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