Calls For SF Chief to Resign In Wake of Fatal Shooting

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Greg Suhr
SF Police Chief Greg Suhr is the latest police chief under fire

Last week, Mario Woods, 26, was shot 15 times by police officers. This week, protesters, outraged over the shooting, spilled out of a packed hearing room in San Francisco’s City Hall on Wednesday, chanting “No justice, no peace.” Media reports note that the protest shut down the meeting of the city’s police commission as the crowd called for Chief Greg Suhr to resign.

The shooting took place on December 2. Witnesses saw Mr. Woods yelling at people while mumbling to himself. The police claim he then stabbed a bystander in the arm.

Videos taken on cellphones show that Mr. Woods was stooped over against a wall as seven police officers surrounded him, yelling, guns drawn. The police claim that Mr. Woods did not comply when told to put down a knife. Officers attempted to use pepper spray and a beanbag gun to subdue him.

The videos show an officer step in front of Mr. Woods – who is walking away from the other officers – in an attempt to stop him. Moments later, the officer fires at Mr. Woods, followed by shots from the other officers. Mr. Woods was pronounced dead at the scene, the police said.

That is the police’s view. According to a release from the ACLU last week, “Video of the incident, which reveals Woods trying to walk away from the officers, does not appear to show the imminent danger or substantial risk of death or serious injury that would permit the use of a firearm under SFPD policy. The video also raises questions about the officers’ decision-making and actions prior to use of the firearm and whether proper de-escalation tactics were employed. “

The New York Times notes that San Francisco has become only the latest in a string of cities where protesters have demanded police chiefs to resign in the wake of a shooting of a young black man at the hands of police. “Similar calls have been made by activists in Ferguson, Mo., Minneapolis, Baltimore and Chicago after deaths in those cities,” the paper reported.

“It’s universal. Ferguson is here,” the Rev. Amos C. Brown, president of the San Francisco N.A.A.C.P., said in a phone interview Thursday. “It’s all over this country. It’s time this country recognize it.”

In a separate article, the Times wrote, “The tenure of the average urban police chief has never been long or been noted for its serenity, but in an age of widely disseminated video footage of fatal police shootings as well as other accusations of abusive police behavior, some chiefs say the heightened level of scrutiny has radically changed their work — making jobs more difficult, far more political and much less secure. Being fired by a mayor on live television now comes with the territory.”

In the latest incident, Chief Suhr has drawn criticism after stating that the officer, “fearing for his safety,” had fired “in defense of himself, and the other four officers fired in defense of that officer.”

In response to growing criticism, Chief Suhr would tell the police accountability board, appointed by the mayor to oversee police complaints, that he had contacted other departments in order to learn better techniques including training officers in de-escalation tactics to help avoid future shootings.

He has also pushed for nonlethal stun guns – something that San Francisco has resisted.

However, protesters believe that the chief has been slow to respond to concerns from black residents in a long string of incidents and, therefore, many want him to resign.

The ACLU has noted that large numbers of black people have been killed at the hands of law enforcement. They write, “Their deaths have placed the excessive use of force against communities of color in the spotlight. Too often, police treat communities like enemies—a problem that disproportionately impacts people of color. “

To better guarantee the safety of the communities they serve, “police officers should use force only as a last resort, and the force used must be no more than is absolutely necessary,” says the ACLU. “Police officers who do not follow these guidelines should be held accountable in accordance with the law.”

Part of the problem here is the lack of transparency. The ACLU argues, “The public also has a right to know what happened in a critical incident like this one. Friends, family, and neighbors of the person killed deserve the full story on this tragedy. All residents of San Francisco deserve to know how police, who act in their name, came to take a life.”

Moreover, “If the SFPD finds the shooting justified, the public deserves to know exactly why, so it can understand whether the policies on use of force match the public’s expectations and whether the process for investigation and accountability is working. If the SFPD finds the shooting not justified, the public deserves to know how the SFPD will ensure that this doesn’t happen again.”

