Given the national Black Lives Matter movement and recent text-messaging scandal involving the San Francisco Police Department, strained police-community relations have been at the forefront of public dialogue recently.
“I don’t think it’s lost on anybody that in the president’s report on twenty-first century policing, it speaks over and over again to the trust that’s so critical to be able to do our job,” Police Chief Greg Suhr noted at an April 3 press conference in regard to recent department-related scandals, “and that trust in our police department, it’s not lost on me that it’s taken a major hit.”
An April 1 incident at the San Francisco intersection of 16th and Capp streets illustrated how deeply that trust has been eroded. Bystanders reacted to police use of force by voicing fears that police would severely injure the person who was being detained.
Shortly after 6 p.m., a small crowd had gathered to observe a group of officers clustered around an African American man who had been detained and was lying face down on the sidewalk. Smartphones were out as observers filmed, bystanders yelled out in frustration, and all eyes were on the police.
The man’s body appeared limp when officers lifted him up off the sidewalk to transport him to a police vehicle, but an officer on the scene dismissed bystanders’ accusations that he’d been beaten unconscious, saying, “He was never unconscious. He just didn’t want to walk.”
An observer filmed a portion of the police encounter. Here’s the footage, digitally edited with zoom and brightness adjustments to provide a clearer picture.
The man targeted by police is San Francisco resident Daryl Porter, 39, according to SFPD spokesperson Officer Grace Gatpandan, who provided information based on a police incident report. Porter was transported to San Francisco General Hospital after being struck “at least twice” with a police baton, she said.
Eyewitness accounts of what transpired in the moments before the video was filmed differ from the official police narrative. Gray Hinojosa, a longtime San Francisco resident who said he’d been across the street at an empanada shop, Chile Lindo, when the whole thing started, said he saw Porter headed east on 16th Street on his bicycle when “his jacket got caught. He got off the bike, and he was pissed.” When he stopped suddenly, he was nearly hit by oncoming traffic.
Hinojosa said he watched Porter cross the street via the crosswalk, then lean his bike against a building on 16th Street to untangle his jacket.
“He was swearing in frustration. As he’s making all this ruckus, there’s a cop car driving down … they decided to pull him over. One of them jumped out of the car on the passenger’s side … and went by him. … There was a scuffle, and all of a sudden I heard the cop say, ‘get down on the ground’ … he wasn’t getting down.”
That’s when “one of the cops took the baton and hit him in the leg,” Hinojosa said. “And then, at that point, he got free and started running, and came around the corner and they caught him … They hit him again, twice, with the baton. And then they finally got him down on the ground. And then another [police] car came, and two more came, and they just jumped right on top of him. It wasn’t like, ‘what’s going on? Let’s check out the situation.’ They just started pounding him. ... It was excessive. There were police coming from every direction.”
After becoming accustomed to seeing stories of police violence on his Facebook feed, Hinojosa said it was hard to watch something similar occur before his eyes.
Paula Tejeda, owner of Chile Lindo, crossed the street when she saw more officers arriving and started yelling out at them to ease up. "The pile was getting higher and higher and higher, and that's when I started screaming ... to the police that they could kill somebody," she explained later.
"That they really don't know yet what this man has done, but when you pile, you know, one person on top of another ... he can have a heart attack, or you can suffocate a person like this. It's such a brutal way of behaving, let alone that once again we're talking about a big black guy. So I was like, what are you doing? I am not against the police, I understand their job is not easy," she added. "I think the problem is that somewhere there in the training, there is no room for analyzing the situation a little bit better before they treat someone with so much violence."
According to the narrative in the police report, two officers on regular patrol “saw the suspect on a bicycle, weaving in and out of pedestrian foot traffic,” Gatpandan said. “Then he … walked against a red light, causing vehicular traffic to stop for him. That’s a violation. … The officers approached him to stop him and detain him for that vehicle code violation. At that point, the suspect tried to get away.”
She said Porter also “struck the officer in the chest more than once,” with his bicycle, causing an injury in the officer’s abdomen. Since the encounter started with a simple vehicle code violation, “he could have been released at the scene after he had been identified, but it went the other way, because he decided to swing the bike towards the officer,” Gatpandan said. “At that point, you’re committing a felony.”
Accordingly, Porter faces a felony charge for assaulting an officer, Gatpandan said, and four additional misdemeanor charges relating to substances found in his possession suspected to be narcotics, plus charges for obstructing an officer of their duties and a probation violation.
Hinojosa stated emphatically that he did not see Porter strike an officer with his bike. “He was trying to untangle his jacket,” Hinojosa said. “I didn’t see him strike an officer or anyone.” Once he’d set his bike against the building, “he didn’t grab it or pick it up,” he said.
Cynthia Crenshaw, another bystander who said she witnessed the encounter, said “he dropped the bike and ran. … And then he was coming around the corner, and there were four on him. And then there were six on him. He didn’t do nothing. But, he’s a black man, with white cops after him. I’m a white person, but I know how these cops are. I’m part of this Black Lives Matter stuff.”
According to an officer's statement made around that time over police radio, accessed via an online police-scanner archive, “He was hobbled then he was carried to the car. People started making accusations that he was unconscious, because everyone became a voyeur today.”
Video editing by Peter Menchini