by Natasha Reid
Kenneth Harding was fatally shot on July 16 by San Francisco police officers, upon failure to pay a $2 train fare. To make matters more grotesque, the gentlemen from the San Francisco Police Department stood with their firearms still pointed towards Kenneth, watching him quiver in desperation, lying in a warm, sticky pool of his own red, red blood.
His mother, Denika Chatman, who is yet to bury her son, agreed to an interview with the San Francisco Bay View.
Natasha: Tell us a little bit about Kenneth. What kind of guy was he; what did he like to do?
Denika: Kenny was a real happy person. He had a beautiful spirit. He loved his mom. He was really into music and underground rap and really liked most of the local Bay Area underground artists – people from Hunters Point and Fillmore.
Natasha: [To Kenneth Roy] What was your relationship with Kenneth?
Kenneth Roy: Well, I’m like his stepdad ‘cause you know his mom is my girl. He came out here [from Seattle] to come to my house.
Denika: He spent his last night with him [Kenneth Roy].
Natasha: What was he doing on his last night?
Kenneth Roy: He was just stressed out and confused about the way life was treatin’ him and about what was happenin’ in his life. He was just trying to do his best and trying to go to school ‘n all that. But then life throw things at you, and when you’re young, you don’t really know what to do. So we talked to him and told him it was in God’s hands.
When he was younger, he really got framed up and got put in prison before he was even 18 years old. So he got sent to a grown man’s jail, and got treated like a grown man, before he was even of age to be a grown man. It’s the same old story where a Black man messes with a white woman, and she loves you until her family got somethin’ to do with it and then she’s about to turn on you with the family. That’s what he was goin’ through, you know, that type of stuff confuses your mind on what reality really is.
Natasha: How did you find out about what happened to Kenneth? What was the first you heard of it?
Denika: Actually, it was Sunday, the day after he was killed. I was watching the six o’clock news and they hadn’t released no names or any information that said that it was a local Seattle man that was killed – fatally shot by the police officers. But I just felt like that was my son. I called my mom and asked her to call down here to find out if it was Kenny, and it was.
Natasha: Do you remember the last thing the two of you spoke about?
Denika: Yes [she smiles for the first time]. He called me Friday morning, the day before he was killed. He had just got here. He said: “Mom, I know you see the area code so you know where I’m at. But don’t worry about nothin’. I’ll be right back; I’m just going to meet Q [his music manager] and we’re going to get everything straight, but I need to know how to get a hold of Ken [Kenneth Roy].” I asked him why and he said, “’cause I need to see him, I just need to talk to him.” So I told him how to get in contact with him and then I didn’t hear from my son again.
Natasha: How have you and the family been coping since Kenneth’s murder?
Denika: Everyone has been in shock. There’s a loss of words. My daughter out here is the one who took him to go meet Kenny [Roy]. They all spent the night together. She’s still in shock. She still can’t believe it. He [K. Roy] still has his [K. Harding’s] clothes laid out on the couch of what he was gonna change into when he got back.
Natasha: Tell us about the communication you have had with the police since your son was killed.
Denika: Well, we are experiencing [police brutality] for ourselves, first hand. The police have actually made us targets, especially in Seattle. They’re doing whatever they can to try to tear us down. I don’t feel safe in my home; I don’t feel safe being in Seattle.
Natasha: Can you be more specific? What’s been going on?
Denika: Well, they falsely raided my house and falsely arrested my other son. They didn’t even take him to the precinct. They kept him overnight, assaulting him, beating him. A few days later they put out a police bulletin for his arrest for something they still have not filed charges on him for. They falsely put in the police computer that he’s armed and dangerous – he doesn’t even own a weapon – so that they have a right to shoot him.
They brought out the SWAT team in full riot gear with assault rifles to my home for nothing – to raid my home for nothing!
It’s unreal! I mean, if somebody had told me this kind of thing, I never would have believed them. But because I’m actually experiencing it and seeing it first hand, you know, I’m going through it. And the way that the police have been talking to me, degrading me – I don’t know, I haven’t disrespected them or talked to them trying to demean them, but they feel like they have the right to do it to me.
Natasha: What have they been saying to you?
Denika: They’re talking to me like I’m one of these teenagers out here in the streets and I’m like, are you serious? You’re seriously going to sit here and talk to me like this? They said: “You seen what happened to your other son in California. You know it would be a real tragedy to have something happen to this son [Ondrell Harding, in Seattle], but you know how it is.” They’ll just be making comments like that.
The way that the police have been talking to me, degrading me – they feel like they have the right to do it to me.
Natasha: And how do you retaliate?