However, the ACLU stated, “Unfortunately, under current state law and local policy, the public will likely never get a full and detailed accounting of the actual investigation into this shooting.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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23 thoughts on “Calls For SF Chief to Resign In Wake of Fatal Shooting”

  1. Tia Will

    Chief Suhr has drawn criticism after stating that the officer, “fearing for his safety,” had fired “in defense of himself, and the other four officers fired in defense of that officer.”

    I believe that part of the problem is that Chief Suhr has himself made his job more difficult by stating that the officer feared for his safety and fired in self defense instead of making it perfectly clear that this was merely the assertion being made by the officer. It seems as though he is standing unequivocally behind his officer’s accounting and for many will represent a willingness to protect his officer simply because he wears the uniform.

    making jobs more difficult, far more political and much less secure. Being fired by a mayor on live television now comes with the territory.”

    I would rephrase this as making their job much more transparent, which it certainly should be given that the reason for their position is protection of the public.

    Having said that, I do not believe that it is appropriate for any one to be forced from their job without due process. This is equally as true for police officers and police chiefs as it is for mayors and AGs. I do not believe that either groups of protestors on the street, nor political talking heads from either end of the political spectrum should be determining who does or does not keep their job. This is the purview of a formal assessment of job performance, not individual or group emotion or bias. The cries of Suhr must go and no more valid than the opinion, from across the country, of R. Emmanuel must go. To claim otherwise is a lynch mob mentality that I cannot support.

  2. zaqzaq

    The individual was armed with a knife and had stabbed someone shortly before officers contacted him. According to news reports they used non-lethal techniques such as pepper spray and bean bags which did not work.  He refused the lawful orders of the officers to drop the knife.  The officers surrounded him and blocked his path.  While holding the knife he moved towards the officer blocking his path and was shot.  This appears to be the perfect situation for the use of a Taser which the city of San Francisco prohibits.  That is the only crime here.  For political reasons the police officers were denied non-lethal tools that could have been used in this situation that likely would have resulted in the apprehension of the criminal alive.  The only other alternative was for the officers to rush the armed criminal in order to subdue him hoping that they would not get stabbed in the process.  It is not reasonable to expect the officers to risk injury, disfigurement, or death in that situation.   This criminal was not an unarmed individual.  He was an armed and dangerous individual who had already stabbed someone that day.  His failure to follow the orders of the police resulted in his death.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      My caution would be that you are reciting the facts given by the police at the time – sometimes those are at odds with later revelations. Part of the problem here is that this is really an iterative process, the SF black community has been unhappy for some time with the Chief in part because of charges and data supporting those charges of disproportionate impact. That needs to be taken into account as the anger and demands do not occur in a vaccuum.

      1. zaqzaq

        David,

        Are you disputing that the use of pepper spray and the bean bag?  Are you disputing that he had a knife?  Are you disputing that he stabbed someone with a knife shortly before he was shot?  Are you disputing that a Taser if available would have likely prevented the use of lethal force?  Are you disputing that he walked towards the officer blocking his path with a knife?  This is not some unarmed man running away from the police that is shot in the back.  I could care less about the feelings of the black community towards the chief as it relates to this incident.  These officers were put in a situation where they used every non-lethal tool that was reasonably available to them.  If they had a Taser they could have used it.  The city denied those officers that tool and this guy is now dead.  Any community issues with the police are irrelevant to how the officers conducted themselves in this particular incident.  The ONLY reason this incident is getting any coverage is that the deceased is black.

    1. zaqzaq

      How many people did he need to stab with the knife before he was a threat?  How would you have handled this situation?  Your comments demonstrate a completely ignorant understanding of what happened here.

      1. Davis Progressive

        i’ve watched the video a number of times – i can’t tell if he had a knife, but when he was shot he appeared to be (relatively) calmly and slowly walking along the wall, he did not appear to be a direct threat to police at that point.

