About 200 students, teachers and supporters marched from the 16th Street BART Plaza to City Hall Friday afternoon to protest the police killing of 26-year-old Mario Woods on December 2. Some came with their teachers after organizing a field trip explicitly for the march, while others walked out of school without permission.
“They fired 16 shots, which is not necessary,” said 12-year-old Pierce Whitney, a student at the K-8 San Francisco Community School in the Excelsior. “You don’t feel safe, you feel insecure. I feel like nobody is safe. One [officer] shot and then all the rest shot.”
“My parents back in the day used to be able to go in the streets and not worry about getting shot,” said Tatiana Gamboa, another 12-year-old. “You could be anywhere in the wrong time [now].”
At 11 a.m., middle school and high school students from San Francisco Community School, Balboa High School, and other schools began gathering at 16th and Mission for the march downtown.
The protest fell on a busy day for the case: Just hours earlier, the Woods family’s attorney had released a video that seemed to contradict police claims that officers fired only after Woods threatened them, and announced he would be seeking more than $25 million in a federal civil rights lawsuit. Additionally, the police were set to release the names of the five officers involved in the case that day.
“We watched the video, they didn’t have to shoot him. One shot could easily terrorize someone,” said 12-year-old Jessica Hernandez, who said her brother had been once been arrested “for no reason.”
“It was five of them against one person, they could have easily done something smarter. That was so cruel,” Hernandez said of Woods’ shooting.
Russel Yoshida, a 15-year-old from the Community School whose uncle is a police officer, said he did not think all cops were bad but that Woods did not need to get shot.
“I think they’re good guys,” he said. “They panicked because they were under pressure.”
“The police can handle that differently. They’re here to protect us, not kill us off,” said 13-year-old David Ruiz, also from the Community School. “If something happens, that’s who we call. We don’t expect them to do something like this.”
“We need to set an example, for other people to look up to. It’s about action,” said 17-year-old Balboa High School student Chance Robinson.
The day started at different places for different students: Many gathered at 16th and Mission, marching downtown with calls of “Justice for Mario Woods,” while others went directly to City Hall and occupied the front steps there, hearing testimony from city supervisors.
— Kale Williams (@sfkale) December 11, 2015
— John Sasaki (@SasakiKTVU) December 11, 2015
Once students from the June Jordan School for Equity arrived at 16th and Mission, the protest began moving down Mission Street toward City Hall. There, the students who had marched from the Mission crowded onto the front steps with their peers.
The march soon moved through town, getting some enthusiasm from bystanders along Market Street but baffling shoppers near Union Square. One man, Kenny Foster, joined the protest the moment after hearing about it on Twitter.
“I ran six blocks to catch up,” he said. “The black community and the Latino community have been saying this since the ’60s and ’70s: The police are unjustly treating black and brown people. Now that we have videos, we are starting to see changes.”
Martha Reyes from the Stop Mass Incarceration Network said she applauded the involvement of students in protest.
“I think it’s beautiful,” she said. “It’s great that it’s mainly young people. There’s strong emphasis on this thought that the youth don’t care, which is just completely false.”
Mission resident and California State University East Bay student Raquel Rodriguez had joined the march out of concern about racially charged violence.
“There’s so much violence going on, and people don’t realize that it’s a racial problem,” Rodriguez said. “I’m a native here… I get stopped by cops too. It shouldn’t happen. This doesn’t feel like home anymore.”
Maria, a 16-year-old organizer and June Jordan student, said some of her classmates had been in the area when Woods was killed and were deeply affected. She said arranging the multi-school protest had been a very last-minute effort, but hoped to learn from the experience.
“From this protest, we’re going to learn to be the best that we can,” she said.
By 1:40 p.m., many of the younger students had left the crowd, thinning it out to about 100 people. Those who remained blocked the intersection of Geary and Mason, chanting again, “We will not move until we are heard.”
At 2 p.m., protesters at the SFPD’s Tenderloin Police Station read a list of names of those killed by police, including that of Mario Woods.
— Mission Local (@MLNow) December 11, 2015
“I wonder every night, what if I’m next?” said Hugo Vargas, a student who lives in the Mission. “Honestly, I can say I’m an innocent young adult… As a person of color, I don’t have a second chance. We minorities are seen as dangerous.”
Back on Market Street, the protesters surrounded a police cruiser, pushing their signs up against the windows. Officers quickly told the students to move away from the car and cleared a path for it to drive off.
By 2:15 p.m., protesters had circled back to city hall and held a moment of silence for Woods.
“I believe in Jesus, but I think our saviors are the people who died for us,” said 15-year-old Cartez Davis, gesturing to a banner with names and photographs of victims of officer-involved shootings.
With a few more closing comments from students and a chorus of “Lean On Me,” the students and their supporters adjourned.