Killed in broad daylight by the SFPD

December 8, 2015

Alex Schmaus reports from San Francisco on the shooting of Mario Woods, the latest atrocity from a notoriously racist police department in a supposedly liberal city.

THERE IS outrage in the Bay Area and around the country after yet another unprovoked police shooting of an African American that was caught on video.

On December 2, 26-year-old Mario Woods was fatally shot by several San Francisco police officers. The shooting happened in broad daylight and in front of many witnesses, including a city bus full of passengers.

Several witness videos are circulating on social media, all of which clearly show that Woods posed no immediate threat to the at least 10 cops who surrounded him as they opened fire. Woods died shortly after his body was struck by as many as 15 bullets.

Police claim that Woods was armed with a kitchen knife and that he was suspected of a stabbing in the neighborhood earlier that day. But it isn't clear if Woods is holding anything from the witness videos, which depict the terrifying final seconds of a surrounded and seemingly defenseless person.

According to a statement released by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, the video "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 San Francisco Police Department policy."

Mario Woods cornered by San Francisco police
Mario Woods cornered by San Francisco police

SAN FRANCISCO has a reputation for liberal values, but anger over racist law enforcement has been building here since a federal investigation earlier this year exposed a network of white supremacist cops who sent texts to one another littered with racial slurs and references to cross burnings.

These racists happened to be exposed in the process of a corruption probe, and so there is no way of telling how many more armed bigots patrol the streets of San Francisco with impunity behind a police badge.

But the evidence of institutional racism in the city's criminal justice system is as clear as day. African Americans make up less than 6 percent of the population of the city (less than 3 percent according to some estimates), but more than half of those incarcerated in San Francisco jails.

Blacks in the city are more than seven times as likely to be arrested as whites, a rate that is well above state and national averages, according to the Bay Citizen.

Mario Woods was from Bayview-Hunters Point, one of the few remaining Black neighborhoods in a city where the African American population has dramatically shrunk as property values have soared with the tech boom.

Like many in the neighborhood, Woods had a history with San Francisco law enforcement. As a 19-year-old in 2009, he was swept up in the city's controversial gang injunctions and named as a member of the "Oakdale Mob," a designation that barred Woods from being in certain neighborhoods--for life.

Woods pled guilty to robbery with a gun enhancement and other gang-related crimes in 2010. He was released from state prison in September 2014 and had been recently hired by UPS when he was killed.

Gwendolyn Woods, Mario's mother, told ABC7 News that her son suffered from mental health issues, but that he was working to overcome them. "He needed some help, he just needed some help," she said. "They executed my child."

ON DECEMBER 3, hundreds of people assembled at the shooting site to mourn Woods and demand justice. They marched to Third Street and Jamestown, and into the St. Paul of the Shipwreck Gymnasium to hear speeches from Woods' family and from neighborhood activists.

Gwendolyn Woods spoke defiantly to the assembled protesters: "They're going to try to portray my child as horrible, I can guarantee you that. But I'm going to be his voice. My baby's life mattered. You cannot just shoot our people down like dogs and think that it's fine."

Ronnisha Johnson, a San Francisco State University student, Bayview resident and member of the Black Lives Matter Bay Area chapter, encouraged the community to defend itself.

"I knew Mario and he was my friend," she said. "I feel the pain and the hurt. It's okay to cry, it's okay to process what's happening to you. But after you dry your tears, put your fist up and fight back. And don't expect any of these politicians or police to do anything for us."

Johnson also urged people to think about all of the intersecting oppressions that plague African Americans in San Francisco, such as the housing crisis. "I'm a product of gentrification, I'm homeless as we speak," she said. "Bayview is changing rapidly everyday, and the little bit of us who are still here are holding on to little bits of history and family and pieces that we have."

Rev. Ben McBride, a local pastor who spent time in Ferguson, Missouri, last year during the protests over the police shooting death of 18-year-old Mike Brown, shared what he learned there.

"The thing that made the difference," he said, "is that the young people refused to go inside the house...Let's make some peaceful disruption and let these demons in the police department know that you're not going to keep killing us...and if you do, we're going to give you hell!"

Hundreds of people packed a room at the City College of San Francisco Southeast campus the next evening on December 4 for a community meeting organized by the police department.

Police Chief Greg Suhr attempted to justify the murder by claiming that his cops shot Mario Woods "in defense" of themselves. But he was met with angry cries and disbelief.

Johnson and Rheema Calloway of Black Lives Matter Bay Area presented a list of demands at this meeting, including that the officers involved in the shooting have their names released to the public, that these officers be fired and charged with murder, that Chief Suhr resign and that there be a federal investigation.

Activists are planning to protest the police commission meeting at 5 pm in City Hall on December 9. There will likely be more protests over Mario Woods' death, which might intersect with the existing plans of activists to try to stop plans to build a new jail downtown, an issue that is being voted on by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors on December 15.

Those who would like to support the family of Mario Woods can also contribute to a fund to help pay for his funeral.

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