        1. zaqzaq

          Define a direct threat to the officer.  I have also watched both video numerous times.  He was moving in the direction of the officer and got to close.  It only takes a blink of an eye to move a few yards and stab someone which he had already done.  If you were the officer there how would you have handled the situation?  The officers used the non-lethal tools at hand without success.  They did not have Tasers to use.  Would you have preferred that they Taser him?  Do you believe that the cops should be equipped with Tasers?

           

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            I have talked to a lot of people who specialize in police procedures, all of them questioned the need to shot him at the moment they did – he didn’t make a threatening action. The officer close to him could have backed up to keep the distance and the other officers had him covered.

      2. Biddlin

        “If you were the officer there how would you have handled the situation? ”
        Oh, maybe chased him another 20 feet until he stumbled and fell or if there had been a threat from a knife, used a metal baton to knock it out of the poor, already beaten soul’s hand. Have ten or twelve of my heroic buddies tackle him from behind as I distract him. I sure as hell wouldn’t have shot the sloth like individual double-digit times. I never see the victim’s hand leave his side jacket pocket and don’t imagine he could charge anyone with his slow unsteady gate.

        1. zaqzaq

          The officers should not be getting within arms reach of the man with the knife.  That is extremely dangerous and an unreasonable expectation for those officers.  So you try to knock the knife out of his hand an miss and end up with the knife in your throat.  Your children are now missing a parent and your spouse is now a widow.  Not very bright.  Had they been equipped with Tasers this guy most likely would still be alive.  The vast majority of police agencies are equipped with Tasers but SF decided to be different.

  3. Frankly

    I suggest we implement a new policy that taxes/charges police officers $250 for each round fired at a suspect.  Just like sugary drinks, bullets fired by police officers tend to be bad for the health of people prone to making bad life-choices.  So let’s just tax that bad thing to help make it more scarce.

  4. hpierce

    Uh… 15 shots?  Thought a ‘double tap’ was standard.  Like the recently released video from Chicago (16 rounds), why keep shooting what will basically be a corpse, unless the reason is stopping or restraining anyone? Not sure if Bonnie and Clyde had that much lead poisoning.

    1. zaqzaq

      Five of the officers discharged  there firearms.  That is an average of three shots per officer and unlike Chicago there appeared to be a consensus with those five officers that using lethal force was appropriate.

  5. Biddlin

    “So you try to knock the knife out of his hand an miss and end up with the knife in your throat”

    I’ve had to do so, as a park maintenance worker, on  two occasions. I had no difficulty knocking weapons from the hands with a rake handle, much less maneuverable and slower than a metal baton.

    You really have very low expectations of everyone, don’t you?

  6. tribeUSA

    “He has also pushed for nonlethal stun guns – something that San Francisco has resisted.”

    Who is mr. or ms. “San Francisco’?

    So the police cheif has been advocating for nonlethal weapons, and mr. San Francisco has resisted.

    Are any of the Mr. San Francisco’s going to take credit for this policy?

    Where should the fickle finger of fate point to next?

  7. Davis Progressive

    according to john burris there is a third video that contradicts the pc’s account of events:

    While two videos were quickly posted on social media following Woods’ death on Dec. 2, the new video released Friday by Burris’ office comes from “a confidential source” and had not been handed over to police investigators as of this afternoon. It appears to contradict San Francisco police Chief Greg Suhr’s account of what happened on that day.

    Burris showed members of the public that when the video and audio in the newly released footage is slowed down, it appears that the first shot was fired prior to Woods raising his arm.

    Suhr has said publicly that Woods raised his arm holding a knife in an aggressive manner prior to officers opening fire.

    Burris said that because the evidence contradicts what Suhr said, his credibility is being called into question and that the community deserves better.

    “You should resign,” Burris said in a comment directed at Chief Suhr today.

    Burris said not only did Suhr try to make it seem like Woods “got what he deserved because he started it,” but that the chief used a screen shot of Woods raising his arm to justify the shooting. Burris and his colleagues said that that screen shot came after the first round was fired, not before.

     

    Burris also said the knife is not visible in the videos and that Woods may have even been the wrong suspect.

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