Denika: How do I retaliate? Do I just keep quiet? What do I do? I end up with the NAACP, I got the whole Nation of Islam, I have the civil rights activists and protesters: This tragedy is not going to go unsaid.
K. Roy: You got Richmond, California, behind you too [Kenneth Roy is from Richmond].
Denika: So I got support in different areas. It’s not over – they’re coming after us; we’re coming after them with a vengeance.
Natasha: How do you feel about the way this has been handled in the corporate press?
Denika: Actually, I’ve been staying off of the computer; I’ve been staying off of the news, because all that they’re doing is defaming my son, his character and who he was as a person. So I’ve just been speaking to people who want to know the real truth, like you, like the Nation of Islam. When people come to me directly and want to know the truth about my son, I don’t have any problem expressing it. But, I’m not gonna read the lies and allow people to continue to defame my son.
The police said that my son was a piece of trash and that he got what he deserved. I don’t think nobody deserves to be killed in the fashion that my son was. He was clearly running with his hands in the air and they still shot him in the back and they refused to help him.
They refused to let ambulance services in to give him help and be there by his side. If they believe he was a criminal, then they should’ve let him get the medical help that he needed and let the judicial system take over on his case! You don’t have the right to shoot my child down like an animal.
The police said that my son was a piece of trash and that he got what he deserved.
Natasha: All of this attention on Kenneth’s criminal record has been used as a ploy to divert attention from the real issue, that is, police brutality. How do we convince people to address the real issue instead of dismissing the whole case upon hearing about Kenneth’s alleged criminal history?
Denika: People need to see the truth. The issue at hand is not his character – it is what was done to him. It’s sad because, until it happens to somebody close to someone else, some people won’t even pay attention. But as a community, we need to stand up and fight for our rights. They don’t have the right to do this. I don’t know how to reach out to others who are closed-minded.
You don’t have the right to shoot my child down like an animal.
Natasha: How do you feel now towards the police? When you’re walking down the street and you see a couple of police officers, what is the initial thing that you feel?
Denika: Disgust. Distrust.
Natasha: Do you have fear?
Denika: I’m not scared. Just … disgusted.
As a community, we need to stand up and fight for our rights.
Natasha: Do you think that people living in neighborhoods like Hunters Point have fear of the police?
Denika: They don’t. I think they should because they’re [the police are] a vicious gang. That’s what I think of the police: I think they’re a vicious gang. Who’s policing them? Who’s stopping them from going over the limit? The people in Hunters Point have to live with this. This is their reality and we’re only just now seeing what they have to go through in life.
It’s not right and it’s not fair. Somebody needs to stop the police because they are out of control. I mean, my son got gunned down because of a train ticket? So I can imagine what other things the people of this community have been experiencing in life. If they’re like this over train fare, I can imagine what they’re like over loitering or that type of thing.
I think the police are a vicious gang. Who’s policing them? The people in Hunters Point have to live with this. This is their reality and we’re only just now seeing what they have to go through in life.
Natasha: What do you think the differences in attitude towards the police are from people in Black communities such as Hunters Point and more affluent communities?
Denika: Well, some people come from communities where the police actually protect and serve. But here they look at us like we don’t matter and treat it as “who cares if they die; it’s just one less person to deal with.”
K. Roy: The good officers can’t even be good officers because they got all the bad ones that they gotta worry about too. It’s not right. What is it going to take? What if somebody was doing the same thing that the police are doing to us, to them? Would things look different?
They’re acting like they’re God or something. They get to judge us and take our lives because they don’t feel like we deserve to live. One day the tables are going to turn. And I pray for all of those people who are looking past this, ‘cause God will make you pay attention to it one way or the other. Whenever God do what he gon’ do to you, I hope it ain’t too bad, because I know how it feels.
Natasha: When something like this happens, it makes me think about how Black America hasn’t gotten so far since times of slavery. Do you think that people are aware of that reality?
They get to judge us and take our lives because they don’t feel like we deserve to live.
Denika: I don’t think too many people are aware of what’s goin’ on in these urban communities because it doesn’t affect them. So they don’t care. That’s when you get the stereotypes of victims who “must have deserved their killing.” People can’t understand because they don’t come from this walk of life.
K. Roy: I saw someone write on the internet that it’s one less welfare check that has to be paid.
Denika: Its ignorance! My son wasn’t even on welfare.
K. Roy: There’s no respect.
Natasha: What do you think we ought to do to give Kenneth the legacy that he deserves? If we fight to try to prevent further police brutality cases, would you see that as at some form of justice for Kenneth?
Denika: Of course. I want to right this wrong. I want something positive to come out of all this negativity. I do want his name to live on because he didn’t deserve this.
Natasha Reid is a writer of Zimbabwean and Scottish heritage. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.