social needs, from housing and education to health care and employment opportunities. And I am not just referring to the Bayview and Hunters Point community -- I am referring to what remains of a once vibrant African-American community here in San Francisco.

The whirlwind of conflicting information and accounts of what happened on July 16th have added to my community's longstanding feelings of mistrust and vulnerability. And understanding our position is an essential step toward addressing the underlying concerns overwhelming the City now. Sadly, the killing of a young African-American man in the Bayview is not a rare occurrence. We have seen this episode before -- and it serves as a reminder of our legacy in San Francisco.

This is the context that is not being reported in the papers. While protests and marches are not the solution to social problems, they are an outlet for a very real pain that has not been addressed by the City.

Now is the time for the City and the SFPD to shift the perspective on how to interact with low-income communities of color. For decades, the only response to violence in our communities has been a greater infusion of law enforcement, as opposed to a citywide work plan that outlines a strategy for addressing the underlying issues of crime in our community.

While the emphasis on job creation continues to be centered around growing San Francisco's tech industry, many of our young black men look to generate income on the streets, with no clear pathways to college. This is not to say that college should be necessary to live a healthy, successful and safe life -- if a young person wants to learn a trade and work hard and start a family out of high school, there should be options open to them, as well. But, even blue-collar jobs that were once valued as ensuring a future of dignity and self-sufficiency do not pay enough to keep up with San Francisco's skyrocketing cost of living.

Our schools are overcrowded and underfunded. And the truth is, the majority of youth in the Bayview has been touched by violence in one form or another.

Given this hard reality, there are some very basic ways that the City can demonstrate leadership during this very unstable and uncertain time. As a starter, given our community's overwhelmingly mistrustful, defensive and vulnerable emotional state right now, it is reasonable to ask that SFPD dramatically scale back its presence on the T-line, until the investigation is complete and community meetings have helped to diffuse some of the tension on the streets. We need our Mayor to show sensitive leadership at this time -- and an increased police presence is not helpful.

Ultimately, though, we need to look to the long-term development of programs that respond to and build trust within the community. We cannot continue to be reactive and try to extinguish angry emotional fires every time a tragedy occurs. Changing the perspective takes work, and it takes time.

We should explore the option of linking social workers with the SF Ambassadors -- a program that employs community members to work in our neighborhoods to cultivate cultural understanding and defuse potential violence. Instead of deploying our much-needed police officers to bus lines to hand out citations to fare evaders, we should equip the 46 fare evasion agents currently employed by Muni with the tools to do their job affectively -- maybe even doubling as an immediate connection to resources with proven track records like the Public Defender's "Clean Slate" program and the District Attorney's "Back on Track" program.

We need a new kind of investment--one that addresses the underlying anger in the community. In this moment, we can't lose site of the goal to address 'why' people are so angry. That is the first real step to healing -- and hopefully eventual steps to redress the inequities in our community will follow.


Chris Jackson is an elected Trustee on the Community College Board, and the Executive Director of the Visitacion Valley Community Center. He lives in the Bayview with his family.